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Recent Faves from the WFMU Record Library
June 2002

Reviewed by Music/Program Director Brian Turner

VARIOUS ARTISTS / 156 Strings (Cuneiform)
Compiled by renowned guitarist and connoisseur of culture-clash Henry Kaiser, 156 Strings is a hand-picked compendium of acoustic guitar players Kaiser feels contributed or contribute to the expansion of the instrument's parameters. Inspired by kindred spirits Fred Frith and the late John Fahey (who documented many guitarists like Robbie Basho, Peter Lang, and Duck Baker on his own Takoma label), Kaiser sets out to show the spirit of adventurous acoustic guitar then and now, and sees himself as an editor somewhere between Frith and Fahey. Indeed, many of Fahey's friends (all the abovementioned) appear here, as well as relatively younger disciples Nels Cline, Steffen Basho-Junghans, Rod Poole etc.

KRONOS QUARTET / Nuevo (Nonesuch)
Such a fabulous thing, this record. Not merely another modern string quartet thing to be filed away in the Classical bin at Tower, Nuevo is an all-emcompassing, completely ambitious project centered around Mexico, it's sounds and culture, both on the surface and hidden. Utilizing amazing instruments in a way akin to the more recent Tom Waits discs (though Waits' musicians have yet to be credited to "ivy leaf"), collaborating with local arrangers/musicians (including a man with one arm) and throwing out curves into every conceivable genre (dance, pop, experimentation, even an Esquivel cover), this is a really inspirational piece of work from an ensemble I thought I had pretty much figured out.

IOWASKA / Vine of Souls (Alternative Tentacles)
Gotta hand it to Jello Biafra, he sure has picked out some upstanding Brits for his label's roster. The last one was the 1980's British punk/metal band Amebix, who were dreadfully unhip in the press back then for their love of Sabbath and Motorhead, and I am sure Iowaska are garnering much hatred from NME scribes as well these days. Their hippie/dreads appearance alone probably have ensured zero press. But this is a kickass record; imagine Siouxsie joining Crass with a ton of dope-smoke Hawkwind globule guitar action, add tons of earth-worship, gender-fuck politics courtesy vocalist/guitarist Sam Skraeling (thats Ms. Sam Skraeling) and driving Neu-ish repetition. This may put the Goth scene and the Batcave back in biz over in the UK if ears pick up this great disc. Then you'll see that Southern Death Cult reunion, right?

EL-P / Fantastic Damage (Definitive Jux)
I'm sure this thing is going to be as huge as anything, and you probably don't need the WFMU list to tell you about this with lightboxes in every store around town, but damn, this is one mindblowing record. Back with his old combo Company Flow, El-P (pronounced Ell-Pee) threw twisted influences (they are probably the only hiphoppers to throw in samples of Jodorowsky flicks for example) together and inspired a whole slew of independent-minded MCs and beatsters to take hip-hop into even weirder zones. Emerging solo, El-P gets dark. Really dark. Half of the beats sound like they are emenating from some kind of malfunctioning boxes, the atmosphere is most toxic and crushing, and lyrics continue to mix up personal stories with cyborg-ridden landscapes (including one song where he addresses his childhood traumas by depicting a world where abusive stepfathers roll off a machine assembly line in a factory). It seems that old-guard fans are already crying sell-out, and El-P spends some energy dissing Rawkus as well. From a sonic point of view though, this thing kills even more than the Cannibal Ox disc.

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