"Dim Stars, Bright Sky"
Peter Case and John Doe are well-established singer-songwriters who were key members of seminal Los Angeles groups. Case fronted the Plimsouls and Doe was co-leader of X. Both long ago flipped the Dylan script by unplugging their guitars and quieting down after their fast-'n'-furious youths, and on their new collections, they each offer intimate, mature but not painfully sincere tunes about love, loss, going away and coming home.
Reflecting their different sensibilities and focuses, however, these albums don't really intersect, except maybe at the vaguely similar Indian flavorings and shared mood of anticipation in Case's "Something's Coming" and Doe's "Magic." Case relaxes with a casual set focused on emotional immediacy, while Doe weaves his feelings into something more complex, if not entirely focused.
"Dim Stars, Bright Sky" (due in stores Tuesday) is certainly a departure. Co-produced by Doe, Joe Henry and Dave May, the album is mostly pensive and solitary in mood, although not necessarily sad. The piano and acoustic guitar waltz "7 Holes" is Elvis Costello bitter/sweet, while such songs as "Always" are suffused with Henry's trademark muted, shuffling rhythms and curving, steel notes.
The cross-pollinated folk-blues-rock on "Beeline" (in stores Sept. 17) is more immediately inviting with the opening Dylanesque rambler, "If You Got a Light to Shine." It's pleasant enough but feels a little too off-the-cuff, like "Lost in the Sky" and "It's Cold Inside." Still, the dusky "Evening Raga" and the jaunty "First Light" serve as powerful musical and emotional counterpoints of melancholy and hope.
It's surprising that Doe's album sounds so reserved, as it features many guest singers. But Jakob Dylan, Aimee Mann, Juliana Hatfield, Rhett Miller and Jane Wiedlin mostly support Doe's hushed, gravelly vocals rather than engage in the give-and-take of Doe and Exene Cervenka on X tunes. His deadpan delivery subtly underscores the wry obsession of "Forever for You" and the chiming admonishment "Backroom," but such tracks as "Still You" and "Closet of Dreams" are so elusive they leave no impression.
"Turn on the Bright Lights"
So this is how New York City must sound at 4 a.m.--guitars echoing mournfully, rhythms elbowing their way through shadowy arrangements, vocals rising like incantations tracing the sparest of melodies. If nothing else, the debut album of this Big Apple quartet manages to wed soundscape and landscape.
Amid the edginess and urgency, Interpol fashions fascinating vignettes--from the strummy lamentation on their environment "NYC," to the jangly, cryptic love letter "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down"--all sold convincingly by Paul Banks' apocalyptic baritone.
Not unlike the way Black Rebel Motorcycle Club built on the sound of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Interpol (which plays Sept. 18 and 19 at the Troubadour in West Hollywood) has refreshed some familiar stylings with elements of Joy Division, the Cure and the Smiths seeming to wave as they pass by. In fact, with guitars trembling and Banks belting it out, Interpol recalls early '90s cult heroes Kitchens of Distinction, another arty ensemble whose air of drama lingered long after its records stopped playing.
Warner Music Latina
Warner Music Latina
A preoccupation with the American dream and the accouterments of rock stardom permeates these two albums by Miami groups formed by Latin musicians. Both recordings boast slick production values geared for mainstream consumption, bringing them closer to pop and further from the raw, edgy sensibility that is rock en espanol's strongest asset.
Bacilos, a trio led by gifted Colombian singer-songwriter Jorge Villamizar, has done a lot of growing up since releasing its major label debut in 2000. In songs such as the wonderfully ironic "Nada Especial," he seems to be following in the footsteps of uncompromising artists such as Ruben Blades and Pablo Milanes. Those ambitions, however, are thwarted by sunny, uncomplicated hooks that scream "hit single" at every turn.
Volumen Cero, enamored of nocturnal moods and anthemic riffs, rocks a bit harder. "Luces" is a decent effort, although the quartet's fixation with '80s new wave makes some of the material sound painfully dated. Still, it's hard not to applaud the group's unabashed love for good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll. Ernesto Lechner
** 1/2 Wondermints, "Mind if We Make Love to You," Smile Records/Image Entertainment. Its unctuous title notwithstanding, the fourth album (due Tuesday) by the L.A. pop trio proudly carries the torch lit by Brian Wilson, beside whom the Wondermints have played for the past three years. Wondermints' material might lack a commanding lead voice, but amid lush melodies, pristine harmonies and meticulous orchestration, there isn't a single number that would spoil a late-summer sunset. The colorful landscapes of "Make Love's" straight-ahead balladry, come to life in the gently churning psychedelia of "Sweetness." K.B.
** 1/2 Nightmares on Wax, "Mind Elevation," Warp. The fourth release of original material from these atmosphere specialists (in stores Tuesday) finds Englishman George Evelyn and various collaborators revisiting the NoW formula of chill-out grooves laced with an abundance of American hip-hop and R&B.; While the style is familiar to NoW fans, the high proportion of vocal tracks and the infectiously sunny disposition keep "Mind Elevation" feeling fresh and refreshing.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.