Amnesiac is an intriguing, albeit occasionally bland, amalgam of loops, chords, snippets of melody and general sonic convergence. Amnesiac is not, however, a focused musical statement befitting the supposed visionary pop force known as Radiohead. Thom Yorke either forgot about the songs, or has such a new definition of the term that these pieces of music are largely unrecognizable as such. If certain folks thought that last year's Kid A was a dalliance with electronic-based texturalism, they were being optimistic. Amnesiac is the next installment.
The disc's first half inches toward the kind of stylistic innovation that Yorke is clearly seeking. The lead track, "Packt Like Sardines," is built around a seductive loop, a wisp of a hook and a disconnected piece of lyrical nonsense — "I'm a reasonable man/ Get off my case" — that's nevertheless catchy in its own subdued way. The slice of psychedelic art-rock that is "Crushed Tin Box" revolves around lovely, Spanish-tinged chord changes played in stately fashion on piano. The song slow-burns to a nice crescendo.
The static-y loop of "Pyramid Song" underpins a cryptic robot vocal (similar to the title song of Kid A). "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" and "I Might Be Wrong" capture Yorke in a supremely pained, melancholy mode. "You and Whose Army?" gooses the energy a bit with a frayed guitar riff and quasi-funk groove. Thus far, Amnesiac has collected some beguiling, even inspired, bits and pieces, but still lacks focus.
And then, about the mid way point, the album goes in the tank. Yorke's fragile tenor becomes increasingly cloying — he could be Sting's whiny Gen-X cousin — the songs are dirge-like and even more fuzzy. "Hunting Bears" is two-minute throwaway — a simplistic guitar lick repeated over some aimless ambience. Amnesiac closes with "Life in a Glasshouse," which sports some cleverly arranged New Orleans-style brass. But ultimately the horns are window dressing, unable to obscure the song's shaky foundation.
Yorke and company are on some sort of vision quest, which is commendable in its own right. But they're a ways off from seeing it through. (Capitol)
Charlie Haden Nocturne
As is his wont, acoustic bassist and musical searcher Haden explores yet another arcane stylistic cranny on Nocturne. He and his primary collaborator, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, craft subtle soundscapes built around Afro-Cuban bolero rhythms. This is a terrific representation of the gentler side of Latin music — suave, unhurried and, ultimately, gorgeous. Drummer/percussionist Ignacio Berroa provides a supple touch, and the music is further decorated by lovely contributions from saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist Pat Metheny and violinist Federico Brutiz. Haden, for his part, is content to keep the pulse, never turning it into personal showcase. Rubalcaba digs deep for luxuriant, introspective solos. You could characterize Nocturne as ideal "horizontal music." (Verve)
Various Artists Carmen
MTV's Hip Hopera: A Timeless Story Told Through Rhyme Carmen, the Spanish heroine of Bizet's tragic opera, is a free-spirited gypsy girl who arouses men's passion, loves capriciously and is played on stage by a Mezzo singer. MTV's Carmen, Beyonce Knowles of Destiny's Child, is bootylicious — at least that's how time has translated the role — "Bootylicious" being the final song on the Carmen soundtrack. In this inspired update, daggers are guns, arias are raps, the toreador is an MC, but obsession is still obsession and everybody still dies at the end. Carmen (the MTV remix) is captivating in its blend of the two seemingly opposite genres, but it comes off as a novelty whenever the storyline is underscored. The soundtrack captures the production's best singspiels, music written by Kip Collins, lyrics by Sekani Williams. Knowles, Mekhi Phifer, Mos Def, Rah Digga and Joy Bryant deserve roses for their performances. Encore. (Music World Music/Columbia)
The Sheila Divine Where Have My Countrymen Gone
Boston's best-kept secret returns with another cache of lush, sweeping pop tunes. Their lauded debut, New Parade, smelted indie dissonance to a theatrical melodic sense and undeniable hooks. Countrymen updates this style by polishing the rough edges and concentrating on the layered, cinematic stuff. Alternately maudlin and crashing, "Countrymen", "Wanting Is Wasted," "Sideways" and "Spirits" incorporate chiming Old Wave influences like The Church and Echo & The Bunnymen into a contemporary postpunk context, to great success. Granted, every track here is lacquered with effects, and vocalist Aaron Perrino's amazing delivery occasionally carries some trite lyrics across, but somehow most of the material remains poignant and human. Overall, this now-quartet's sophomore effort delivers on the promise of its first, while still offering something fresh. (Co-op Pop)
Stoner-rock is a sloppy antidote to the gushing testosterone of rip-hop (not to mention the genre's crushing ubiquity), a reprieve from the screeching assault of hardcore and the crackling precision of art-metal. Stoner-rock is heavy music with a laid-back feel, and the L.A. trio Nebula (which includes the former rhythm section of Fu Manchu) is one of its foremost practitioners. Built around fuzz-toned guitar riffs, many co-opted from Sabbath and the like, and laconic vocals, Charged is hazy music from a time warp. The disc lacks the melodic invention of Nebula's first Sup Pop effort, the generally superior To the Center. The trio's main miscue, though, is its reliance on mid- to uptempo grooves. Part of stoner-rock's unique appeal is its penchant for slow, foggy beats, which accentuates the doomy grind of the power chords. On Charged, you have to wait until the last track, "All the Way," for a proper dose of sludge. Maybe Nebula needs to start scoring a new type of herb. Whatever it takes to drop the beats per minute. (Sub Pop)