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Various Artists


BLADE II: SOUNDTRACK


[Immortal]

Immortal Entertainment founder and CEO Happy Walters, the genre integrating mastermind behind the doing-it-before-it-was-on-MTV hard rock/hip-hop fusion soundtrack to 1993's "Judgment Night" and the electronica/hard rock soundtrack to the 1997 film adaptation of the comic book "Spawn," returns with the electronica/hip-hop melding soundtrack to the upcoming film "Blade II." While the genre blending of "Judgment Night" was seen as a milestone nearly a decade ago, Walters' latest offering feels like more of the same thing rather than the next big thing.

The fusion of electronica and other musical genres has historically produced some of music's greatest accomplishments. Who can forget the country/electronica classic "Cotton Eye Joe" by the Rednex? The soon-to-be-timeless new age/electronica masterpiece "Only Time - The Remix" by Enya and her homies? While electronica has a tendency to work about as well with other musical genres as pop stars acting in movies, the "Blade II" soundtrack features a slightly more palatable blending of genres that, for the most part, work with the soundtrack's property, the adapted Marvel comic character Blade, a gritty albeit stylish vampire slayer.

While the soundtrack fails to produce any true gems, tracks like "Tao of the Machine" by BT and Roots and "Gettin' Aggressive," the Mystikal and Moby track, are halfway decent.

"Blade," the theme from "Blade II" is one of the weakest tracks. Danny Saber and Marco Beltrami offer an uncomfortable hybrid of electronica, a misplaced trumpet, and electric guitar that sounds more geared to a campy Batman sequel than to this electronica/hip-hop soundtrack. Sadly, the Eve and Fatboy Slim track "Cowboy," ripe with potential, fails to escape the goofy, island groove that Slim lays down.

Kevin Leung

4th Avenue Jones


NO PLAN B


[Lookalive/Interscope]

Remember Ahmed? Back in 1994, his one and only hit "Back in the Day" gained widespread radio-play and after that, Ahmed fell off the face of the earth. Although not exactly a one-hit wonder, he had a memorable collaborative track with Saafir and Ras Kass later that year on the "Street Fighter" Soundtrack.

Finally, he's back as the frontman for the soul/R&B and hip-hop fusion group 4th Avenue Jones, and their album No Plab B. The group is a multiracial and mixed-gender affair, with three vocalists, Ahmed, Tena Jones, and Jabu; and four bandmates, Tim on guitar, Phat Albert on bass, Drummy Dave (naturally) on drums, and Gailybird on violins. Although hip-hop fusion groups are a dime-a-dozen these days, 4th Avenue Jones does offer something refreshing. To be more accurate, they bring back a vibe which hip-hop has neglected since Ahmed first disappeared.

Specifically, this Oakland-based crew brings back the stylings of the pre-Death Row Tupac Shakur. The vocal inflections on Jabu and Ahmed have an uncanny resemblance with the fellow Oakland native. The songs don't celebrate street life, it rather reflects its more solemn aspects. Drug slanging is a necessary evil. Street violence does not bring glory. Hip-hop isn't about hoes and dough, "Hip-hop is the way that we cry / Ghetto lullaby," as they state on their opening track "Do-Re-Mi."

Otherwise, there is something altogether too familiar about their sounds. Even their mixing of "high" neo-soul R&B-the less jiggy and more soulful and earnest strain of R&B-with hip-hop is an old hat. The Roots have already done plenty here, Guru devoted Jazzmatazz III to the concept, and Erykah Badu, Alicia Keys, and India.Arie have all done plenty of similar genre mixing. Still, conscious rappers are desperately needed during these times, and anyone that can raise the bar is much appreciated. However, they haven't done much to make themselves more distinct from the crowd.

Kevin Lee

Neil Halstead


SLEEPING ON ROADS


[4AD]

Neil Halstead's solo effort Sleeping On Roads opens with the quiet, trumpet-laced tune "Seasons," whose title prefigures the themes of change and nostalgia that will resonate through the rest of the album.

Maintaining the style of his band Mojave 3, the British-born Halstead offers gentle and smooth vocals swept over delicate acoustic guitar and a smattering of walk-on roles from a cluster of other instruments including drums, cello, banjo, and glockenspiel.

Perhaps one of the record's strongest numbers, "Hi-Lo and Inbetween" is a reflective and poignant song that compares the devastation of broken love to that of broken dreams. The song's wistful tenderness permeates much of the album, most apparent in the slowest songs, such as "Martha's Mantra (For The Pain)," and "High Hopes."

Halstead's songs share more than a common lyrical theme, however. Many of the tunes almost seem to blend together with variations of a similar guitar arpeggio. Still, though mellow and yearning, the songs shine with streaks of serenity and optimism, apparent both lyrically and in upbeat strumming patterns and solos, as in the banjo and guitar-layered bridge of the title track.

Halstead's collection of drowsy folk is far from breakthrough, but, recorded at Halstead's home with the help of friends, breakthrough seems hardly the purpose. Devoid of over-produced frills, Halstead's simple yet masterfully crafted record focuses on the immediate emotional effect of genuine songwriting. Stripped to their barest form, Halstead's placid melodies equate with his lyrical picture of the human condition at its barest form-nostalgic and longing, thoughtful yet optimistic. The beauty of Sleeping On Roads, therefore, is most apparent in the honesty and simplicity of both music and message.

Lauren Errea

All Girl Summer Fun Band


ALL GIRL SUMMER FUN BAND


[K]

Portland-based All Girl Summer Fun Band's first album is less than a half-hour long, but it's a pretty catchy half-hour the listener spends with the indie pop band.

Strongly reminiscent of twee bands like Heavenly, and with semi-buried similarities to pop music of the '50s, All Girl Summer Fun Band mostly plays happy, upbeat, noisy love songs, although its tunes sometimes slow down and become relatively contemplative.

Many of the songs on the album are very short, but most of them give the impression of being concise rather than incomplete.

The last song, "Cell Phone," is only a minute long, because it consists entirely of two verses and no choruses. However, cute lines like, "But it's alright when I call my baby, / He loves the sound of my voice and I don't mean maybe" are pleasing throwbacks to the pop of fifty years ago, as are the doo-wop backing vocals on many of the songs.

That's not to say that All Girl Summer Fun Band is merely derivative, or that it's self-consciously living in the past. The lyrics vary from competent to clever, like when the singer says, after listing her boyfriend's flaws, "But he's a damn good / Later, Operator."

On "Theme Song," the band states its goal, straight out: "When you hear their songs, you wanna hear them again." They live up to it, too: the songwriting is infectious, and the instrumental work nicely complements the vocals.

As their name suggests, All Girl Summer Fun Band plays enjoyable music that, although it won't send Keats and Donne running for cover with the depth of its lyrics, is plenty of fun.

David Boyk

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