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Black Flag


Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three


[Sanctuary]

Admittedly, there's just something innately wrong with harping on a legend like Henry Rollins, frontman of punk-but well-known rap/rock/metal/punk/ everything-in-between artists doing renditions of his songs? Now that leaves some room for interpretation.

With the likes of Chuck D. to Tom Araya of Slayer covering two dozen's worth of Black Flag classics, Rise Above: 24 Black Flag songs to benefit the West Memphis Three is both a work of punk rock's versatility and a contrived attempt to re-vamp what has already been done, and done well, for that matter.

It isn't so much as the musicians featured on Rise Above lack talent, but a lack of affinity for the visceral, throaty breed of aggression espoused by Black Flag.

Dean Ween's (from Ween) vocals on "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie" can be likened to the whininess of a 13-year-old girl begging her parents to extend curfew, while Lemmy's (metal god of Motorhead infamy) "Thirsty & Miserable" sounds just like the latter part of the song title.

The album isn't without a set of gems, though. Neil Fallon (of Clutch) does metal-punk justice with his version of "American Waste," and Poison the Well frontman Jeff Moreira adds a healthy dose of thrashy rawness to "I've Heard it Before." Ryan Adams closes nicely with his folk-indie strumming on "Nervous Breakdown," the singular "mellower" track in a sea of 90-second fists-in-the-air anthems.

While Rise Above has its heart in the right place in its support for the controversial West Memphis Three case, Henry Rollins should've made sure his name didn't appear on nearly a third of tracks which are supposedly "interpretations" of his own previous work-especially when most of them are less-than-stellar renditions of some of punk's most defining pieces.

Audrey S. Yap

The Mountain Goats


Tallahassee


[4AD]

Tallahassee is a vigorously melodic album, dominated by folky, acoustic songs about love (I wouldn't call them love songs, exactly).

Laboring in well-respected obscurity, John Darnielle has produced a number of albums with various backing bands. On Tallahassee, a few backing musicians fill in the harmonies, but Darnielle's guitar and voice are the center.

A singer-songwriter like Darnielle is bound to draw comparisons to Bob Dylan, and with song titles like, "International Small Arms Traffic Blues," Darnielle doesn't try very hard to discourage them.

His guitar work mainly consists, like Dylan's, of chords rather than detailed picking. His voice has none of Dylan's gruffness, though, but instead is very warm. With that friendliness, though, he misses out on the expressiviity that Dylan produces with that growl.

The tunes are simple, with not much going on most of the time. The lines, each separated from its neighbors, easily slip into emotion. Even when that emotion is a sense of doomed love, the songs are often quietly pretty, or if not, then they are powerful in other ways. On one of the best, "Idylls of the King," Darnielle's chorus of "All of them, all of them, / All of them, all lined up" is a beguiling example of Darnielle's welcoming voice.

A couple of times, Darnielle makes attempts at rockers, and fails. He just doesn't seem comfortable in an uptempo, rockin' idiom. Both the songs start with almost identical rhythms, interestingly-perhaps he wanted to minimize the amount of time he had to spend composing the two songs.

David Boyk

Bjork


Greatest Hits


[Elektra]

If Enya grew a brain, then what might have been hollow ambience and vacuous melody would become intelligible, emotive, locomotive, in a word, Bjork.

The pitfall of every greteast hits album is its miserable inability to be a cohesive art piece, instead providing only a splintered collage. Bjork's Greatest Hits is a staggering, unified collage, her voice looms like a crazed instrument of its own wild cool flavor that provides an underlying commonality to all the pieces. While tying the whole collection together, each song is also a collage in itself, which make the song changes less turbulent.

But it's still frustrating that a few songs are simple beat, pop playgrounds and then some songs are call for the most devastating of desperation. Bjork is the kind of artist who creates gems, but if you want to experience her songs as built scupltures, the individual albums stand alone perfectly. If you want to bounce up and down on your bed in your pigtails and just roll her odd, fun sound around in your mouth the, fun taste of bjork's energy and vocal versatility, this greatest hits will appease.

In the post-Eno, post-Cale era of new age too many people have the idea that we rather listen to a machine than admire the beauty of meditated vocally-driven music, something the human race has been lacking since Sarah Vaughan. Bjork is a post-modern Sarah Vaughan. Where Vaughan was pot of stern Greek symmetry, Bjork is a meandering jade vase, whose orifice is skewed, contorted, a misshapen represetnation of struggle and pain-an artist's anguish.

Any Bjork fan can tell you, these songs are a representation of Bjork's trademark sound with equally juicy slices from Homogenic, Vespertine and Debut. With that said, her Sugar Cube and Selmasongs pieces, which are less vocally experimental are completely disregarded. Not one song brought into the mix.

For those afraid to approach this strange icelandic woman's esoteric style of music, there is enough pop sensibilty in this collection, especially in songs that coalesce with trends, of mixing trance to intricate IDM into the background. Bjork, herself has a fast version of "Big Time Sensuality." Another plus is the new single "It's in our hands," which is a sorrowful and terrific as an of the other songs here. If you feel like going to heaven and then crying helplessly from some strange awfully lonesome inebriation, give this a really hard listen.

Rishi Malla

Beck


Sea Change


[Universal]

After the party, there's nothing but misery.

Considering Beck's history of jumping styles from album to album, it's no surprise that his latest release, Sea Change, shares nearly nothing with 1999's frenetic, oversexed Midnite Vultures. It's also his most open and straightforward emotional statement.

Sea Change is one continuous down note, capturing the wallowing, aimless feeling of the post-breakup malaise. Like most good breakup albums, it's likely to make you feel much, much worse about the whole thing.

Still, Beck mourns his own misfortune with enough beauty to leave you more than happy to sink into the depths along with him.

The sadness sinks too deep to be comfortable listening for the aftermath of a breakup. He opens with the very sardonic "The Golden Age", which makes the line "Let the golden age begin" sound sadder than anything you've ever heard, laments his own decrepit emotional state in "Lost Cause", and generally wallows for a good while.

Planted firmly in the most melancholy phase of the recovery process, the songs drift stealthily into your consciousness and seek out the dull pain of everything you don't want to think about.

Despite the unyielding gloom, Beck never gives the impression of simply whining. There are no specifics and no names, and the complaint is in the painful beauty of the melody and the weariness of the voice.

Beck simplifies his eclectic formula, both sonically and lyrically. An aching acoustic six-string and mournful strings replace the multitude of boisterous, competing instruments that have characterized even Beck's most downtempo work. The words, sung in a low, lazy voice, are surprisingly direct and honest.

George Chikovani

Elvis


30 #1 Hits


[RCA]

Oh Elvis, what is left to say? Almost 25 years after his death, we still can't get enough of the King. The latest incarnation is this slick package, which tosses together 30 remastered tracks and a bonus remix on one glorious album-just in time for the holidays.

There's an advantage to having it all in one place. Elvis' muscial inspirations and progression are clear, and if you're still unsure you can consult the downright-academic liner notes for comments on each work. The chronological ordering lets us see the King at every stage, from overnight sensation to campy crooner to Vegas glory (although "Viva Las Vegas," sadly, is noticeably absent).

And then there's the remix of "A Little Less Conversation," provided, of course, by Nike. Britons just voted this one of their most popular songs of all time (see also: "Take That, Bewitched"). I don't think I'm the only one wondering if Elvis is turning in his grave. But who are we to say what the King would have thought? Short of a visit to Graceland-or at least a Graceland magnet-it's the closest thing to Elvis' decadance this side of Y2K.

Anne Benjaminson

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