Animal Collective: Sung Tongs

Although rock music seems to find fewer and fewer outlets as metal and punk and hip-hop have all been subverted (or unsubverted as the case may be) by commercial interests, we are still firmly entrenched in the rock era with but a few glimpses of where we might go next. But a closer look (or listen) reveals a possibility. Post-rock (or post-anything for that matter) can be a catch-all term for anything that steps outside of the established confines of its genre, but there are a few bands that seem to be taking the lead in what will perhaps be the next thing. Animal Collective is one of those bands. The question is whether this is a new avenue for rock music or an altogether different genre. The structure is different, the instruments are different, but yet there's something...something very rock about it.

Music: 3.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
Odd, repetitive rhythms and an almost complete absence of hooks makes Sung Tongs a tough listen. Rock's vocal-guitar-bass-drums approach is no more present than its verse-chorus-verse songs structure. Animal Collective walks off into the future as they see it and they seem to do so with a childlike naivité. Whether this movement is the future or demise of rock music (or just a blip on the pop music radar) remains to be seen, but this particular album is a little too quiet to be the one.

Is this more than just random experimentation? I think so. Granted, they don't boil things down into three minute pop songs. Instead, these are serious mood pieces that work together more like a movie, just without the visuals. It is experimental without a doubt, but there is a point if you're willing to change how you listen.

Packaging: 2.0 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
Frankly, the package does nothing for me. It has kind of a Day of the Dead feel to it and I guess it's clever that they have happy faces, but the music requires too much effort to try to figure out the artwork as well.

Listen if you like: Sigur Ros, TV on the Radio, Brian Eno, Ornette Coleman, the future...

If it were food, it'd be: The food of the future. Not that pill that turned into a meal on the Jetsons, but a real meal that we just don't quite know about yet. Maybe they'll eventually serve it at McDonald's and maybe they won't.


De La Soul: 3 Feet High and Rising

I have a lot of history with 3 Feet High and Rising. The first time I heard it was in 1989, when I was shaking off the shackles of the rotten hair metal that had bound me throughout my teen years. Since I'd never owned a rap album and this one was getting rave reviews, I decided to give it a shot. I played it once, hated it, and sold it.

Ten years later, a friend of mine played it in his car, and I was floored. I couldn't believe I'd hated it, because it was awesome! My friend bought me a copy for my birthday, I played it once, and then promptly filed it away on the shelf until I sold all of my CDs in a fit of post dot-com desperation.

Nearly 10 more years have gone by, and 3 Feet High and Rising has found its way into my ears once again. My life has taken some unexpected turns since I last heard De La Soul, and I'm glad to have the album back. I think the third time may be the charm. Indeed, three is the magic number.

Music: 4.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
The album's not perfect. The skits are annoying, the game show theme is stupid, and a few of the songs are weak. The rest of it, though? Wow. It's amazing. The fun stuff is genuinely fun, the serious stuff has some real depth, and there is an intelligence that is always present but never obnoxious.

I think what's most interesting about the album is how it shatters certain false perceptions about the late '80s. There seems to be some kind of cultural revisionist history that portrays a certain happiness and innocence during the Reagan and early Bush I years. Everyone wore day-glo colors and had funny hair, we listened to kitschy songs by new wave bands with silly names, and black people were simply modern Stepin Fetchits who hadn't yet corrupted white youth with the horrors of gangsta rap.

It's complete bullshit, of course. The '80s were marred by the threat of the Cold War and Reaganomics on a national level and the realities of AIDS and crack on the local level. White flight had peaked, well-paying blue-collar jobs were growing more scarce by the day, and countless communities throughout Baltimore (and every other major American city) had become ravaged by the one-two punch of crack and ass-backwards social policies.

What's interesting about 3 Feet High and Rising is that in between all the sexy things that "Jenifa Taught Me" and the positivity of the "D.A.I.S.Y. Age," there are some harsh statements about the realities of life in the worst parts of the worst cities in America. There is wisdom on this album, and it is just as meaningful today as it was 20 years ago.

(The EPFL version of this CD comes with a bonus CD that has B-sides and alternate versions and such.)

Packaging: 4 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
The packaging was too unique and identifiable. The culture of 1989 couldn't handle the contradictions of De La Soul, so they were pigeonholed as some kind of neo-hippie, peace-loving beatniks who were all style and no substance. It's not a flaw on the packaging as much as it's a flaw of our culture, but it still limited the group in a way they shouldn't have been limited. Of course, it also pushed them to do De La Soul Is Dead, so maybe the packaging should get an extra half-library-card for that.

Listen if you like: Hip-hop that thinks more than it postures.

If it were food, it'd be: A cold bottle of grape soda on a hot summer day in the city.


Neko Case: Blacklisted

Without Neko Case's voice, Blacklisted would be better-than-average alt-country. With Case's voice, it is moody and haunting and exciting and dark and sexy and scary and powerful and invigorating and... well, just take a listen and add your own adjectives.

Music: 4.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
The musicians play together like old friends sitting around the living room in the wee hours of the morning, and Case's voice wraps everything together like a fireplace and a bottle of cider. Every time I listen, I find a new second-favorite song. ("Pretty Girls" is always my favorite, for it is the moment when everything and everyone on the record gel together perfectly.)

Packaging: 3.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
There's a beauty and desperation in the cover that accurately reflects the music. Case lies seductively on the pavement behind an old van filled with someone's possessions, highlighted in a bright flash that darkens the warm oranges of a cloudy sunset. The text that forms Case's name wraps off of the booklet, which is a really nice touch that you don't really notice until you're holding the booklet. The inside of the jacket is typical indie rock fare. There are no lyrics, which is a shame because I'd much rather read Case's words than look at trite mirror-images of old guitars.

Listen if you like: Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, k.d. lang, Shelby Lynne, Wilco, The Sadies

If it were food, it'd be: That bottle of cider I mentioned a few paragraphs back.