The cobwebs are clearing,the sun is shining and spring is in swing.Which means that the following months will furnish music lovers and aficionados with more quality releases than they can handle.May is usually the springboard for a seasonal musical onslaught and,sure enough,a couple important CDs have already hit the shelves.Here's a couple of them.
White Stripes, Elephant
Get those hype machines fired up because you're gonna need them at full-strength to match the intensity of those owned by outlets like Spin, Rolling Stone and more. Because the preliminary reports are in on Meg and Jack White's newest joint and they range from the hyperbolic (the whole "saviors of rock and roll" bit) to the level-headed (the "White Stripes have made their signature album" bit) to the ludicrous (the "White Stripes are the Second Coming of Jesus" bit). My personal opinion is that two people playing only guitars and drums (without, as far as the drums go, a serious amount of technical skill) while dressing up in color-coded outfits and sets are not necessarily qualified to be the saviors of anything. I remember when the White Stripes were an interesting if quirky sideshow act for my native Long Beach's Sympathy For the Record Industry label, so it's kinda hard for me to take especially the "Second Coming" title seriously.
That aside, I think that Jack and Meg have in fact made their best album, no small feat considering the immeasurable amount of hype that's been laid at their feet. But then again, their gimmicky shell game -- are they siblings or ex-spouses? -- more or less fanned the flames of that hype more capably than anything Spin could write. Sad, considering that Elephant is another stellar example of Jack White's guitar and songwriting wizardry. "Seven Nation Army" is a potent anthem buttressed by Jack's snarling Gibson and Meg's minimalist thrashing, "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" is a bracing (and revealing) look at the paranoia and ambivalence of fame's pressure, and "The Hardest Button to Button" is the pitch-perfect melding of blues and punk that everyone's been waiting for since The Who stopped making good music. Bottom line, the White Stripes got skills. If that's all you want when you buy an album these days, you'll get your money's worth. But if you want a savior, stop looking at rock and roll. It stopped producing saviors the day Lennon took a bullet.
For some listeners, the term "post-rock" connotes extended, boring instrumental tracks clocking in around seven or eight minutes each. For others ... well, it means the same, except that this crowd doesn't find that type of deviation from standard pop, punk or rock fare boring, stale or droning. In fact, like myself, they enjoy the hell out of it. If you're in the latter crowd, pick up Sterling's self-titled sophomore effort, because it's a rewarding trip through the inherent power of music's basics: guitar, drums, piano, and bass. Unlike Canada's Godspeed You Black Emperor, there aren't ironic but nevertheless creepy religious screeds. And unlike Scotland's amazing Mogwai, there isn't a truckload of minor instruments like banjos, trumpets and synths along for the ride.
Sterling strips instrumental music down to its underwear and parades near-naked across your ears for close to an hour, without ever giving you the comfort of song titles. Fans of Tortoise's "Glass Museum" and "Along the Banks of Rivers" -- as well as fans of Mogwai's earlier work -- will find a home in Eric Chaleff and Jim Del Fosse's angular, aggressive guitar interplay and Tony Lazzara's heart-stopping drum work. And Sterling -- who, of course, hails from the current post-rock hotspot, Chicago -- spends plenty of well-earned time abusing rock convention, tired songcraft, and especially your ears, boosting their self-titled release's low frequencies to the point that they could in fact blow your speakers. All without a distortion pedal. This band might sound like a curveball, especially since they're ensconced on the super-indie File 13 Records, but they are definitely worth your time and money. Tearing lame music to shreds never sounded so cool.
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© Melt Magazine 2003