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PCR #166 (Vol. 4, No. 22). This edition is for the week of May 26--June 1, 2003.
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LEDs     CD REVIEWS    by Terence Nuzum
CDs are rated 1 to 5 LEDs

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever To Tell

Available at Amazon.com!


Some Rock frontmen & women have that certain something that makes them worshipped by many far and wide. You can never quite place what it is. It's a certain charm, charisma, swagger or aura I suppose. Jim Morrison had it, Elvis had it, Janis Joplin had it and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O has it. The funny thing is that she may have it more than her predecessors. Never in such a short time has a frontperson garnered so much notoriety, adoration and idle worship as Karen O. Based on a couple of E.P.'s the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have gained a cult following of music reviewers (yours truly included) who would live or die just to worhip at the alter of Karen.

To be honest, their E.P.'s are already things of legend. Gutteral sleaze o' billy guitar all accompanied by a female singer named Karen O who at one moment recalls the dark baritone of Jim Morrison, the sexual come-on whine of Robert Plant, and the next all-the-surging-fury of Courtney Love and the riot girrls.

Their debut album Fever To Tell is the second release to come out of the Garage Rock scene this year (Elephant being the first) and my anticipation for this album was very high and also very worried. Could the goddess pull it off? Are the Yeah Yeah Yeahs just hype? The answer is YES, they did pull it off and have released one of the best rock albums ever. I know that is said a lot, but I mean it this time. Karen's vocals are amazing and the tunes catchy without losing its garage sound. The vocal range Karen produces from punk, to goth, to bluesy is uncanny. For all the references you can place on her vocals there is still her own voice, a soft girlish country whine that's honest yet deceiving, shy yet confindent. The album's opener "Rich" begins with a synth tune and the lines "I'll take you out boy/ so stuck up/ wish you'd stick it in me/ Flesh ripped off". Then Karen unleashes a primal growl followed by a wave of guitar sludge. "Man" is the first really bluesy offering that the band has tackled and it is done well especially when Karen lets out a gospel like holler of "I said we got the fever to tell". "Date With The Night" is the atypical YYY's tune, a scorching art-punk rocker with crashing guitars and Karen slipping into her orgasmic moans. "Black Tongue" shows their maturity at songwriting as it is a fully realized rock song. It contains the excellent lyrics "You can keep your black tongue/ Well I found it at the mortuary" and the gender-swapping chorus of " Boy you just a stupid bitch/ Girl you just a no good dick" all sung in Karen's girly twang. "Pin" is an old 60'-ish rave up as displayed by the "Louie Louie" type chorus of " bah bah bah/ doot doot doot it". On "Cold Light" Karen's inner Jim Morrison is called forth for the chorus "Ride Mama ride/ Ride out the tide". "No No No" is a heavy grungy anthem that makes way for "Maps". "Maps" is the first big change in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sound. It's a ballad, and yes Karen pulls that off, too. Where others would have failed, the furious, sexy, and raw punk rocker puts more honesty into the gentle croon "Wait they don't love you like I love you" than ten emo records and when its followed by Nick Zimmer's soaring guitar line you know you have heard a classic moment. When she sings "Well your kind is my kind/ I'll stay the same" she's singing as if its for you. It's this kind of unplacable open door magic that makes you feel part of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs records. Starting with "Maps" the last songs on the record are apocalyptic love disasters. "Y-Control" is a punk ballad about deceit. The resonance Karen emotes on the simple line "I wish I could buy back/ the woman you stole" is pure and haunting. No posing here. The album ends with the "Venus in Furs" jangle of "Modern Romance". Karen O in her most soft and soothing voice yet heard on record lays it depressingly clear "There is no modern romance". For those who connect with this album, it will have a sort of Billy Corgan/Smashing Pumpkins religious quality to it. The hidden track "Porcelain" tells the story "I know you're just as cool and cool kids belong together". Elitist, but that's the way it is.

2003 is the year Garage Rock had to prove itself. So far, it has with The White Stripes' Elephant and now with Fever To Tell. Is Fever To Tell as good as Elephant? I'd be lying if I said no. In fact it may be better. Karen O is the new Patti Smith and Courtney Love. Most of all though she's Karen O. Worship at her altar, become a believer. I did.

Loose Fur

Loose Fur: Loose Fur

Available at Amazon.com!


Though it might seem like a ploy to put out B-sides from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and producer/musician Jim O'Rourke's Loose Fur is actually a worthwhile project. Of course it does contain the usual Tweedyisms and weird O'Rourke electronics, but for the most part, it works.

It is basically a tribute to those '70's Country Rock albums. The first song "Laminated Cats" though has more in common with White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground as its distortion chugs and slunks along. But twangy guitar adds the kind of southern-fried rock charm that Lou Reed never touched. "Elegant Transaction" is like a trip back to a time when Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sounded fresh with a country jangle and breezy, high-pitched vocals. "So Long" definitely came from the Neil Young book of ballads and even adds in the kind of off-kilter guitar noodle that you always felt Neil wanted to do but was afraid to do. This is not to say that the album is a time-capsule back to the '70s. O'Rourke's avant-garde sound effects litter every song, making it more like an update or remix of the '70s seen thru indy-hipster eyes. "You Were Wrong" oddly enough seems out of place with the rest of the album's tone as it goes for a piano-based epic that it never pulls off. Like the extended jam of "Carnival Knowledge" some songs refuse to go anywhere but the bone pile of boredom. But the closer "Chinese Apple" is worth the price of admission alone.

So, if this is in fact a collection of Wilco outtakes, then it was wise to leave them off as they are too unstructured and long. Loose Fur remains an interesting listen for us Tweedy fans, and it is a worthwhile album, but if Tweedy and O'Rourke are reading this, "a little less mediocrity next time, guys".

The Kills

The Kills: Keep On Your Mean Side

Available at Amazon.com!


I have seen the future of Blues and it is The Kills. I don't mean blues-rock. I mean the blues. Lots of bands over the years have pretended to play the blues -- Cream, Led Zeppelin, and even Canned Heat, but the fact is that they were rock, plain and simple. They took the swagger, but not the soul of the Blues.

The Kills on the other hand sound like the Blues and feel like them. They play a stark and harrowing 21st-century version of the blues. Sure, it has a rock sound because by all accounts it should. The blues would have evolved into a rock sound. But not a mock blues sound like The Rolling Stones gave us. The Kills lyrics and music emit a kind of angst and sadness that just bleeds the Blues. The music is one of down and dirty guitar mud of the Mississippi Delta kind. Alison Mosshart comes on like a female Muddy Waters with lines like "You got it, I want it!". Musically, Jamie Hince's guitars chug and spurt out the most dingy back-to-roots blues since P.J. Harvey's Rid Of Me. They also put out some damn cool, hip-shaking Chicago blues like "Fried My Little Brains". Roadhouse blues with "Hitched" a guitar bump 'n' grind that would put a smile on John Lee Hooker's face, and anti-protest songs like "Fuck The People". "Black Rooster" is the one song that makes it clear that The Kills are the real deal. In execution and soul it's pure blues. "Monkey On Your Back" tackles minimalistic blues and is a great argument on how to do modern blues. Listen up Jack White, you don't have to sound old-fashioned to make the blues.

Bands like The White Stripes may pretend to be blues but what they are is blues-rock, because compared to The Kills, they don't even hold a seat in the hall of bluesmen. A while back I declared that The White Stripes were saviors of the blues. False idols can be deceiving. They may be a great rock band but they aren't Blues. The Kills, on the other hand, can sit proudly by Robert Johnson and company.

The Blues are alive and well. How ironic that it would be in the form of a band called The Kills.

This issue's Digital Divide was composed in its entirety by Terence B. Nuzum, ©2003. Webpage design and all graphics herein, except where otherwise noted, are creations of Nolan B. Canova.    All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.