Shadows Collide With People
With his latest solo album, Shadows Collide With People, John Frusciante presents convincing evidence that he is the brains behind the glory of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Where his previous solo outings have been difficult, lo-fi affairs greeted with lukewarm receptions, Shadows is a glorious, epic album by an artist at the peak of his powers. Frusciante’s voice, distinctively thin and with a soulful, lustrous falsetto, is finally strong enough to carry the weight of his songwriting talent, which has never been greater.
In places, Shadows sounds like the album By The Way could have been if the Chilis had known how to mix it up the way Frusciante does. Shot through with synths and full of the rich, sweet harmonies that distinguished By The Way from its predecessors, Shadows almost sounds like a pop album on songs like “Omission.” Frusciante is careful to maintain his outsider/auteur credentials with three eerie, spine-tingling synth tracks, but the rest of the album is given over to meatier stuff. The opening track, “Carvel,” is a miniature masterwork, emerging from a sheen of synths to grab you by the ear with a hook that keeps metamorphosing into something new and toothier.
With more juicy tracks in its first half than is decent from someone best known only as a guitarist, Shadows marks Frusciante’s emergence from the shadow of the Chilis, heroin and any diminished expectations still lurking about. He proved he was a great guitarist back on Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Shadows proves that Frusciante needs neither drugs nor a backing band to deliver the goods.
—Andrew R. Iliff
The Casual Dots
The Casual Dots
(Kill Rock Stars)
Several players on the riot grrrl and Kill Rock Star scene have come together to form the Casual Dots, whose self-titled debut is filled with primitive pounding, noodling guitar lines and lovely sweet-and-sour vocals from Christina Billotte, a former member of Bikini Kill. The band is only two guitars and a drum set, so the arrangements are simple and usually rely on battling guitar lines over simple drum patterns. Considering this, it’s surprising how much of the 30-minute album is devoted to instrumental—the first song is entirely free of vocals, and on several others, Billotte’s voice only enters after a lengthy introduction. These instrumental bits are difficult to take on their own, too angular to work as kitschy surf-rock, but too stripped-down to be as effectively melodic as the pre-punk greats like Link Wray, whom the band seems to pay homage to.
These songs are at the best when the glorious vocals enter the fray. “Clocks” is a real gem, with playful lines bouncing between the singing, guitar and background vocals. Billotte is set back in the mix, so her voice provides more of an instrumental effect than actual words, and the song is a blithe and ethereal entity among the harsher staccatos of the rest of the album. Billotte also saves two of the album’s other great songs, covers of Etta James’ “I’ll Dry My Tears,” and LaVern Baker’s “Bumblebee.” Soul covers aren’t usually normal fodder for indie garage bands, but the Casual Dots tackle these with grace and panache, especially on the latter, where the spare bass-less instrumentation really captures the song’s vintage sound.
—Christopher A. Kukstis
The Cooper Temple Clause
Kick up the Fire, and Let the Flames Break Loose
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