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V2 Apple Venus Wasp Star
V2 Apple Venus Wasp Star
Offered by WonderBook-USA
Price: CDN$ 30.79
17 used & new from CDN$ 6.98

3.0 out of 5 stars XTC charms, even if for an instant, July 19 2004
Us XTC fans are a spoiled bunch. For so many years, Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and former member Dave Gregory have delivered sublime albums under the name XTC that were rarely anything short of exceptional.
But this time, Wasp Star gives us a slice of good XTC. Not great, but good. And when an XTC album comes along that is considered merely good, then XTC fans hang their heads in disappointment. Even though Apple Venus Volume One is the head-on grand masterpiece that will last for ages, Wasp Star is just a sideways compliment. But if you like catchy pop music, you won't even care.
Wasp Star is the product of a streamlined XTC that shows no bells and whistles about itself. Even their alias the Dukes of Stratosphere sound more pristine and arranged than this. All of the most accesible elements of previous albums Oranges & Lemons and Nonsuch are brought to the fore here with very little dressing. This can be good or bad depending on your opinion. Some might call it a true rock album. Others will say that these songs are packaged demos.
Even though Wasp Star is strictly a pop album, it does branch out here and there. Stupidly Happy, a nod to the Rolling Stones, chugs along with straight drum beats and a cyclical guitar riff. Andy Partridge's head-in-the-clouds would normally cause one to roll their eyes, but he obviously means what he sings: "All the birds in the air call your name as they land on my kitchen roof/All the fish in the lake do the same should you need extra proof." This is followed by Colin Moulding's In Another Life, a light hearted bounce about utopia where couples have no worries and thus more time for fantacizing: "Beer tastes good in tins/Test matches we might win/And your mother buys her gin."
The overall magnatism of Wasp Star is buried in the center with three insanely catchy songs: My Brown Guitar, I'm The Man Who Murdered Love, and We're All Light. The latter two are the most straightfoward little tunes that Partridge has made, though I'm The Man Who Murdered Love is a bit cathartic: "He was begging on his bended knee/For me to put him from his misery/He hadn't worked at all this century/Said I'd do a job for all humanity." Patridge then proceeds to kill the man who personifies love. Ouch.
Colin Moulding's cynical side continues to find voice in his other two compositions: Boarded Up (a song about how XTC's hometown is falling apart) and Standing In For Joe (infidelity from the viewpoint of an innocent victim). Patridige throws his hat into the same ring with the gospel-inspired Church of Women, stating that all men are cold and callous and that we should learn more from our counterparts. And Wounded Horse sounds even more brutal than that. The lazy blues/country guitar is the perfect backdrop to the lyrics "Well I bit out my own my own tongue like a wounded horse/When I found out you've been riding another man."
The best is saved for last with The Wheel & The Maypole. A song divided in two (it's easy to tell which is the wheel half and which is the maypole half), the first part sounds like a celebration of love as if the wheel was just taking us along for a ride in the cosmic scheme of things. Then the tempo picks up into the vibrant maypole half. "Everything decays" Partridge exclaims as he goes on to compare his relationships with planets, empires, and landscapes that change over time: "And what made me think we're any better/And what made me think we'd last forever/Was I so naive?/Of course it all unweaves."
After such a long recording hiatus, one might expect a more rich and detailed pop album from XTC. After all, they are known for their studio perfection. Having Dave Gregory's guitar and arrangement skills would have been welcome. But like it or not, this is what you get. And just because it's good XTC doesn't mean it's below average. Enjoy.

What Are You Going to Do With Your Life
What Are You Going to Do With Your Life
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 35.95
12 used & new from CDN$ 11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fruitful, never schmaltzy, June 18 2004
Imagine that Echo & The Bunnymen is actually your backyard. What Are You Going To Do With Your Life? is the garden. It's nice to look at, it's nice to smell, and you want all of your friends to come over and see it and take pictures of it and agree with you that it's great.
In 1999, something inside Ian McCulloch's head told him that he should write some songs on an acoustic guitar and have them performed by an orchestra alongside his band. Although the idea seems poisonous to the new wave/post punk crowd, it works tremendously. The songs just breeze past you making you ask "wow, what was that?" The whole thing clocks in under 40 minutes, giving you a bittersweet taste of this new Echo & the Mellowmen. And the best track is saved for last: Fools Like Us.
Now imagine your garden has been overun by big ugly weeds. That would be the band's next album: Flowers.

Mozart Makes Smarter
Mozart Makes Smarter
Price: CDN$ 11.56
14 used & new from CDN$ 0.91

5.0 out of 5 stars My introduction to Mozart, June 18 2004
This review is from: Mozart Makes Smarter (Audio CD)
There is still speculation about whether or not Mozart enhances one's learning curve. But the point almost becomes moot when you talk about the importance of Mozart in the past, present, and future. In other words it should not make any difference if you gain better understanding of mathematics or not (if you do, great) after hearing Mozart. This is still a magnificent collection.
Not only are all of the pieces hypnotizing, especially the Piano Concerto in C, but they are all performed professionally. Recordings of Mozart exist everywhere, but every track on here is done with a lot of class. I especially love to listen to the E-flat Piano Concerto movement and the Piano Sonata in F Major, regardless if I'm going to take a test or not.
This was my first Mozart CD, and I plan on keeping it forever. This is a great introduction to his music for anyone. And for a small price, you get nearly 77 minutes of music.

Complete Town Hall Concert
Complete Town Hall Concert
Price: CDN$ 16.51
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Complete Town Hall Blooper, June 17 2004
I wasn't even aware of the story behind this album when I started listening to it. Once upon a time, Charles Mingus wrote a huge piece of symphonic jazz entitled Epitaph. He gathered an ensemble in a concert hall and invited an audience to come watch the recording of Epitaph as it was happening.
Well, numerous things were at work against Mingus. For one thing, the piece was not yet finished. The man had a great big picture in his head, but didn't have enough time to write it down for all of the musicians. And because it was not technically finished, it was never properly rehearsed. That night Mingus and his ensemble got up on stage with all of the microphones and proceeded to completely slaughter Epitaph. If you are a musician, you know what it is like to have an "off" night. Well, this is the off night to end all off nights. Mingus stormed off the stage, and locked up the manuscript of Epitaph and denied its existence to his dying day.
The first printing of the Town Hall Concert is supposed to be pretty bad. Roughly put, the tracks were arranged in a very confusing order with many omissions. Years later, Blue Note got ahold of the master tapes and retooled the album to follow the flow of the concert, for what it's worth. They added in the omissions and arranged the order of the tracks to give you a feeling of a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The concert was mud. And no matter how hard you try to polish it, it still comes out mud. Blue Note gives a flattering portrayal of a disasterous event, which places The Complete Town Hall Concert squarly in the middle with a three star rating. If you love Charles Mingus, you are going to get this eventually. But this is no place for a newcomer.

The Infinite
The Infinite
Offered by North American Books
Price: CDN$ 11.16
10 used & new from CDN$ 11.16

3.0 out of 5 stars Douglas soars, June 17 2004
This review is from: The Infinite (Audio CD)
The avant-gardeness of Dave Douglas takes a back seat this time around. And although I love the spark of a good avant-garde jazz ensemble, The Infinite is still an enjoyable listen simply because Dave Douglas, Chris Potter, and Uri Craine have not forgotten how to play simple melodies and do them well.
The first song, the Rufus Wainwright composition Poses, illustrates this perfectly. Douglas' understanding of lyricism (if anyone even knows what that word truly means) makes you believe that the melody line was written for jazz trumpet rather than vocal pop. You can almost see the light bounce off of Douglas' polished trumpet as the notes move up and down with such ease.
The remaining eight songs continue this subtle trend. Taking a cue from Miles In The Sky, Douglas and company cruise down easy street. The Infinite is not an innovative album, but it proves that Dave Douglas can be just as effective when he's calm as when he's pulling out all the stops.

No Certain Rest: A Novel
No Certain Rest: A Novel
by Jim Lehrer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.95
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Nice idea...not so nice writing, June 17 2004
No Certain Rest is an example of a really good idea smeared by flimsy writing. Jim Lehrer's knowledge and understanding of the civil war is amirable and even educational at times. But when it comes to the fiction-writing aspect, this feels like the work of a weekend warrior/amateur.
The plot is the most intruiging part of the book. An archeology professor stumbles across a case where a landowner found some bones of a Union soldier buried in his property. The more the professor investigates the conditions of his burial, the more confused he gets about the circumstances surrounding the solider's death. Early in the story, the soldier's history is linked to the battle of Antietam, the bloodiest battle to occur during a very bloody war.
Jim Lehrer would be pretty good at writing nonfiction works since he knows so much about what he's assigned himself to write. But he just can't put it into a hypothetical content. And if he does, it is not done with ease. One gets the nagging feeling, while reading, that the whole process of writing a piece of fiction did not come easily to Mr. Lehrer.
Too bad too, because No Certain Rest can give many lessons to its readers concerning history, the ethics of archeology, the role that the past plays in the present, and so on. It's a short book, so if you do in fact pick it up, try to tough it out.

That's What
That's What
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 25.07
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3.0 out of 5 stars Yeah, I couldn't believe it either, June 17 2004
This review is from: That's What (Audio CD)
In many ways, it is debatable whether or not That's What is a fine, quality recording. And in a few ways, it's debatable whether to say it's any good at all. But one thing is clear: this is Leo Kottke's weirdest album, hands down. I could try to describe the music to you, but don't be surprised if it seems I don't know what I'm talking about. Because the truth is, I'm not sure what this is.
Those who followed Kottke through the years are the most likely to be apalled by That's What. If the genre of acoustic folk-blues fingerstyle were personified as a bully, this album is a slap in that bully's face. Or knowing Kottke's wry sense of humor, it's kind of like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. This album has many enemies. I met one myself at a open mic one night. He referred to That's What as "that time Leo was smoking cigars and messing around with synthesizers." This album is so shocking that it actually got disapproving remarks from Mrs. Kottke and Kottke's manager.
The experimentation hits the ground running with Little Snoozer. The first thing you hear is Kottke playing a 6 string bass fingerstyle. A simple electric guitar line weaves in and out of the bouncing bass creating an odd texture. Oddball, one of the only tracks here to have a trace of traditional guitar music, features quircky jazz harmony placed with impeccable rhythm. Unfortunately, there is a misplaced synthesizer playing overtop the otherwise charming composition. The live version, appropriately enough, does not have this.
What The Arm Said is similar in jazz harmony but the tempo is slowed way down. And some of the best tracks on That's What are the ones that drag at a more peaceful volume like Czech Bounce, The Great One, Jesus Maria, and Mid Air. The album falls flat with the attempts to be intricate, as with Creature Feature. A would-be good idea kind of gets redundant and overstays its welcome.
And one cannot write about That's What without discussing the two vocal pieces which are probably, to this date, Leo Kottke's most twisted compositions. Buzzby, as far as I can tell, is about nothing. He plays a slide on the steel string with an intention of almost sounding incompetent at it (which he isn't). Over this he mutters his lyrics with haphazard percussion banging behind him, almost sounding like they're all drunk. All I can make out is "He's running up the street," "carbon monoxide," and "the dog goes crazy in Buzzby's room."
But even weirder is Husbandry. Like Little Snoozer, the song is propelled by a finger-picked bass line with a lite, minimal guitar overdub. A violinist scrapes the bow over their instrument in the most ugly fashion possible. And in between all of this, Leo is rambling out a story about a 60-some year old woman hiding in a school bus who meets a man who likes to put his cigar out in dog's faces. Anyone who hears Husbandry, regardless of whether or not you are a Leo Kottke fan, will be convinced that he is whacked out of his gourde.
Thus are the simple pleasures in That's What. Kottke's need to experiment came at a small price. Instead of making a great piece of work, he made a sometimes good, sometimes off, and all-around intruiging CD. Consider yourself warned.

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2.0 out of 5 stars Dear Morrissey: this stinks, June 15 2004
This review is from: Maladjusted (Audio CD)
The nineties were generally pretty good to Morrissey. Your Arsenal was brash and awesome. Vauxhall and I was restless and very moving. Southpaw Grammar pulled out all of the stops with some of Morrissey most aggressive punk-prog ever. With Maladjusted, you have eleven tracks of boredom.
The former Smiths vocalist is trying to go for that old Manchester sound with the lead off title track, which has to be the worst and most contrived thing I've ever heard from the guy. Not only is the music bland, but the lyrics are too chatty and Morrissey plaigarizes himself (the worst kind of plaigarism) with the melody from Billy Budd. Sorrow Will Come In The End is also one of Morrissey's worst songs. He addresses all of the "lies" his former bandmates slung at him while they were all in court. Worst of all, he does it in spoken word form. How nauseating.
The two singles Alma Maters and Satan Rejected My Soul are about the closest this album gets to having bright spots. But if they were on any other Morrissey album, they would be considered average. And the remainder of the album is even more boring than that. You're better off watching grass grow.
My brother warned me about this release. "Save your money" he said. I'm glad I never had to purchase Maladjusted. That's really the only advice I can pass on. Seriously, this is not worth it.

Offered by MusicShoppingParty
Price: CDN$ 15.46
14 used & new from CDN$ 9.59

3.0 out of 5 stars Leo Kottke + Rickie Lee Jones = Peculiar, June 15 2004
This review is from: Peculiaroso (Audio CD)
Peculiaroso is a bittersweet combination of humor and sorrow. It's hard to tell how Leo Kottke and producer Rickie Lee Jones were able to nail the formula, but it takes the vibrant yet gloomy atmosphere in stride.
The instrumentals are standard Kottke with a few twists: Peg Leg hops along with a percussive acoustic riff while the drums "kind-of" keep a beat. Poor Boy shows the man gliding up and down the fretboard with his slide on the John Fahey original, sure enough to please the fans of the Mudlark-era of Leo Kottke. Big Situation is another rhythmic pattern that loops itself with a semi-participant band.
Wonderland By Night and Twilight Time show you just how seamless the melodies of these golden oldies translate to solo acoustic guitar.
Although the man's voice can be rough to listen to at times, his original compisitions with lyrics paint all kinds of intruiging pictures. Turning Into Randolph Scott is pretty loopy as the album is bound to get. Kottke is describing a girl's limbs as being vegetable-like to achieve some sort of metaphore. What that would be is beyond me. On the other end is the somber Parade. Kottke's rubato-based guitar accompanies a lonesome narrative about a town that's about to be visited by both a parade and a thunderstorm at the same time. His rendition of Room at the Top of the Stairs is another solitary romp through his tightly rhythmic fingerpicking technique. The live version, believe it or not, is even better.
Few people can use ambiguity to their advantage like Kottke. And Peculiaroso is a fine example of that. It's not the greatest Leo Kottke CD out there, but it is as deverse as it is engaging.

Offered by Rarewaves-CA
Price: CDN$ 27.05
23 used & new from CDN$ 10.95

4.0 out of 5 stars XTC's forgotten jewel, June 15 2004
This review is from: Mummer (Audio CD)
A guy from college once told me that the Upsy Daisy Assortment (best of) was the only XTC CD he had because it had "the only XTC songs I wanted." Well, know what I say to that? Boo-hiss! Okay, so a best of compilation gives you all of XTC's most succesful singles on one CD, but you only get part of the picture that way. An album like Mummer is filled with intricate majesty and surprisingly engaging pastoral moments. It is also one of their worst-selling albums and is never well-represented on an XTC greatest hits package.
Since Andy Partridge and company removed themselves from the touring circuit by this time, they took full advantage of the fact that their forthcoming career would be based on their studio expertise. Moving from giddy new wave to a more progressive pop sound with their prior album English Settlement, XTC announced to the world that every subsequent album was going to go the way of Sgt. Pepper. That may be a bit of a reach, but Mummer is still something to behold.
For one thing, the psychadelic tendencies that the band were keeping at bay in previous releases comes into full bloom this time around with Human Alchemy and Colin Moulding's Deliver Us From The Elements. Each song gives the ears an aesthetic that wrestles with near horror. The combination is spellbinding to say the least.
Love On A Farmboy's Wages finds Partridge singing "the only job I do well is here on the farm/and it's breaking my back," perhaps telling his fans what has become his current state of mind with his nervous breakdown. But the music is as close to the English countryside as your going to get on a pop record out of the eighties. Dave Gregory's acoustic guitar tickles the landscape as Partridge rhetorically asks "how can we feed love on a farmboy's wages?"
Ladybird, Me and the Wind, In Loving Memory of a Name (Moulding's tribute to an unknown soldier), and Great Fire are more songs that insist on painting itself onto a great big canvas. Their melodies and dynamics reach higher and crash harder than anything from English Settlement or prior. And most memorable of all is Beating of Hearts, Partridge's hippy anthem:
"Louder than thoughts of dictators
Louder than rattling swords
Louder than loading of rifles
Louder than screaming warlords
Louder than tanks on the highway
Louder than bombers in flight
Louder than noises of hatred
Dancing us from darkest night is the rhythm of love
Powered on the the beating of hearts"
Funk Pop a Roll wraps up the album with a very cynical attack on the music industry. Sounding more like Drums and Wires than anything else on Mummer, Andy Partridge gives us all a lesson in self pity:
"Funk pop a roll the only goal
The music business is a hammer to keep
You pegs in your holes
But please don't listen to me
I've already been poisoned by this industry!
Funk pop a roll beats up my soul"
In my opinion, this is the weakest track on Mummer. Yet it always ends up on the best of compilations. Go figure.
Some unexpected joy can also be found in Mummer's bonus tracks. An additional 6 songs help bolster the album's length by a third. Not only that, but the songs are all quite good, especially the uppity Jump and the Beatlesque Gold.
Although this is not XTC's finest moment, it is still one of their best albums overall. It's failure is not really a surprise since this is the type of pop music that requires time and patience. But Mummer has lots of rewards buried underneath it. It is one of XTC's most peaceful and experimental efforts, and we are all the better for it.

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