Get It Done

Sharp elicits the help of friends, the Nguyên Lê Quartet get an improbable sound to work, M.I.A. cuts her teeth and crosses her fingers, and Half-Handed Cloud creates joyous pop

To the general public, Sharp isn't well known, but in her community of singer-songwriters, she exemplifies how co-writing can grab the strengths of each participant, resulting in a wholly formed sonic sculpture. Too much praise is lavished on solo performers who do it all themselves. They're geniuses! Capable of incredible feats! Sure, but who helps them fix something that just doesn't work? Writing a good song takes work, and sometimes it takes a team to get the best result. Sharp's approach has resulted in airtight narratives, flawless logic, and satisfying pop hooks. More successful in all those categories than her 1997 debut Hardly Glamour , which delivered the criminal romance single "I Need This to be Love," Fine Upstanding Citizen strikes a balance between

Los Angeles

slickness and polished

Nashville

folkiness. Its radio-friendly accessibility makes it at home on Triple-A airwaves, but it's the disc-full of fine upstanding songwriting that will keep it in your player.

Lande and Lê have worked together previously, even though the former's atmospheric inclinations are unexpected in a setting dominated by Lê's tremolo- and feedback-tinged electric guitar. Even more incongruent is McCandless, a veteran of Paul Winter Consort,

Oregon

, and the pastoral side of the improvisational music business. Nevertheless, these dissimilar temperaments can work surprisingly well together, with Lande mostly comping, McCandless' reeds providing lilting counterpoint to Lê's strident attack, and Haddad delivering on a broad assortment of rhythmic styles.

 

Remember the first time you heard The Clash or Public Enemy? If those examples are too dated, let's try again: Remember the first time you heard Nirvana? Arular is something brand new and of-the-moment, an album that will one day serve as an archetype. It seems that M.I.A. has timed her emergence perfectly, arriving on the scene at the precise instance that is ripe for the convergence of styles which come so easily for her. Listeners will be simultaneously floored by the sparse, futuristic electronic sound and by the stick-in-your-craw pop sensibility of the recording.

Half-Handed Cloud is the alter ego of John Ringhofer, a nomadic former Knoxvillian currently making his home in

Berkeley

. By day Ringhofer is a mild mannered Boy Scout and sometime photocopy shop employee. By night, he's an unpredictable one-man band. It's then that Ringhofer conjures his two-minute media-sound collages of '60s-influenced pop, punctuated by the sounds of sampled air-conditioners and thrift-shop children's toys.

Maia Sharp

Fine Upstanding Citizen

With her weird strangled alto, Maia Sharp doesn't rank high on pop radio's list of usual suspects. So it's remarkable that her new single, "Something Wild," is getting airplay on two local stations, both of which congratulate themselves on promoting new music. The truth behind the paranoia is that this tightly crafted piece of writing is only a three-minute slice of what Sharp offers on Fine Upstanding Citizen .

To the general public, Sharp isn't well known, but in her community of singer-songwriters, she exemplifies how co-writing can grab the strengths of each participant, resulting in a wholly formed sonic sculpture. Too much praise is lavished on solo performers who do it all themselves. They're geniuses! Capable of incredible feats! Sure, but who helps them fix something that just doesn't work? Writing a good song takes work, and sometimes it takes a team to get the best result. Sharp's approach has resulted in airtight narratives, flawless logic, and satisfying pop hooks. More successful in all those categories than her 1997 debut Hardly Glamour , which delivered the criminal romance single "I Need This to be Love," Fine Upstanding Citizen strikes a balance between Los Angeles slickness and polished Nashville folkiness. Its radio-friendly accessibility makes it at home on Triple-A airwaves, but it's the disc-full of fine upstanding songwriting that will keep it in your player.

Paige M. Travis

 

Nguyên Lê Quartet

Walking on the Tiger's Tail (ACT)

On this latest release of originals, French-Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê continues to blend contrasting elements, drawing from diverse styles and instrumentation, producing interesting although not always successful results. In addition to Vietnamese, Indian, jazz, hip-hop, and rock influences—inspiration sources explored on previous releases—Lê has assembled an unconventional bass-less quartet consisting of pianist Art Lande, reedman Paul McCandless, and drummer Jamey Haddad.

Lande and Lê have worked together previously, even though the former's atmospheric inclinations are unexpected in a setting dominated by Lê's tremolo- and feedback-tinged electric guitar. Even more incongruent is McCandless, a veteran of Paul Winter Consort, Oregon, and the pastoral side of the improvisational music business. Nevertheless, these dissimilar temperaments can work surprisingly well together, with Lande mostly comping, McCandless' reeds providing lilting counterpoint to Lê's strident attack, and Haddad delivering on a broad assortment of rhythmic styles.

The CD opener "Wingless Flight," the title cut, and "Jorai" exemplify the upside of these eclectic forces—Lê bestowing confident and thought-provoking lines and spurring McCandless to some of his strongest soloing in years. Unfortunately, not infrequently the results are rather more squishy. There's a tendency to meander, to descend into moody and apparently directionless noodlings, with Lê comping the bassline, Lande filling space, and McCandless' English horn glibly gliding the aural horizon. On "Butterfly Dream" and "Snow on a Flower," for example, listener interest fades along with the music. But while Tiger's Tail may be an inconsistent offering, its moments of brilliance are worth the price of the CD (or at least a download) and foreshadow only future promise.

—Jonathan B. Frey

M.I.A.

Arular (Beggars/XL)

This year's SXSW poster girl, Sri Lanka via London's M.I.A. (pronounced "Mee-ah") has beaten the odds by living up to her abundant, pre-release hype and delivering a downright stupendous debut. Arular is a genre defying amalgam of hip-hop, dancehall reggae and electro, all served up with guts, panache and a seductive international patois. 

Remember the first time you heard The Clash or Public Enemy? If those examples are too dated, let's try again: Remember the first time you heard Nirvana? Arular is something brand new and of-the-moment, an album that will one day serve as an archetype. It seems that M.I.A. has timed her emergence perfectly, arriving on the scene at the precise instance that is ripe for the convergence of styles which come so easily for her. Listeners will be simultaneously floored by the sparse, futuristic electronic sound and by the stick-in-your-craw pop sensibility of the recording.

There are a couple of flaws to the album's overall greatness: the sparse instrumentation and solo vocal tracking causes a few of the songs to merge into each other (not a bad thing for dance enthusiasts); and in a couple of instances M.I.A. dabbles in a bit of lyrical terrorist chic that baits controversy, reveals naivete on the part of the author, or maybe a little of both. Exactly what is the line, "You wanna winna war? Like P.L.O. I don't surrendo," supposed to convey? Maybe it's just rap-style braggadocio and bluster. Let's hope so.

All told, Arular is a sure winner. The album's block-rocking beats and half-spoken, half-sung riddims would make almost anyone want to get their freak on immediately. The burning question is, will such an audacious and glaringly non-Western approach to hip-hop dance music sell in the states? Here's hoping M.I.A. can survive the ensuing media oversaturation and become a worldbeat Madonna of punky, funky electronica.

—John Sewell

 

Half-Handed Cloud

Thy is a Word and Feet Need Lamps (Asthmatic Kitty Records)

Half-Handed Cloud is the alter ego of John Ringhofer, a nomadic former Knoxvillian currently making his home in Berkeley. By day Ringhofer is a mild mannered Boy Scout and sometime photocopy shop employee. By night, he's an unpredictable one-man band. It's then that Ringhofer conjures his two-minute media-sound collages of '60s-influenced pop, punctuated by the sounds of sampled air-conditioners and thrift-shop children's toys.

Half-Handed Cloud's third full-length finds him doing what he does best. Thy is a Word sounds a bit like what would happen if Brian Wilson or the Sgt. Pepper 's-era Beatles became obsessed with obscure stories from the Old Testament and decided to record an album. Ringhofer revisits the murder and mayhem of the Jewish scriptures, telling you the juicy nuggets your Sunday school teacher never coughed up, the ones about bread baked over human shit and gang-raped concubines. Yes, it sounds like it ought to be a record put out by some blood-drinking doom metal band. But it's actually quite humble, happy, and at times downright funny.

Ringhofer, backed by a supporting cast featuring Sufjan Stevens and Danielson Famile's Daniel Smith, has put together a 29-minute hodgepodge of lullaby-soft melodies, guitars, cellos, pianos, breathy church organs, woodwinds, trombones, non-instrument sounds, and an eight-person choir. Ringhofer is most capable of creating joyous and spontaneously elaborate pop whirlwinds. Rarely has the Judeo-Christian story been this erratic, or this much of an LSD trip.

Lloyd Babbit

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

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