Vrrooom

DJ Spooky speeds off loud and fast, Bunky spit-shines songs, David Sanborn revs his career, and PINE*am electropops

In a sense, San Diego's Bunky really is like a motorcycle. Famous for its legendary live performances, this two-piece makes larger-than-life fuzzy sounds and slicked-up pop explosions while all the neighborhood kids gather round to watch with curious faces.

Commencing his sixth decade, alto saxophonist David Sanborn approaches jazz icon status. The '80s and '90s were his principal years, when his tone and phrasing became the brand essence of urban hip. During this time, his sound as well as delicate good looks were featured in films, TV, and commercials, as well as on countless recordings as a leader and sideman. After a five-year recording hiatus, he's re-emerged in the 21st century with a new cast of sidemen and a new label, first releasing 2003's timeagain and now most recently Closer .

DJ Spooky

Drums of Death

"The drum is universal," DJ Spooky says, "it doesn't matter if it's hip-hop, drum 'n' bass or thrash metal, it's all about that beat." For years now, "that subliminal kid" DJ Spooky has been giving us beats—epileptic, jarring, hard beats. And he's showing no signs of fatigue.

His new CD, scheduled to hit the streets April 26, is more like a lecture on the philosophy of sound than an album, and for this lecture, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, Public Enemy's Chuck D, and Dave Lombardo, the legendary thrash metal drummer from Slayer, join DJ Spooky. The end result is a sonic mosaic: it's electronic back-beats versus a sweaty, diesel-powered drummer. On top of that, there's the angry, politically charged lyrics of Chuck D. He may be approaching old age, but the remake of "Public Enemy #1" is still as relevant as it was in the early '90s, maybe even more so.

Of course there have been other attempts to fuse hip-hop and hard rock: RUN-DMC and Aerosmith teamed up to give credibility to hip-hop as an art form. Public Enemy and Anthrax played together, too. And Lincoln Park has been distributing half-assed hip-hop/rock/electronica for years now. Although the genre fusion found on Drums of Death isn't a new concept, DJ Spooky does it right. As he says, "There's new vocabularies to be explored, and we're just making up a new language as we go." The entire album is an experiment, intuitively exploring different styles and creating something unlike anything at the record stores.

When sounds are blended so elegantly and powerfully, there's only one thing to say, "Yin and Yang, man. Yang and Yin." It's not easy-listening; it's brain-candy. Think of it as an open dialogue on the dialectics of contemporary sound, spoken by four virtuosos. Listen to it straight through and loud. It'll make sense.

Kevin Crowe

 

Bunky

Born to Be a Motorcycle

In a sense, San Diego's Bunky really is like a motorcycle. Famous for its legendary live performances, this two-piece makes larger-than-life fuzzy sounds and slicked-up pop explosions while all the neighborhood kids gather round to watch with curious faces.

Bunky has spit-shined its junkyard hybridization of garage punk, avant-garde rock, ska and lovey-dovey balladeering in such a way that you might not even notice.

What makes Bunky such a joy to listen to, and such a careening ride, is the freedom the duo offers. This is pop as it's meant to be heard. Emily Joyce (vox and drums) and Rafter Roberts (vox and guitars) exude rebellious, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants musicianship, the sexy, almost forbidden kind that used to get you excited about putting on a record, back when every band didn't sound exactly the same. There's nothing Clear Channel playlist-friendly or sterilized for American Idol audiences about Bunky.

Instead you've got twitchy, erratic pop noise, flexible vocals, off-kilter beats and tunes that bulldoze through genre boundaries. A cast of San Diego's finest, including members of Black Heart Procession, Pinback, Rocket From the Crypt and Castanets lend a hand on this, one of the most exciting debuts of the year.

Lloyd Babbit

 

David Sanborn

Closer (Verve)

Commencing his sixth decade, alto saxophonist David Sanborn approaches jazz icon status. The '80s and '90s were his principal years, when his tone and phrasing became the brand essence of urban hip. During this time, his sound as well as delicate good looks were featured in films, TV, and commercials, as well as on countless recordings as a leader and sideman. After a five-year recording hiatus, he's re-emerged in the 21st century with a new cast of sidemen and a new label, first releasing 2003's timeagain and now most recently Closer .

Certainly the sidemen can't be beat, with Steve Gadd (drums), Mike Manieri (vibes), Christian McBride (bass), Russell Malone (guitar), and Gil Goldstein (keyboards) forming a backup dream team. And fortunately for this follow-up release, Sanborn's in much, much finer form, which, combined with an inspired tune selection, overcomes the tediousness evident on timeagain .

On Closer, Sanborn is recognizably Sanborn, keening on a selection of slow- to mid-tempo tunes, hesitant, bluesy, and with an unfashionable moderate vibrato. His penchant for rising toward sharp on each note's attack—the feature most responsible for the trace of urban sleaze that is his so-easily-identifiable and now branded characteristic—can wax hackneyed, timeagain 's primary shortcoming. Not so on this latest release, where Sanborn brilliantly connects with two Horace Silver tunes ("Senor Blues" and "Enchantment"), a dark arrangement of James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" (with a Lizz Wright vocal), Abdullah Ibrahim's "Capetown Fringe," and the standard "Poinciana," delivering some of his finest and most innovative solos on CD. Critics of Sanborn have questioned his stature as a jazz saxophonist; Closer closes the book on the issue.

Jonathan B. Frey

 

PINE*am

Pull The Rabbit Ears

Japanese trio PINE*am is the next step in a tradition of endearingly (and perhaps purposely) naive, all-female groups from the land of the rising sun. Mixing nursery school melodicism, lush electronics and minimalist, jangly guitars, PINE*am serves up a collection of flashy, kitschy commercial jingles for the mind.

Combining Shonen Knife's primitive pop panache with the sophisticated electro-symphony of Stereolab, PINE*am is definitely a forward thinking group. The band's three-minute pop-rock confections sound simultaneously futuristic and classic, the way 35-year-old reruns of The Jetsons still have a space-age luster. But once you've gotten under the high gloss sheen, PINE*am's strength lies in the basic component of all good music: melody.

Sure, the songs on "Pull The Rabbit Ears" might seem childlike. But this playful quality is a refreshing respite from the requisite disaffect of most indie rock. If you like your electropop flavored with intelligence and fun, PINE*am might just be the ticket.

John Sewell

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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