Nearly every week, someone sends a new CD to the offices of Downtown Express in the hopes that we’ll review it. Since no one on staff is a qualified audiophile, I tapped Lee Ann Westover, the vivacious lead singer of the all-female, cocktail pop quartet The Lascivious Biddies deemed “Manhattan’s hippest Girl Group” by the Washington Post to review new music for us. Following are Westover’s picks from the CD stockpile this month. You can also catch her and the rest of the Biddies at the Metropolitan Room on Monday, Nov. 13th. (Call 212-206-0440 for tickets.)
By Lee Ann Westover
Paris Hilton, “Paris”
What with the teams of producers, songwriters, sound engineers, photographers and retouchers available to major label acts these days, it seems virtually impossible to tell where the artist begins and ends in a pop production. Can Paris Hilton really sing? We may never know. Regardless of whether I attribute the art to Paris herself, or a team of Svengalis, I have to admit that this record is…well…fun. There doesn’t seem to be an original note on “Paris,” as much of it seems either inspired by or ripped off from other artists, depending on how you look at it. That said, I found myself singing the peppy and dance-able “Nothing in This World” as I surfed through CuteOverload.com and shaking to “Stars are Blind” while waiting for the subway. So if it is important to you that a musician be a talented songwriter, a capable live performer and have an original poetic voice, perhaps you should leave this one to the junior high school girls. If, on the other hand, you love disco, Gwen Stefani’s latest album (which, incidentally, I am mad for), and don’t give a whit where the beat comes from you could have a great time with this release from America’s favorite party princess.
Baby Dayliner, “Critics Pass Away” (Brassland)
When I was 17, I drove all over creation in a 1974 Volkswagon Beetle to the sounds of The Cure, Morrissey and The Sundays. On the first listen, Baby Dayliner’s “Critics Pass Away” seems as if it came in a time machine from my senior year. Ethan Marunas’s crooning is beautifully reminiscent of The Human League’s Philip Oakley and the thinninsh mix reminds me of the sound of my old car stereo speakers. Though the 1980’s are definitely paid tribute in almost every track, there are many modern elements as well. In “Breezy,” for instance, Marunas raps a bit like Timbaland and insists that you Shake your Bon-Bon. “Simon Sez” echoes dance-hall reggae with his chant of “Move all you females on the floor,” but soon begins to sound very much like New Order. Baby Dayliner is a true post-modern artist even though he’s high-brow, he still manages to make me want to run out onto the dance floor.
Muse, “Black Holes & Revelations”
I cued up Track 7, “Assassin,” for my friend Kenny the other day. I turned it up loud. The first eight bars consist of tense, ferocious 16th notes played by guitar and nothing else. Kenny said to me, “In a minute, this is gonna get really good…or really bad.” Muse then burst into guitar-fed overblown melodrama and Kenny began to bang his head. It was very good indeed.
Muse borrows a lot from bombastic rock bands of the 1970s, but takes the music into outer space. I first discovered them by way of their deliriously wacky video for “Knights of Cydonia.” Cydonia is, incidentally, the region of Mars famous for its megalithic stone faces and pyramids. In the video, a futuristic cowboy martial-artist rescues an otherworldly blonde who is dressed like Wilma Deering from Buck Rodgers. Like the video, the album is inspired and insane, including traces of Ennio Morricone, great swaths of Queen and even a crooning ballad that smacks of a prog-rock Elvis. I have never heard a record that managed to meld a huge rock sound, “Battlestar Galactica” sound effects, and the sound of galloping horses so effortlessly well.
Richard Buckner, “Meadow”
Listening to Richard Buckner is kind of like looking at life passing from the other side of a dusty window, or perhaps hearing stories told through a paper-thin wall. There are impressions of color, areas of obscurity and then moments of clarity. His guitar’s sound is metallic and echoes like chimes. Nothing is hard or precise. The mellow, shuffling alt-country sound blends a bit more into the rock side as the album goes on and grows teeth. The recollections of whatever he’s seen or felt expand into a larger sound, but no less obscured. Buckner’s lyrics at the album’s beginning come in gentle bursts like breathing, but as we move forward, they lengthen into sentences and conversations. I really don’t know what he’s trying to tell me, but I keep putting my ear closer, hoping to hear what wisdom he has to share, and catch a ride in the old beater he’s traveling in.
“Moon Over the Freeway”
The Ditty Bops’ sugary sweet voices float delicately above the guitars, mandolin and washboard they play on their latest CD, “Moon Over the Freeway.” The mood begins cheerful and light. Bluegrass, folk, western swing all traditional American genres are represented as is the odd circus band.
Early in the album, chipper tunes like “Angel with an Attitude” and “Moon Over the Freeway” wooed me with their pep-step strumming and rapid-fire harmonies. As I listened on, though, I began to feel a tad uneasy listening to songs like “Aluminum Can” (“And you are just/a semblance of before/following the dust/and calling it more”) and “Get Up & Go” (“You could rot sitting forever/waiting for the coast to clear”). The lone cover, “Bye Bye Love,” then took on a darker meaning. By “Nosy Neighbor” I feared they were talking to me when they warned “Sticking your ears/into the affairs of others has a price…won’t be so lucky this time around/you’ll disappear not a trace to be found.”
With their charming vocals and beguiling lyrics, The Ditty Bops are at once the girls I want desperately to be friends with, and the girls who will lull me to sleep before freezing my bra.
“Normal Happiness” makes me want to play pool, get drunk, smoke cigarettes…and maybe pick a fight. I don’t know how to play pool, and I don’t smoke. That’s two new vices courtesy of Mr. Pollard, former frontman of Guided By Voices. The whole album his second solo effort, post-GbV has a boozy quality. I hear The Kinks, The Ramones.
I mean it as a compliment when I write that the work as a whole seems purposefully wobbly.
It may be best experienced at top volume in a dingy bar. Some tunes are ebullient, some angry and some melancholy 16 rowdy songs full of jangling guitars and his warbling voice right up there at the top of the mix. Hand me a beer.