“You Don’t Know What You Got Until You Lose It” ( Vivid Sound)
Click here to listen. Bobby Hebb is a certifiable legend. When he performed with Roy Acuff’s Smokey Mountain Boys, he was one of the first black artists to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. His most famous song, “Sunny,” has been covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Duke Ellington, and Cher. He even wrote Lou Rawls’ hit song “Natural Man.” Despite these credentials, his album Sunny is most easily found as a $40 import from Japan, and he remains, unfortunately, widely unknown by the American public. “You Don’t Know What You Got Until You Lose It” is just one example of many great songs Hebb recorded that, like all of his music, is, well, sunny. It’s got that great ‘60s sound, somewhere between R & B and soul, that is brilliant in its simplicity. Hebb utilizes all the things that were great about the music of his era; female backup singers, a string section, a vibraphone (!), and yet when it’s all boiled down, none of it overpowers the vocal harmony that carries the whole song. Bobby’s voice is right there, front and center, effortlessly guiding you through the song, like he’s not even thinking about it. This is straight up hula hoops and saddle shoes.
“Sound Is Compressed; Words Rebel and Hiss” ( Buddyhead)
Click here to listen. One of the most innovative and original punk rock bands of the past decade was a band from Sweden called the Refused. They pushed the boundaries of what “punk” is and established themselves as a band that people will reference for years to come. Unfortunately, they blew it and broke up. But, as luck would have it, the Refused is back as Text, only without lead singer Dennis Lyxzén. “Sound Is Compressed” is the most accessible song from an amazing record that sounds about as much like the Refused brand of punk rock as Fred Durst sounds like a paleontologist. Because it’s basically an 11-minute experiment in loud gospel music mixed with free jazz, it isn’t an easy thing to describe. One minute it sounds like a revival meeting; the next it’s sinister and foreboding. Then, out of nowhere, there’s a screaming saxophone. Although this song (and the record it comes from) is messy and all over the place, it’s a perfect example of what happens when intelligent musicians completely disregard what is “safe,” experiment, and succeed. Text may never make a fortune as a band, but this is definitely a record that’s worth buying. As the Refused once said, “How can we expect anyone to listen if we keep using the same old voice? We need new noise.” Damn straight.
The Fire Theft”Heaven” ( Rykodisc)
Click here to listen. If I were the manager of this band, their bio would be two sentences long: “Hi, we’re the Fire Theft. You might remember us from when we had another guitar player and we called ourselves Sunny Day Real Estate.” Now, it might be unfair to compare a band to the members’ previous projects, but it’s also unavoidable, and the Fire Theft is no Sunny Day Real Estate. Their self-titled debut album is good but not great. The songs are soaring and beautiful at their best, plodding and predictable at their worst. “Heaven,” though, is a perfect example of the Fire Theft when they’re doing everything right. They never rush, letting the bass, guitar, and piano create a distinct feeling of power without feeling abrasive. They let you soak up the music instead of forcing it upon you. And then there’s lead singer, Jeremy Enigk. His voice is sharp, clear, and focused. He belts out the lyrics with passion, pushing himself right to the brink of boiling over but never going too far. He is what makes this band amazing. Now, if only they can stay together …
Aphex Twin”Windowlicker” ( Sire/ WEA)
Click here to listen. Anyone who is into electronic music knows about the Aphex Twin (aka Richard D. James) and his brand of intelligent dance music. “Windowlicker” is a few years old, but it’s still far more innovative than just about anything being produced today. Where most electronic music, hip-hop included, is comprised of thoughtlessly simple beat patterns and painfully formulaic song structure, Aphex Twin employs true, detailed, musical composition. The sound is complex and synthetic. Where traditional instruments jangle, pop, and crash, Aphex Twin shimmers and bubbles. “Windowlicker” is based around a deconstructed vocal phrase that’s cut into pieces, continuously pitch-shifted and reconstructed into something entirely different from its original. The sounds mutate, expanding and contracting, warping into each other, leaving you to wonder how many voices you’re actually hearing. If the planet is ever overthrown by superintelligent robots, this is definitely the music they’ll be dancing to at all the hip robot night spots. Take that, Styx.
Latyrx“Lady Don’t Tek No” (Quannum Projects)
Click here to listen. Latyrx is the definition of what hip-hop should be. There’s no shtick, no braggadocio attitude, and none of the millionaire posturing that’s so popular these days. The back beat to “Lady Don’t Tek No” is a revamped version of “The Message” by Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, but the beat is where the throwback stops. The lyrics, and the flawless style with which they are delivered, are pure Latyrx. Lateef the Truth Speaker delivers about 80 percent of the lyrics with a sort of swanky California faux Rasta-ism, paying great attention to cadence, as he straddles the line between singing and rapping beautifully. Lyrics Born closes out the track with his own gruff, staggered delivery that is a perfect counterpoint to Lateef. If the world were a fair place, these guys would be millionaires.