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Exclusive Feature...

AIR CHECK -- 02.18.04
by Chandler and Rob G

Are you tired of being the 'last to know' about new music? IMN has partnered with Chandler and Rob G. of THE FREE ZONE (88.7 FM) to bring you AIR CHECK. Every other week Chandler and Rob will review the best albums that have come across their console that you might have missed. They'll also dig back in the archives to cover a record that time has forgotten.

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Thavius Beck
"Decomposition" (Mush)

(Sound Clip)

Recommended if you like:
DJ Shadow, Squarepusher,
cLOUDEAD, Autechre

Beginning with the assumption that I'm not generally a fan of "electronic" music or anything that even remotely smells like "dance," it may be shocking to note that this record completely turned my head inside-out. But then, there is really nothing remotely danceable about this record, and it's not so much electronic as bionic.

Combining both the digital soundscaping power of computer editing with traditional organic mixing, Thavius Beck has made the musical equivalent of turning Steve Austin into the Six Million Dollar Man. "See these tired old blip-hop and remix records? I can rebuild them. I have the technology. I can make them stronger, faster, better."

Skittering, revved-up breakbeats give way to digitally twisted, downtempo funeral marches. There are probably samples of recognizable songs mixed in here with the glitches and vocal snippets, but they have been so utterly transmogrified they have become something entirely new.

"Decomposition" features minimal guest vocals by I Am That I Am and Subtitle, and I swear I heard Cedric Bixler-Zavala's (The Mars Volta) vocals in there somewhere. But that's the beauty of this record. Even amidst the confusion, there is always something recognizable-here a beat, there a sample-that keeps it grounded. (Chandler)

The Candy Butchers
"Hang On Mike" (RPM/Sony)

(Sound Clip)

Recommended if you like:
Ben Folds Five, Velvet Crush, Matthew Sweet

Rock star dreams die hard, but if you manage to hang on to your ego, things may turn out ok. Wrap that message in a blanket of 70s top 40, and you have the Candy Butchers' latest album "Hang on Mike."

The Mike referred to in the title track is head Butcher Mike Viola. In fact, Viola makes a first person appearance in several songs and the entire record reads like pages from his journal. This may sound like a recipe for narcissism at its worst, but Viola avoids speaking to an audience of one. The places and people may be from Mike Viola's life, but the idea of not getting any younger and still not achieving the things you thought you wanted is more universal and expressed well through these songs.

Hooks and harmonies abound and the band, which performed mostly live in the studio, provide perfect accompaniment. Bittersweet songs never sounded so sweet. The Candy Butchers' sound fits neatly along side contemporary power poppers Velvet Crush and Ben Folds Five, but also wouldn't sound out of place next to 70s bands such as the Raspberries or Badfinger.

Tempering the stories of missed opportunities and growing older with a feeling that things are "Not So Bad At All," Viola and the Butchers have turned what could have been a mope-fest into a sort of power pop "Pet Sounds" for the thirty something ageing hipster. Though these songs are clearly a product of personal disappointment, Viola is able to spin pop gold out of his pitfalls. (Rob G.)

Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf
"Big Shots" (Stones Throw)

(Sound Clip)

Recommended if you like:
Black Sheep, Tribe Called Quest, "Golden Age" Hip Hop

Despite a 2003 copyright date on the back, Charizma's high top fade should tell you everything you need to know about "Big Shots." Recorded during Disney's Hollywood Basic imprint's brief flirtation with hip-hop, "Big Shots" sat in the can for ten years due to the usual major label runaround and the untimely passing of Charizma in December 1993. Peanut Butter Wolf launched Stones Throw with the release of Charizma's "My World Premier" single in 1996, but held the full length close to the vest, finally releasing it late last year.

Far from just a nostalgic tribute to a fallen friend, "Big Shots" shows some serious potential when put in the context of "golden age" hip hop. Charizma's style is very much influenced by the Native Tongues, at times sounding like a less nasal Dres from Black Sheep. Lyrically, Charizma has great enthusiasm rapping about girls, getting famous, clothes, and apple juice. Despite the talent on display here, you get the feeling Charizma would have been really great on the follow up album with a little more time to develop his style further.

Peanut Butter Wolf, then known as DJ Chris Cut, lays down sparse jazzy beats that wouldn't have sounded out of place on A Tribe Called Quest or Black Sheep album. Combined with Charizma's smooth flow, the whole thing comes off like a West Coast version of one of Prince Paul's East Coast masterpieces. In fact, I kept expecting to hear a Prince Paul skit wedged between tracks at some point during the album.

It's hard to say how this album would have done if it had been released when it was recorded. Though there's a lot to like here, the overwhelming feeling "Big Shots" leaves me with is these guys would have put out an amazing second record. There are a couple of obvious singles here ("Red Light Green Light" and "Ice Cream Truck") but the rest of the album sounds very typical of early 90s hip hop. In 1993, it probably would have gotten lost in the shuffle, but today it strikes like a breath of fresh air against the current backdrop of iced out MTV gangstas. (Rob G.)

"Secret Wars" (Jagjaguwar)

(Sound Clip)

Recommended if you like:
Can, Sonic Youth, Blue Cheer, Meat Puppets, Lightning Bolt

Oneida are one of the most confusing bands in existence today. One instant they are arena-rock riff gods, the next they're plunking away a ukulele-and-synth duet. They may be confusing, but it's certainly a fun ride if you can just hang on.

Eschewing the "We're so weird! Isn't that crazy?" spastic guitar-and-drums heroics (and probably as a result the cachet) of many of their contemporaries, Oneida instead churn out dense yet spacious kraut-tinged psychedelia.

Combining the jammy soundscapes of Can, the acid-twinged twang of the Meat Puppets, and the fuzzed out, art damaged power of Sonic Youth, "Secret Wars" flits effervescently between the caffeinated anxiety of "Capt. Bo Dignifies the Allegations With a Response" and the comparatively pastoral bliss of "Wild Horses." Guitar riffs give way to repetitive keyboard lines, themselves intimately entwined with some bass-like creature galloping off together on some three-headed alien drumbeast.

It would be very easy for three players of such technical ability and vision to become enamored of their own prowess. But the members of Oneida (Hanoi Jane, Fat Bobby, and Kid Millions) manage to keep the humility in check and their collective tongue planted firmly in cheek. And I'll be damned if the album-closer "Changes In the City" isn't a 15-minute freakout that somehow manages to feel pointed and rewarding rather than silly and posturing. (Chandler)

Classic Revisited

Albert Ayler
"New Grass" (1968 Impulse)
Albert Ayler during his short life cast a long shadow on the jazz scene. His completely free tenor sax playing divided jazz musicians, influencing some (such as John Coltrane, who got Ayler signed to Impulse) and repulsing others. In the late 60s, Ayler, like many other jazz musicians, was

making a more conscious effort to make his music accessible to young African-Americans who grew up with Motown and James Brown rather than Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. "New Grass" is probably the most notorious result of Ayler's attempt to connect with the late 60s youth.

Drawing on his own background of coming up in gut bucket R&B bands, Ayler's sound is huge and raunchy on this album. Ayler's style is still unmistakably on display here, but the playing is much less "out" than his previous albums. Through the use of a more traditional funky soul rhythm section (including Bernard Purdie on drums and a horn section), Ayler sticks to more conventional song forms. If you were to strip his horn from the tracks, you could easily hear Aretha Franklin or Otis Redding singing on top of what his band is laying down.

The more cynical critics were quick to label Ayler as having sold out, but his playing resounds with so much euphoria, it sounds at times like he is going to explode from feeling so good. It's just impossible to listen to this record and not feel this album was an honest statement, despite the obviously commercial elements and soul hippy singing from Ayler's girlfriend Mary Maria. Someone at Impulse probably suggested he go this direction, but the result hardly sounds forced.

The greatest irony about "New Grass" was that not only did it not bring Ayler the new audience he sought; it also alienated many of his old fans. In fact, "New Grass" stands as one of the few Ayler albums that has never been reissued in the US. It's very hard to picture this album ever being radio friendly, but the mixture of free jazz and funky soul is so intoxicating, "New Grass" is definitely an LP that deserves another spin. (Rob G.)

by Chandler and Rob G

Chandler and Rob G. host "The Free Zone," heard Friday nights at 12 midnight on 88.7FM WICR Indianapolis, The Diamond.

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