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Beating the Drum for Better Albums ...
I've even heard some frighteningly original noise; you must listen to Marnie Stern's "In Advance of the Broken Arm" at least once, just to believe it. But where's the stuff you can't stop humming?
My favorite disc so far isn't even a brand-new creation, but a clash of old and new: Yoko Ono's "Yes I'm a Witch" gives musicians as different as rap producer Hank Shocklee, prog-rockers Porcupine Tree and electro-feminists Le Tigre the chance to remake old songs in their own image.
Ono's work hasn't always been properly appreciated, although I can't understand how anyone could fail to recognize the beauty of a song like "Death of Samantha." But music made in the '70s has a way of showing its age, and layering her original vocal tracks over fresh sounds shows how transcendent a presence she's been all along.
Cat Power adds her own voice and a simple piano melody to reveal another side of "Revelations," while Peaches' electroclash injection boosts "Kiss Kiss Kiss." The Apples in Stereo, the Polyphonic Spree and the Flaming Lips take songs in several psychedelic directions. Ono's empathetic voice keeps up with most of the diverse styles and holds the whole thing together.· · ·
Speaking of the Apples in Stereo, "New Magnetic Wonder" -- their sixth album and their first in five years -- is a sweet diversion. Singer-songwriter Robert Schneider is in top form, dusting off the old Mellotron and Vocoder for a couple of dozen sunny, fizzy pop songs.
"Can You Feel It?" and "Energy" set the tone for an hour of escapist fare; "Same Old Drag" morphs into "Joanie Don't U Worry," and "Crimson" gives way to "Pre-Crimson." Within the Apples' bubble, the world is a shiny, happy place where friends are in perfect harmony and everything works out in the end.
Of course, such a feeling can't last forever, even on a pure pop album. Drummer Hilarie Sidney, who wrote and sings two of the edgier tracks on "New Magnetic Wonder," quit the band soon after recording. The band goes on without her, but her absence is notable; "Sunndial Song" and "Sunday Sounds" add heft to the layers of fluff, and none of her former bandmates can recreate her voice.
Schneider's relentless rosy-hued tunes are good for an occasional pick-me-up, but all those sugary choruses start to feel empty before too long. When the record ends and the bubble bursts, things won't seem so shiny, will they?· · ·
On the other end of the emotional spectrum is Montclair, N.J., native Jenny Owen Youngs, recently at Philadelphia's Tin Angel. Where the Apples delight in their bite-sized pop songs, Youngs, 25, comes off as less than enchanted.
"Porchrail," from her debut "Batten the Hatches," is as crystal a distillation of distraction as you're likely to hear this minute. Heed the lyrics, a loosely rhymed but tightly wound snapshot of the kind of hyperactivity that feels like paralysis. Or just enjoy the pretty folk rock. It's only 106 seconds. You can sit still for 106 seconds, can't you?