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Death Race 2003

Skinless
From Sacrifice to Survival (Relapse)

My lord. If played at certain volumes, this scorching new collection from Saratoga’s Skinless is music that could be implemented for years to come for clearing runways, razing abandoned industrial sites and ensuring that your pesky neighbor won’t be back to borrow your hammer anytime soon. There’s something for every metal fan under this swirling, deafening maelstrom of wattage as Skinless truly come of age.

Guitarist Noah Carpenter and bassman Joe Keyser give a free rein to pure, hypnotic heaviness in From Sacrifice to Survival, particularly during “Battle Perpetual Will” and “Miscreant,” an indelible thrust on the senses where you can almost smell the protein burning as its thick smoke blinds you. Punishing soundscapes like “Dead Conscience” and the disc’s title track see vocalist Sherwood Webber experimenting more with the dynamics of his voice, his unearthly growl layered with black-metal shrieks, spoken-word refrains and even a little freakin’ melody, thank you very much. Drummer John Longstreth has a knack, or maybe even a perversion, for finding the pocket of each groove and tearing it to ribbons, adding a new, darker depth and dimension to the Skinless assault—the most scathing example being the unfathomable helicopter breakdown at the end of “The Front Line of Sanity.” Longstreth, formerly behind the kit for Relapse labelmates Origin, is a welcome addition to the fold after the departure of longtime skin basher Bob Beulac.

Produced by veteran metal producer Neil Kernon, this disc showcases how death metal should be: an ever-evolving hypothesis tried repeatedly by brutal stress-fatigue technology. And while the droll splatter-samples and the horror-movie schlock have given way to the tastes and neuroses of a more mature monster, Skinless continue to challenge the traditional boundaries between death, doom and thrash with this dark source of unadulterated acceleration, threatening to pull you apart with every change in your plane of motion. So far the most refreshing pit music of 2003, and I’m not just talking for the locals. You’re gonna need a tetanus booster and dental insurance.

—Bill Ketzer

Tony Bennett
Artist’s Choice (Hear Music/Sony)

The buying-CDs-in-Starbucks phenomenon doesn’t make any more (or less) sense than its promotional predecessors in the LP-era. Triple lattes and world music are no more (or less) compatible than natural gas and Fred Astaire dance tunes were in the ’50s.

The latest coffee-shop promotion finds esteemed artists selecting a disc’s worth of “music that matters” to them. So far, the releases have been mixed. While Lucinda Williams and Ray Charles made interesting picks, the Rolling Stones and Sheryl Crow went the boring and obvious route.

The Stones chose a dozen African-American artists, plus one each from the Beach Boys and Eddie Cochrane. There are no contemporaries (sorry Ray, Pete, Eric, Paul and Ringo), nor the band they once termed their fave (the Four Seasons), nor the guy who taught them country (Gram Parsons). Mick and Keith, petty and ungrateful as ever. This is the evidence that the artists do compile each disc.

Tony Bennett has picked a predictable but pleasing roster of artists. Some of the choices tend to the obvious side. Frank Sinatra, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong, Nat “King” Cole, Doris Day, Duke Ellington and Count Basie are all represented by trademark tunes; lesser-known recordings by Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire stand out. The flow of the songs is very good, however.

The disc is noticeable, too, for Bennett’s liner notes, as when he explains how Crosby (on Cole Porter’s “I Love You Samantha”) bizarrely, and effortlessly, hums the intro in a different key than the rest of the song.

There are worse things to do while sucking down an overly caffeinated beverage than listening to this perfectly nice CD.

—Shawn Stone

The Lonesome Organist
Forms and Follies (Thrill Jockey)

Opening with toy piano and accordion, the one-man band known as the Lonesome Organist (aka Jeremy Jacobsen) invites listeners into Forms and Follies, the third installment of his hybrid cartoon- carnival-cabaret (his second album was aptly titled Cavalcade). The Lonesome Organist’s self-recorded set finds his self-imposed loneliness cracked by the similarly inclined Nick Macri (aka Bobby Conn), who adds bass to a couple numbers. Jacobsen’s prankster and romantic impulses are both given their due here, the former sometimes giving way to the latter and vice versa. Melodies give the 14 songs their heart, their concise purposefulness embracing the sad, the surreal and the celebratory. While sharing some traits with film music, these pieces have far too involved foreground and background movement to lie still behind visuals for very long. Jacobsen also invites assorted postpunk sensibilities to attend the banquet, resulting in the dense hijinks of “Who’s to Say Your Soul’s Not Carbon,” a sort of second generation Tom Waits kitchen-sink production.

Elsewhere, there are hallucinogenic skating-rink themes (“The Multiplier”), Keatonesque silent-screen melancholia (“Blue Bellows”), vibes-based jazz vamps (“The Moon Fugue”), and fractured, doowop-informed crooning (“One of Me”). Much of Jacobsen’s multi-instrumentalization is recorded in the same way he plays live: simultaneously (his multitracked vocals being the most obvious exception). Jacobsen has his feet in two worlds, one being the live dazzle of a one-man band, the other being the more open-ended realm of composing and recording studios. He continues to demonstrate a keen sense of using the right tool for the job, maximizing the emotional bearing of the music in the end.

—David Greenberger

The Erotics
All That Glitters Is Dead (Cacophone)

Cancel my Gold Circle subscription to Al Goldstein’s Screw Magazine. There’s a new organized criminal in the waste-management industry, a wonderfully insipid and lurid steamroller of obsession and psychosis. You never could take Erotics frontman Mike Trash anywhere. Hell, you can’t even dress him up, but give him six strings and 60 bucks for bail and watch what happens.

A certain fatalistic, sci-fi porn sensibility is the platform for All That Glitters Is Dead, from the anthemic choruses of “Supermodel Suicide” and “Only Girl for Me” (an incognito version of the band’s infamous “Helen Keller”) to the rapacious hooks of “Bullet” and “Star-Spangled and Beaten.” Trash has finally given up on the idea of a lead guitarist and has assumed those chores himself, his smudgy junkie’s voice an abrasive slur over the murderous hail of his Les Paul. Bassist Bil (that’s not a typo) Dolan, a killer guitarist in his own right, anchors Trash to planet Earth with flawless nickel-plated steel rumbling through the crossfire while Mickey King dutifully whaps the skins à la Tommy Ramone. Infamous for hiring career felons and sociopaths, Trash seems to have found some stability in this current lineup, and it shows here in the details.

It’s easy to categorize the Erotics as a glam outfit, what with the oozing mascara eyeballs and all, but to me it’s just rock & roll that can blow the chrome off a tailpipe at 50 paces. Virtuosos? Oh god no. But All That Glitters . . . is as brash and subversive as it gets, while maintaining that curious, infectious listenability, one that dances with hookers, wrestles with troopers and performs unspeakable acts at the rest stop. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

—Bill Ketzer


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