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Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse
If the timing wasn’t so obvious, you could be forgiven for thinking that following the huge success of The Beatles’ 1, bands were trying to capture some of that past glory (and sales) for themselves. Thus, while Apples in Stereo resurrect the pop-she-loves-you-yeah aspect, fellow Elephant 6ers Of Montreal (who are actually of Athens, Ga.) are mining the psychedelic Hey-Bungalow-Bill-in-a-Yellow-Submarine side. So far so good.
But those Beatles songs were spaced amongst phenomenal pop songs… Coquelicot is a little like someone making a compilation of extended remixes of “You know my name,” “Yellow Submarine,” most of Sgt Pepper (including that bit at the end where you just hear the mopheads laughing and talking), “Bungalow Bill” and threw in some Plastic Ono tracks for good measure. Twenty-two tracks of it. It’s long, unremitting and opaque, and even the cool cartoon album cover artwork by David Barnes, (presumably brother of Kevin, the brains behind the band) which extends to an entire booklet and foldout poster, cannot redeem it (even the musical interpretation of the poster).
The music isn’t bad, it just manages to avoid any recognizable musicality. It is riddled with narrative bits and overcrowded lyrics that make it reminiscent of an overblown rock opera à la The Who’s Tommy, but there’s not really enough to make sense of the stories of child-eating hyena-cicadas (Track 17: “Lecithin’s Tale of a DNA experiment that went horribly awry”) or anything else. Apparently they made a movie as well. Maybe that would help. “Let’s do everything for the first time forever” is comically sweet and less contrived, but still lacks a convincing melody. Nor is the singer particularly engaging, which was always what redeemed The Beatles in their weirdness, and may have done the same for some of Of Montreal’s earlier material. Coquelicot is not bad, but you might be hard put to find a reason to listen to it more than once. Maybe twice, to hear that story about the hyena-cicadas again. —Andrew R. Iliff
Fantastic Plastic Machine
beautiful (Emperor Norton Records)
In his third full-length album beautiful, Japan’s Tomoyuki Tanaka creates a sound most easily described as souped-up Muzak with a bass line. The international DJ blends such eclectic styles as disco, soul, bossa nova and house dance into his synthetic music which induces finger or foot-tapping and head-bobbing without causing any abuse to the ear. Tomoyuki shows jazz influences in his tracks “God Save the Mona Lisa” and “I’m Still a Simple Man,” on which he received help from respective legendary vocalists Bo Dorough (of School House Rock fame) and Hirth Martinez.
Despite the diversity of the album’s influences, there is not a great deal of variety within or among his songs. Most tracks find a particular musical phrase to repeat for extended periods of time. Even the most pleasant of melodies becomes grating when played at such length without change. Salvation from the repetition usually arrives in the form of a pseudo-bridge of 70s-esque strings, but often this gesture is too little too late. Tracks such as “Beautiful Days” and “Love is Psychadelic” attempt to hide their redundancy under a mix of deep-voiced speech and song reminiscent of Barry White.
The lyricism of pyschadelic love, “Was it an illusion or was it real / Oh by the way I might have drank too much” are not profound enough to distract from the background music, which has effects both positive and negative. Vocalizations reflective of Beach Boys harmonies are included in “On a Chair,” while “I’m Still a Simple Man” and “Black Dada” feature more mellow sound. True diversity on the album comes with the flute-driven cover of Frankie Kauckles’ “Whistle Song,” and “One Minute of Love,” in which the piano’s rising and falling of speed and pitch resembles the sound of a music box winding down.
The three-second long Track 1 contains no music but only the exclamation, “I am beautiful!” Unfortunately, the beauty of Fantastic Plastic Machine’s latest album is only skin deep. Its easy listening quality is too gentle for the modern club scene and too upbeat for the elevator. It serves as good background music, because in the long run, it is fluffy and forgettable. —Andrew D. Goulet
Odyssey Number Five (Universal Records)
Powderfinger is not a household name, and yet this honest band hailing from Brisbane, Australia, produces possibly the best rock around. They have been the most successful band in their native country for quite a while, but it is only with their fourth album, Odyssey Number Five, that they make their U.S. debut. And what a debut it is.
Just about every track on Odyssy Number Five illustrates some aspect of the Powderfinger’s musical strengths, whether it be the soaring anthems “My Kinda Scene” (first heard on the M:I-2 soundtrack) and “These Days,” the quiet beauty of “The Metre” and “Whatever Makes You Happy,” or the raw energy of “Like a Dog.”
Powderfinger have developed considerably from their earlier, less polished and more indie-influenced recordings. The major criticism of their previous release, Internationalist, which still hovered around the Australian top 50 two years after its release, was that many of the album’s songs sounded the same.
If that was ever a valid criticism, it has been more than remedied on Odyssey Number Five, which takes the listener on a journey from the intimate to the exhibitionistic and just about every shade in between. It is an archetypal rock album, influenced by Jeff Buckley’s beauty of line and Nirvana’s bass, but finding its own distinct and powerful voice. The best rock songs must have staying power—witness the persistent popularity of anthems by U2 or REM. I have a feeling Powderfinger’s songs will soon join the list and will be enjoyed for a long time.
—Daniel M. Raper
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