Three Album Reviews (Previously Unpublished)

Francisco López

Untitled #104

Alien8 Recordings


The Spanish musician López has released a series of untitled albums containing “silent music,” or almost imperceptible ambient tones requiring much effort to hear. This entry, though, one can hear with a vengeance. The lone track opens with over five minutes of silence increasingly broken up with short electronic bursts, as if to acclimate the listener to the total noise that follows: 27-plus minutes of loud, unrelenting fuzzy squall mixed with what sounds like exploding artillery and a free-jazz drummer on amphetamines. Like López’s previous untitled albums, this one lists no sound sources, nor does it contain liner notes, inserts, or cover art. He considers such extras musical distractions, and certainly this album’s spartan appearance adds to its power.

Power with a heart, though, if possible. I found the audio pummeling warm and melodic (as I did Lou Reed’s recently reissued 1975 feedback fest, Metal Machine Music) and wished López had pummeled me more instead of ending his CD with almost 10 minutes of total silence (to give his less noise-inclined listeners a chance to recuperate, presumably).


Sigur Rós

Ágætis byrjun

FatCat Records


The front cover ofthis British import CD shows a gray, luminous alien fetus with angel’s wings–an image that sums up the otherworldly, gloriously womblike, almost spiritual music of Iceland’s hottest group, Sigur Rós. Imagine a twilight meeting of Mazzy Star and Angelo Badalamenti in a pool of warm honey, and you’ll know what to expect from this album—SR’s third, but the first released outside their native country.

“Svefn-g-englar,” the album’s best track, is typical: romantic longing set to a slow, fuzzy guitar-and-keyboard backing and sung in a sweet-sounding variation of Icelandic the group calls Hopelandic (though I could swear the chorus sounds like “It’s you-oo-oo”).

I found the album well done, but at times approaching tedium; the songs average over seven minutes in length and almost overdo their majestic beauty. Except for “Viðrar vel til loftárása” (a bluesy, funky song with harmonica) and “Avalon” (not the Roxy Music tune, but an almost minimalist closing instrumental of rough keyboard pomp), Sigur Rós doesn’t deviate much from formula. Still, it’s an impressive formula.


Thomas Dolby

The Best of Thomas Dolby: Retrospectacle



Time to exploit the ’80s revival….

I was a Thomas Dolby fan in high school during the early ’80s. I found his synth-pop unique and moving, and related to his bespectacled geek image. I even liked the plastic yellow rain boots he wore on the cover of one EP. My classmates’ rock heroes, including Ozzy Osbourne and Journey, certainly wouldn’t have had the guts to wear such geeky gear in public.

This CD compiles 16 Dolby tracks from 1981-1992, and needless to say, parts of them have aged poorly since the Crazy Climber era. Dated, flatulent synths abound, as does Dolby’s new-wave caterwauling; one can hear both on his lone top-ten hit, 1982’s “She Blinded Me with Science.” However, even dated-sounding songs such as “Europa and the Pirate Queens” and “Windpower” show his knack for creating hooks, attractive melodies, and intelligent lyrics. And the CD contains one of the best and most unusual cover songs of the ’80s: his gentle, subtle, piano-and-sax cover of Dan Hicks’ “I Scare Myself.” Just avoid the incompetent funk of “Pulp Culture” and the endless pretension of “Budapest by Blimp,” not two of Dolby’s best moments.

All three reviews: April 5, 2008

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