Less is More ? Ask Frank Black

As the frontman for the seminal alternative outfit, Pixies, Black Francis churned out power pop perfection filled with his own cathartic shrieks (later coined as "emo", depending on which music historian you're asking at the time), inventive song arrangements (later coined by some as "math rock", depending on which music historian you're asking at the time) and enough addictive hooks to land his whole band a lifetime's worth of fish dinner. The Pixies went on to influence everyone from Everclear, Bush, Muse, Radiohead and Nirvana (to name a few), who themselves went on to influence pop rock music as a whole. Draw a line from the Pixies and you'll run through most of what you'e hearing on mainstream and underground radio.

But the dream ended, Black Francis became Frank Black, and the solo albums started spilling forth like the stream of profanities issued by diehard Pixies fans who wanted their old band back. After a few virtuoso albums -- namely, Teenager of the Year, whose twenty-plus songs touched on every musical form from rock, reggae, punk and further -- Black found his second calling: recording old-school rock and roll releases straight to two-track, with little to no edits and almost no cuts. His last offering, "Dog in the Sand", felt like a perfection of this technique, one whose simplicity and portability allows Black to simply stop-and-drop tracks wherever and whenever he wants.

Which is why it's no surprise that he's now bombing the music scene with not one but two excellent releases, Devil's Workshop and Black Letter Days. Two-track recording has allowed Black to lay down whatever idea enters his impressive brain and, all told, he's put together a whopping 39 songs this time around. Whether it's the bracing cover (two of them!) of Tom Waits' creepy "Black Rider", the poignance of "His Kingly Grave", or the curious "Velvety" (which may or may not be related to the Pixies B-side, "Velvety Instrumental Version"), Black is at the top of his game on these two releases.

And he's got a lot of game. The standout tracks here are too numerous to name but "Out of State", "Jane the Queen of Love", "21 Reasons" and "Modern Age" ring some bells. Bottom line, here's your chance to down a double dose of unmatched wordplay, impressive songcraft and rock royalty. So whatcha waiting for?


It wasn't long ago that all-female groups were about as ubiquitous as winning lottery tickets. But now it's hard to put your finger down on any mainstream or indie music scene without running into several good ones. And Sleater-Kinney -- a power pop trio laden with jagged guitars, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein's vocal harmonies, and thrashing percussion -- is one of the best around.

Originally a riot grrrl collection along the likes of Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney simply exploded into pop consciousness after their last album, All Hands on the Bad One, launched the fun-loving missile, "You're No Rock & Roll Fun" on indie radios and shopping malls alike. Now their sixth release, One Beat, is here to reinstate the pop fury that song left behind. One listen to the howling title track, the head-bobbing stomp of "Far Away" or the punk snarl of "Oh!", and you'll be forgetting about "Fun" altogether and getting ready to kick some ass. Have fun doing it!

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© Melt Magazine 2002