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Kings of Leon
Youth & Young Manhood

It’s hard to say whether or not it’s appropriate to hand off the “new Strokes” tag just yet. Technically, they spearheaded a refreshing movement in rock & roll and, judging by the proliferation of “garage rock” on modern-rock radio nowadays, they’ve already exerted a hefty influence on radio programmers and A&R folk, if not the listening public. But the Strokes haven’t really proven themselves as a real long-term contender as of yet—releasing the same record twice does not a lasting career make (Have you heard Room on Fire yet? Yes, you have. It used to be called Is This It)—which means there’s still time for an upheaval in the garage-rock hierarchy.

What does all of this Strokes talk have to do with the Kings of Leon? Well, several major music publications would have you believe that the Kings are the “new Strokes,” in that they’re young and attractive (bearing an uncanny resemblance to the band from Almost Famous), they borrow from most of the same sources, and they both have marble-mouthed lead singers. I would argue that the Kings have taken the Strokes’ formula to the proverbial next level. Them Strokes are a damn tight rock & roll outfit, but in this kind of rock & roll, the only things that should be tight are the leather pants. Kings of Leon are a loose, bluesy, Southern-fried boogie band, and that’s really where it’s at. They sound as if they keep their Stooges and Television records right alongside Eat A Peach and Second Helping. What really sets these guys apart from their peers is they actually pen some killer refrains. Good old-fashioned garage rock (or whatever you want to call it this week) was always based around solid, repetitive hooks, and Youth & Young Manhood is just brimming with ’em. Exhibits A and B: “California Waiting” and “Molly’s Chambers.” The court finds in favor of the plaintiff. Case closed.

—John Brodeur

Kill Bill Vol. 1
Original Soundtrack
(A Band Apart/Maverick)

As with previous Quentin Tarantino films, there’s no doubt the director was heavily involved in selecting the music for Kill Bill. There are the musical rarities Tarantino loves, like Nancy Sinatra’s stark cover of Cher’s hit “Bang Bang,” and cult rockabilly genius Charlie Feathers’ “That Certain Female.” But the bulk of this album is instrumental, which is what makes it fascinating—it’s Tarantino, the ultimate postmodern movie geek, at his, well, most geeky.

In the ’70s, film buffs-turned-directors would try to capture a retro feeling by hiring a legendary film composer to write a score, or by packing their film soundtracks with Tin Pan Alley tunes. Tarantino goes one step further: Almost the entire soundtrack for Kill Bill consists of music lifted from other movies.

Well-known names like Bernard Herrmann, Quincy Jones and Isaac Hayes are represented along with non-Hollywood composers from spaghetti westerns and kung fu films. It’s recycled music that, on screen, is perfectly used. And on disc, it all sounds as exciting as it does in the film. Tarantino has superb pop taste, from Al Hirt’s “Green Hornet” theme through the surprisingly affecting, Ennio Morricone-esque track by Zamfir (aka “master of the pan flute”).

The only unwanted contribution is a not-very-good rap by the RZA (of the Wu-Tang Clan) about Lucy Liu’s character, gang boss O-Ren Ishii. (She’s allowed to speak for herself in a memorable dialogue excerpt, though: “The price you pay for bringing up either my Chinese or American heritage as a negative is—I collect your fucking head.”) And it would have been nice to hear more than one song from the rockabilly-punk combo the 5,6,7,8s, who performed at least three numbers in the film.

These are small complaints, however. The disc wonderfully evokes the style and panache of the film—and without all the hacked-off limbs and blood.

—Shawn Stone

Auerbach: 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano
Vadim Guzman, Angela Yoffe

They begin by hovering in a sense of uncertainty even though the key is easygoing C Major. They end in D Minor, peacefully. The journey between, comprising nearly an hour, is as emotionally wrenching as it is unpredictable. It’s an old-fashioned set of 24 preludes, a trip round the circle of fifths for violin and piano, and it’s one more piece of evidence that Russian-American composer Lera Auerbach has a voice to be reckoned with.

Locally, we had a taste of Auerbach’s music when Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica performed her Suite for Violin, Piano and Strings during a 2002 Union College appearance that also featured Auerbach herself at the piano. It was difficult then to square the image of this young (she’s 30) composer-poet with the profundity of her music, and the preludes make it still more difficult.

No false pretense of youth here, and if at times she seems to be channeling Shostakovich, it’s not to her discredit—his influence was simply too huge during the last several decades.

The performers are violinist Vadim Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe, who are both sensitive to the music and practiced enough to easily conquer its difficulties. Listen to the second prelude, as Gluzman shifts suddenly between full-bore playing and wispy false harmonics; during the transition to Prelude No. 3, Yoffe slides from percussive cacophony into a charming fairy-tale voice. Brilliant playing.

Although seemingly disconnected, a through line emerges as each prelude gives way to the next. The smashing agitato chords of number 15 (presto) ease into the most wistful lament you can imagine in a prelude that then lives up to its misterioso marking with a series of ghostly harmonics.

Number 20, Tragico, is actually a sweet-and-sardonic romp, a dialogue between elephant and mouse. A sweet andante ties up the emotional loose ends of the piece with more than a hint of Shostakovich, before Auerbach caps it all with a five-minute presto that opens in a fiery perpetuum mobile and gradually gives way to a graceful finish.

Two short works finish the CD: T’filah (Prayer), for solo violin, a five-minute meditation of questions raised by the Holocaust that emerges as a stirring lament (if laments can be stirring), and a sweet postlude that has the feel of one of Rachmaninoff’s more gentle songs.

Auerbach’s music needs and deserves whatever attention fans of contemporary stuff can offer, and the rewards will be tremendous. A highly recommended disc.

—B.A. Nilsson

Miroslav Vitous
Universal Syncopations (ECM)

The new album by Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous rightfully draws comparisons with his 1969 debut, Infinite Search (also issued under the title Mountain in the Clouds). Besides a similar instrumental lineup and the return of Jack DeJohnette and John McLaughlin, Vitous’ compositions evoke similar moods and feelings. In fact, the very bearing of his writing, which mixes post-bop ’60s freedom with folk and European traditions, sounds like a virtual blueprint for the more robust aspects of the label he now sporadically records for, ECM.

That Universal Syncopations sounds utterly contemporary yet hard to locate in time is a testament to how sympathetically matched these players are to each other and the material. This also serves as a reminder (not that one should be necessary) that the ’70s fusion tangent of Chick Corea ended decades ago. Also, that Jan Garbarek, whose pristine soprano tones opened the door to wallpaper salesman like Kenny G (that G stands for either “Go away” or “eee-Gads!”), was never one of their ilk. From the hypnotic gallop of “Faith Run” to the sassy swagger of “Tramp Blues,” this is one of the finest quartets ever assembled, and one can only hope that this is but the first of a series of vital and bracing recordings to follow.

—David Greenberger

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