Record shopping at the edge
A brief, but far-reaching survey of new sounds
The Apples in Stereo, Let's Go! (spinART) Most established bands release EPs to dump their leftovers onto the already converted. But Denver's psychedelic candy-poppers the Apples in Stereo have accomplished the reverse: Let's Go! is actually more fun than its predecessor, last year's loopy The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone.
The most instructive cut may be the least effective: a ragtag run through the Beach Boys' "Heroes and Villains" recorded at a Chicago concert last year. Head Apple Robert Schneider apes Brian Wilson's production techniques with more panache than damn near anyone else; the lackluster live "Heroes" only underlines his studio mastery. At home in his basement, Schneider makes even acoustic demos like the EP's title track (the Apples' contribution to the Powerpuff Girls soundtrack) and Moone's "Stream Running Over" sparkle just as brightly as the finished versions.
But all that's gravy; you'll want Let's Go! for its sole new song, "If You Want to Wear a Hat," which may be the best thing the band has ever recorded: crisp slow-motion, semi-funky drums; laconic two-chord strum; irresistible "ooh-ooh-ooh" chorus; and the kind of melody that seems silly until you find yourself humming it in your sleep. Plus great cover art from cartoonist Craig McCracken, with the five-piece band looking like a scruffier Archies. Hey, Robert — where's that children's album already?
Bosavi: Rainforest Music From Papua New Guinea (Smithsonian Folkways)
Evocative can be a loaded word, especially when it's applied to work that conjures up a place or a state of mind you've never experienced before. But field recordings exist to evoke, to put you in the middle of another life, and few of them do it as well as Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea. This new box set, compiled by veteran ethnomusicologist Steven Feld from 25 years worth of recordings of a 1,200-member community living in the foothills of a dead volcano, documents a way of life that has been threatened since Christian missionaries began ruling the region in the 1930s. Bosavi's three discs — "Guitar Bands of the 1990s," "Sounds and Songs of Everyday Life," and "Sounds and Songs of Ritual and Ceremony" — summarize the region's sounds as well as patchwork-quilting together a vivid portrait of the community.
The "Guitar Bands" disc collects open-throated, acoustic-led sing-alongs by groups of five harmonizers or more, and the first half especially is robust, catchy and instantly lovable. But it's the a cappella vocals elsewhere that prove most arresting, in particular those of Ulahi, a woman with a dry, throaty voice whose musical accompaniment is provided by the rhythms of a waterfall, cicadas and a stone scraping the starch from palm fronds. Her duets with a woman named Eyo:bo start as off-kilter call-and-response but soon become dizzyingly circular, almost kaleidoscopic in effect. And the pair of "Women's ceremonial iwo: songs" on disc three are so gorgeously spacious that you'd be forgiven for wondering whether Feld ran them through an echo chamber.
DJ Dan, In Stereo (Kinetic)
A native of Olympia, Wash., DJ Dan got his start in Los Angeles in the early '90s — during the first peak of American rave culture — and by now he's such a ubiquitous headliner, particularly on the West Coast, that he's easy to take for granted. Musically, he roams the considerable middle ground between the minimalist likes of Stacey Pullen and the in-your-face excess of Fatboy Slim — his sets tend to combine the straightforward 4/4 thump of house with textures borrowed both from the anarchic party-hound vibe of big beat and the subtly psychedelic "funky breaks" style popular in Florida and northern California. He's hardly groundbreaking, but Dan and DJs like him have been the backbone of America's rave scene since the beginning.
In Stereo epitomizes Dan's approach: Instead of goosing the crowd with a clever hook every time he drops the needle on another record, he builds a consistent mood, holding out the promise that the party can go on indefinitely, and only then sneaking in a surprise or two. Like its four predecessors, only even more so, the new disc rides a comfortably streamlined groove, loaded with horns (it opens with the insistent, pumping fanfare of Smitty & Eric Davenport's "Shake It") and a rack of guitar sounds, from chicken scratched (Louis Botella's "Got to Dance") to wah-wahed (Vinyl Fever's "The Prophet") to pointillist (Todd Terry's "Can't Play Around") to a combination of all three (DJ Gordon's "Moonshine Boogie").??