Thursday, February 28, 2008

One music review by Alison Ross

Clockwise Cat's Fave CDs EVER, YO!
by Alison Ross

Clockwise Cat has a frisky fetish for rock, rhythm and roll. Music is fuel for the soul, as far as we’re concerned. As such, we present to you, dearest reading public, a luscious litany of our Top Ten CDs. The first five are here in Issue Nine, and the next five appear in Issue Ten.

Warning: It's a violently ecclectic list. I'm not trying to flaunt anything, as I don't claim connoisseurship in music or anything else. I just happen to be unfettered in what I like art-wise. I don't fence myself in to one genre, yo, cuz that's like restricting and shit.

Hopefully, this list will induce you to explore something you'd not known about before, or probe deeper into your already-vast collection and give one of these CDs another whirl. If nothing else, it's sure to provide a thrilling diversion to the stifling routine of your bland existence.



When I first learned about The Cure in 1985, it was an epiphanal event. It was as though up to that point I had simply swum through counterfeit experiences. For me, The Cure offered a refreshingly surrealistic take on life, both musically and appearance-wise. Physically, the band members' stylistic proclivity toward untamed coiffures, cartoonish clothing, and cosmetic countenances was jolting to my more conservative sartorial sensibilities. But that swiftly changed, as an era of fashion experimentation was inaugurated upon my Cure discovery.

But of course, it's the tunes that matter most, and when the strains of my first Cure song caressed my ears, it delivered a raw punch to my whole conceptualization of pop music. I had theretofore been enamored of middle-of-the-road radio titans like Journey, Van Halen, and AC/DC, with their fairly straightforward pop renderings, and while I still hold a place in my heart for such bands, The Cure's more subtle, whimsical, and inventive aural and lyrical approach changed my life.

The Cure's seminal album, "Head on the Door," swaggers through songs that are essentially the sonic personifications of Poe and Rimbaud verse. These songs plunder the subconscious for quirky and quixotic melodies and subject matter. The album is rife with genre-bending tunes, featuring flamenco, punk, hard rock, Japanese new wave, and so on. The lusciously literary lyrics touch on such themes as drunken debauchery, the anguish of aging, sexual angst, and even obtuse topics that are a bit cryptic to decode, such as in the song "Screw":

When you screw up your eyes
When you screw up your face
When you throw out your arms
And keep changing your shape
Taste the taste in your mouth
Taste the taste on your tongue
On the film on your eyes of what I've become

Singer Robert Smith's infamously plaintive warblings evoke Dali's molten clocks and are a quaint if haunting complement to the music.

Head on the Door, which is the album that firmly placed the Cure on the pop music map, does not reinvent the musical wheel, to be sure, but it does add an idiosyncratic and altogether indelible stamp to the template of rock and roll. It is more tailored to the mainstream than, say, its minimalistic, post-punk predecessors Boys Don't Cry, Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography, and it does fairly normalize the LSD-induced, warped "Through the Looking Glass" worldview of its precursor, The Top.

But it's nonetheless a remarkable achievement, because it bridges the two somewhat disparate universes of mainstream and alternative music, creating a palette of sounds and imagery that conjure childlike dream-worlds and adult-like nightmare-cosmos. Head on the Door literally inverted MY world, making me more musically literate. I am boundlessly grateful to The Cure for doing so.


Popular music history will perhaps transcribe Tom Waits as one of the most transformed artists. During the early 70s, Waits fashioned himself as a beat poet/drunken lounge singer, a sort of musical Jack Keroauc who crooned heartbreaking odes to both the soulful and seedy sides of life. But by the late 70s, this particular Waits persona had worn rather thin. He had a few classic albums under his belt – Closing Time, Heart of a Saturday Night, the live endeavor, Nighthawks at the Diner - but his passion was dissipating. Then he met Kathryn Bremmer (who later became his wife) and cycled through a magnificent metamorphosis. With Kathryn's inspiration and collaboration, he reshaped his image into a sort of avant-garde Lord of the Junkyard. His voice ragged from whiskey and cigarettes, and his inner muse a bit more jaded, his song output took on a wildly off-kilter approach. Wistful melodies and straightforward blues gave way to angular, dissonant circus-style sonics replete with organs, accordion, tribal drums, and sundry strange instruments, plus, of course, the destabilizing centerpiece – Waits' own jarringly jagged vocals that sound culled from the molten core of the earth. And all of this executed with the proud panache of a carnival freak.

Waits' music has retained an adventurous, abrasive spirit even to this day, and has engendered a worshipful cult following. But for me, his first album, 1973's Closing Time, will always remain his most classic. Though I am enamored of his later more brazenly bizarre output and count his 2005 album, Real Gone, among my Waits favorites, Closing Time holds a special place in my heart. The songs are infused with country, jazz, and waltz flavors and are lyrically sublime, touching on topics ranging from the primitive pleasures of vintage cars, love both lost and found and young and old, and nostalgic pinings for time and place. These are bravely romantic songs whose lilting harmonies recall a more innocent era. Whether that innocence actually existed or not, of course, is fodder for debate, but the point is, Closing Time evokes that time, imaginative or otherwise, with full force and yet with understated elegance.

Closing Time is a staggering debut album by America's most ardent and inventive singer-songwriter.


Manu Chao is an outstanding original. As Manu Negra frontman, he lead his band to quasi-fame grinding out reggae-punk tunes, most of which are eccentrically enjoyable but none of which really made an indelible dent in popular music. But as a solo artist, the elusive Mr. Chao is a brashly inventive wellspring of talent, churning out quirky, catchy, funky tunes that embrace seemingly every musical style in existence. All three of his albums are steeped in a world music ethos that induces in the listener a peripatetic urging. Proxima Estacion: Esperanza, however, is the most assuredly cohesive and scintillating album of the esteemed trilogy. I love the Zen zaniness exhibited on some songs ("Me Gustas Tu"), and the luxurious beauty of others ("Denia"). On this album, Chao sings mainly in Spanish, but he displays an impressive multi-lingualism, crooning in his native French, as well as in English, Portuguese and even Arabic. Indeed, on some songs Chao mixes French and Spanish with such facility that it's easy to forget that they aren't the same language. Of course, the musician's eclectic soul is clearly owed to his roots: he hails from southern France, but lives as a nomad of sorts in Latin America. This, the second CD of Manu Chao's tiny oeuvre, evinces to us that there is Esperanza for music after all.


Deerhunter's 2006 landmark album, Cryptograms, is a rather labyrinthian sonic experiment. Since the band actually aims to meld the two disparate styles of garage rock and ambient music, the album veers somewhat violently between sparse, spacey pieces and crunchier guitar-rock. This marriage of near-polar opposites somehow works, even if the result is occasionally rather disjointed and disorienting. Of course, your capacity to endure such discombobulation will affect whether you like Cryptograms. You may, like some, think the vacillation between zoned-out ambience and vibrant fret-shredding is just too schizophrenically frenetic. But in my mind, the album's cool charisma lies in its ability to careen from ethereal mellifluity to dirty dissonance without missing a note. The songs on the album might not flow in seemless segues, but they do move in a zigzag motion that has its own logical progression.


What is there to say that has not already been said about Pink Floyd's mesmerizing 1973 masterpiece? Pink Floyd's musical exploration of "moon madness" manages to transport us into the lunatic landscapes of the psyche both sinister and sublime. There are rampant rumors, of course, that DSOM is a sort of unofficial soundtrack to Wizard of Oz, and word of the eerie synchronicity between the two has sparked many a stoner viewing party. The members of Pink Floyd fiercely deny such scuttlebutt, however, but the rumor-mongers persist. Nonetheless, like Oz, DSOM straddles the line between ethereality and reality. It is densely atmospheric and at the same time topically grounded in the here and now. Leisure and routine, greed, war, death, madness – these themes are given lush metaphysical treatment. By the end of the album, the swirling spacey ambience has given way to a final blunt pronouncement: there is no dark side of the moon, because everything is dark. Somehow, though, this dour observation is comforting, perhaps because the album, in cyclonic fashion, has transported us through time and space. DSOM is proof that Oz will always be more exciting than Kansas.

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