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Music Reviews

Songs in the Key of Z

Songs in the Key of Z

The Curious Universe of Outsider Music

Which?

This is the audio component of a book/CD combo, and neither is quite complete without the other. Detailing twenty “outsider” artists, Songs in the Key of Z delivers the goods on those inspired souls who seem to draw their musical influences from the depths of outer space.

Nothing could illustrate this better than the Shaggs, a trio of New England girls whose “Phillosophy of the World” sounds like the result of giving three fresh-of-the-steppes Mongolians drums, guitar and bass. Daniel Johnston, Wesley Willis, Tiny Tim and Captain Beefheart are outsiders who have gained some acceptance in insider circles, but Songs scores big with some out-there names, like Shooby Taylor the Human Horn, and Congress-Woman Malinda Jackson Parker.

The liner notes are adequate; while they give you a bit of background on each artist, it’s just enough to whet your appetite. Stranger truths lie beneath, and the companion book is a must-have. Songs in the Key of Z is a collection that is simultaneously brilliant and uncomfortable. It will shut down your party but fast — and if it doesn’t, please remember to invite me to your next soiree.

Which? Records, P.O. Box 659, Village Station, New York, NY 10014; http://www.whichsight.com

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Music Reviews

Ron English and Friends

Ron English and Friends

Revelations Book II

Which?

Jesus comes back as a woman and other heresy. Ron’s friends include Phoebe Legere, Daniel Johnston, Mojo Nixon, Sexpod, and the Reverend Vince Anderson. There’s nineteen songs on this magnum opus that’s based on the KJV Bible and the Alexandrian versions, some of which comprise what are known as the Gnostic Gospels. Well, I’m sure the heretics who publish the NIV are chuckling to themselves, as is Elaine Pagels, but I don’t know what they’d make of this disturbed reworking of Jesus Christ Superstar as interpreted by raving madman Ron English. I’d probably win a bet the Bishop Spong was consulted prior to release… The song titles, which are of “biblical” proportion, do the explaining for themselves: “Seed of God,” “Holy Terror,” “I Am the All,” “I Am the She,” “Pop God,” “Iscariot the Patriot,” “There’s a Sucker Born Again Every Minute,” and “Man of Light.” It’s art, that’s for sure. What else it is — you figure it out.

Which? Records, P.O. Box 659, Village Station, New York, NY 10014; http://www.whichsight.com

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Adjective City

Revelations Book II

Revelations Book II

Various Artists

Which?

This is dense, a very ambitious concept album with religious and musical overtones. I won’t divulge the storyline here, since it sounds a lot more cliche on paper than it actually is in execution. Guest turns by Mojo Nixon, Railroad Jerk and Daniel Johnston are high points, though there are also some pretty low points from artists that will remain unmentioned. Overall, this is a pretty decent effort, and while it suffers from an incosistency in quality, it nonetheless proves to be fascinating and multi-dimensional listening material.

Which? Records, P.O. Box 659, Village Station, New York, NY 10014

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Music Reviews

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Bringing it All Back Home Again

Which?

This CD is filled with grit. Not rocks and dirt mind you, but some honest heart and soul, down to the low fidelity. It sounds like it was recorded around a campfire on the Oregon Trail. tasting of blood, sweat, and hard work, but at the same time hope for a better future. These are some rousing folksy songs mostly sung by Anton Newcombe, with one, “Reign On,” sung by Miranda Lee Richards. “Reign On” is a divine song, gently trodding with acoustic guitar over soft Hammond organ clouds. Bringing it All Back Home Again comes with a 12+ minute folk/psych freakout dubiously co-penned by a C. Manson. It’s amazing to see that this band came from LA; this sounds like it’s grown from the black dirt of Alabama. Downright American, in all the best ways.

Which? Records, P.O. Box 659, Village Station, New York, NY 10014, http://www.whichsight.com

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Music Reviews

The Shining Path

The Shining Path

The Shining Path

Which?

Damn hard to tell you what this is all about – it’s a concept record, it’s a new type o’ experimental hip-hop unafraid to muddy the gene pool with rock and funk galore, it’s a helluva twisted read. The record tells the story of a man whose father, a Vietnam vet, killed himself years before. The man grows up, fucked up and tormented by the demons passed on by his father; the record veers in perspective from the son, to his dead father, and from gritty street tales of a crooked world, to harrowing nightmares and flashbacks.

Musically, The Shining Path incorporate everything from trip-hop to straight-up rock in their urbanized assault. The record opens (and closes) with a sweet breakbeat-infused sample of Pink Floyd’s “Set The Controls For the Heart of the Sun,” before the sound of an approaching helicopter heralds “Erase The Pain” (one of many tracks featuring bass work from Bad Brain Daryl Jenifer, a seal of approval if there ever was one) in all its funk-drenched, live-instrument glory – think Dub War with a truer sense of funk, or a more rock-steeped Roots. From there, we hit hard rock (“Forever And a Day”), opaque and swirling dub like Portishead on Xanax (“Special Forces” and “The End”), and unclassifiable tunes bound together by a huge groove and a sinister vibe that builds as the story unfolds. “Once” is a pinnacle of spine-tingling drama; our hero is drugged out at a club, an argument turns ugly and shots start to ring out, but he’s in the middle of a flashback, the battling clubgoers turning into fanged beasts before his eyes, the floor turning into deep grass and bamboo. By the end of the song, he’s totally immersed in the hallucination – “a single flare overhead let me see around me / further on down the trench / the illest [sight] yet, it brought me to tears / my pops with a smile, hackin’ off souvenirs.” During the chorus of “once upon a time in my mind,” a harried voice keeps repeating “I’m not cra-zy… I’m not cra-zy… ” until the hair on the back of your neck stands up. This record can creep you out, especially by yourself at night.

On “In The Realm of Vishnu” the father appears to his son, trying to help his son make sense of what happened. At the end of the album, the utterly out-there “Inherited,” there’s no happy ending, just a reckoning, a reconciliation and apology – “I give you my heart, but it’s dirty,” the father tells the son. This is a heavy record in the mental sense, a deep listening experience maybe not suited for bumpin’ in your car on the way to the club, but refreshingly real in an age of Puffed up hip-hop with all the depth and feeling of an erasure. The Shining Path is one of those albums that requires an open mind, but rewards the adventurous listener with new trips each time, fresh textures created from the unapologetic mixing of styles from song to song. Even the packaging kills, with some Robert Williams-style collage action on the cover and disturbing Ralph Steadman-type art on the inside.

The Shining Path have kickstarted the cultural mindfuck begun by the Bad Brains and abandoned by the shortsighted ones who came after. This record won’t hit everyone, but for those who can dive in, it’ll be an absolute. The Shining Path approach their music the way all pioneers have done – mix it all up, tell your story, and fuck all. Very New York, very now, very necessary. Pick it up. Which? Records, P.O. Box 659, Village Station, New York, NY 10014