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It’s (Not) Instrumental

Vitamin W
The Love Drug (Xnet2)

Buried in the technical specifications printed on the back cover of Lou Reed’s infamous Metal Machine Music was a provocative line reading “No instruments?” Reed gave himself some creative wiggle room by putting a question mark at the end of that potentially explosive two-word manifesto, but Memphis, Tenn.-based Vitamin W embraces it without reservation: The back cover of the remade-remodeled-reissued The Love Drug (which originally saw limited release in Austin, Texas, in 1999) says “No instruments.” Period.

While one might expect an unlistenable experimental horror show from an instrument-free record that features a knowing Metal Machine Music nod on its cover, Vitamin W actually manages to steer well clear of the noise-for-noise’s-sake aesthetic on The Love Drug, instead producing a surprisingly accessible collection of sounds and songs from his battery of blasted and reconstructed loops, samples, snippets, fragments, bits and bytes.

An electronic symphony of sorts, The Love Drug features two major movements (“Prog Slaughter” and “Nightmare in the Morrison Hotel”), each subdivided into smaller component elements. “Prog Slaughter” lives up to its name, with four tracks that thresh King Crimson (’80s version)- flavored licks through filters of punk-rock noise, college guitar rock, ’60s folk and primitive Kraftwerkian electropop, carving the prog out altogether and dropping it on the studio floor, leaving nothing but lean muscle to glisten on its musical meathooks. “Nightmare in the Morrison Hotel” is also pretty much exactly what it says it is: three tracks from the Doors’ greatest album, sampled, blown up, and rebuilt from the few pieces that could be scraped off the floor, some of them with bits of wet and matted prog stuck to them. If you like the Residents’ Third Reich and Roll, then you’re likely to love this piece.

One track on The Love Drug merits particular mention: The beautiful and resonant “Cybercreep” (part three of “Prog Slaughter”) plays like the theme to a film that doesn’t exist (yet), with dread, longing, fear, flight, loneliness and the comfort that connection brings all perfectly, heartbreakingly conveyed through music—all in under five minutes. No instruments, indeed, but a whole lotta musical power, and who cares how it’s made when that’s the end result?

—J. Eric Smith

The Raveonettes
Whip It On (Columbia)

What is it about Danes and rules? The Danish film movement Dogme 95 has myriad self-imposed strictures about how to make a film. The Danish garage band the Raveonettes created a set of songs specifically written in the key of B-flat minor for their debut disc, and worked with rules about what percussion sounds would be permitted. Whatever works—Dogme 95 has produced half a dozen classic films, and the Raveonettes have made one of the more entertaining avant-garage discs since the days of the Jesus and Mary Chain.

The guitar-based sound is, as one would expect, layer upon layer of noise: Band mastermind Sune Rose Wagner mixes together crunching, buzzing, slashing and twanging effects. But while this is, on its face, oh-so-arty, the sound is put in service of songs that are propulsive and, more often than not, catchy. While the dirgelike “Bowels of the Beast” is a nod to Black Sabbath (with sleigh bells thrown in for absurd contrast), most of the tunes move. The fast-and-even-faster tracks “Cops on Our Tail” and “Beat City” glamorize a highway death trip as a cool fashion turn. (They’re not about looking for help; they’re about looking good.) “My Tornado” is a slinky welcome-to-my-fucked-up-world statement of purpose. Wagner and his bandmate Sharin Foo—a student of world music who seems to have contributed some of the more exotic accents to the album—are upfront about the band’s various put-ons. It’s shallow, but appealingly shallow.

The Raveonettes are also concise: The disc is less than half an hour long. They promise that their next album will be recorded in “Booming B-flat Major.” I can’t wait.

—Shawn Stone

Dan Jones
One Man Submarine (Leisure King)

Dan Jones didn’t start performing live until he was almost 30. Now, a half-dozen years later, comes his debut album, sporting a breadth and depth of someone, well, in their mid-’30s. His experience playing covers by everyone from Hüsker Dü to Roger Miller has led Jones to a sound and songs that land somewhere betwixt those two pillars. Lyrically, he’s got an eye for detail that makes a song like “Death’s Head Bar” a wistful reverie of lost youth, as he describes the sort of club we all remember having been in at some time. Most of the more rocking songs feature his band, the Squids, who play with fury and flair. Elsewhere, quieter numbers sport inventive arrangements that owe their resilience to pop rather than folk. Two other things warrant mention, one musical the other trivia: 1) Dustin Lanker’s piano on “Phogna Bologna,” and 2) the Leisure King label is owned by Jerry Garcia’s daughter.

—David Greenberger

The Jayhawks
Rainy Day Music (American/Lost Highway)

Rainy Day Music has been heralded as a return to the Jayhawks’ more rootsy foundations, but that’s not altogether accurate. Certainly the album finds the group pulling back from the grandiose popcraft of 2000’s Smile. But Rainy Day Music locates its muse in featherweight ‘70s rock—a disturbing trend, if this album and the recent release by almost-supergroup the Thorns (Matthew Sweet plus quick-burn has-beens Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge) are any indication. In terms of influence, it seems Crosby, Stills and Nash are to 2003 what Brian Wilson was to the late ‘90s. Not a good thing, particularly since Jayhawk Gary Louris been turning out tunes that CSN can only dream of for well over a decade.

The Jayhawks certainly aren’t shying away from the above comparison; in fact, the vocal meld often seems aimed point-blank in that direction, with Chris Stills (yes, son of Stills) and Matthew Sweet often sugaring up the multi-tiered harmonies. “Madman” in particular will bring a tear to the eye of those pot-addled baby-boomers who see CSN(Y), Poco, and the early Eagles as a cultural benchmark. (True to form, Bernie Leadon, from Eagles version 1.0, makes an appearance.)

Louris’ songwriting brilliance still shines, though, even if this album finds him somewhat more pastoral and elegiac than usual. “Save It for a Rainy Day” and the stunning “Angelyne” are pure bolts of Louris’ incredible melodic sensibilities, while Jayhawk drummer Tim O’Reagan and longtime bass-player Marc Perlman also chip in with some strong tracks. (O’Reagan’s “Tampa to Tulsa” and Perlman’s “Will I See You in Heaven” particularly glow.) Nevertheless, money is better spent on the recent deluxe reissue of the Jayhawks’ debut, 1989’s Blue Earth, which documents some of the magic made before co-leader Mark Olson split for an idyllic Americana existence in the Joshua Tree desert. And while 2000’s Smile may have been spotty, its many high points are well above anything achieved here.

—Erik Hage


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