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Soul Vibrations

By Carlo Wolff

Wee

You Can Fly on My Aeroplane (Numero Group)

 

Patchouli, marijuana and much harder stuff permeate You Can Fly on My Aeroplane, the sole, and distinctively expressive, effort of Norman Whiteside, a Columbus, Ohio, man as known for brushes with the law as his musical talent. Whiteside, who remains in jail in Chillicothe, used the ever-morphing group Wee to purvey his dreamy lyricism. Unearthed by Chicago-based soul sleuths Numero Group after a release of only one thousand 31 years ago, Aeroplane is a fabulous cache of soul tropes distinguished by Whiteside’s yearning tenor, sparkling, keyboard-dominated arrangements and deep fealty to the then-fresh legacy of Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone. If you like Eddie Kendricks-era Temptations, the Stylistics, the Delfonics and other buttery soul groups, Aeroplane is for you. Its murky provenance—word is, prostitution proceeds helped finance it—only adds to its otherworldly allure.

What’s striking about this long, leisurely album, in addition to Whiteside’s refinement of contemporary soul styles, is its modernism. Interpolations on tunes like “I Don’t Know About You” and the title track presage rap, and “Put It in Real Good” is jam-band-like in its sprawl and sonic depth. Most tunes are mid-tempo and focus on despair, sex and desire; the keyboard figures and Whiteside’s unbridled, almost childish joy distinguish “I Luv You” as much as its bright tempo.

Originally released on the obscure Owl label, Aeroplane was designed to bring Whiteside to the attention of national imprints. Why a slab of vinyl packing such lovely tunes as the debonair “Try Me” (a local single), the sparkling “We Could Get It Together” and the sweet “I Don’t Know About You” didn’t spark greater interest again attests to the capriciousness of the music business.

Camper Van Beethoven

Popular Songs of Great Enduring Strength and Beauty (Cooking Vinyl)

When “Take the Skinheads Bowling” first drew attention to Camper Van Beethoven, the catchy song hardly alluded to the resonant quarter century that would follow. Celebrating that anniversary, Popular Songs of Great Enduring Strength and Beauty takes a tour through the band’s output, showcasing all of their inclinations, from tongue-in-cheek punkishness to Middle Eastern modal workouts. David Lowery’s vocals mix offhand casualness with subtle charisma and flair. Lyrically, the songs move easily from self referential and locally-based observations to global commentary (their 2004 album, New Roman Times, was fully devoted to such concerns). CVB’s stint on a major label in the late ‘80s means that ownership of two of their well known albums (Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and Key Lime Pie) is out of their control, necessitating the re-recording of songs from those releases. Purists may quibble, but given it was the only option, Camper Van Beethoven have successfully created a complete and alluring album experience.

—David Greenberger

Bloc Party

Intimacy (Vice)

Bloc Party have always been a band conflicted between big beats and post-punk indie riffs; intimate, confessional lyrics, and bold anthems about politics and social issues. And on the surprise-Internet-release Intimacy (a physical release follows in October), these conflicts are not resolved. Instead they are escalated.

Half produced by Paul Epworth, producer of the band’s debut Silent Alarm, and half by Jackknife Lee, producer of follow-up A Weekend in the City, Intimacy is front-loaded with ultra-fast techno-ravers and clanging guitar rock that finally gives way to quieter, regret-tinged synth ballads.

This is the brashest the band has ever been, with lead singer Kele Okereke backed by a shouting choir, announcing on album-opener “Ares”: “Get out of the way! Or get fucked up!” To make things more confusing, Okereke has said that this is his “breakup” album. This must have been one hell of a breakup.

“Halo” and “Trojan Horse” are two of the best straight-ahead rock songs Bloc Party have ever recorded, right above Silent Alarm’s “Price of Gas.” And throughout the album Okereke’s voice is used like an instrument—sometimes his choruses are chopped up and spit out again, other times he is his own backup; elsewhere, his voice swells up, replacing the backing track and functioning as an entire choir.

The ballads found towards the close of Intimacy do not fumble and stutter like those on A Weekend in the City. Instead they shine with a confidence and catchiness that warrant repeated listening, not a quick flick of the “skip” button.

Some critics have compared Intimacy with U2’s failed experimentation with techno on Pop, but that comparison is just about as far off as you can get. Bloc Party has always been about big beats. As much as they have a serious side, they’re all about the dance floor. And on Intimacy the band have firmly declared they don’t plan to cede ground on either side of things.

—David King


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