Short Cuts 

One-time wunderkind's Blowback is a comeback.

Blowback, Tricky (Hollywood)

When he emerged from Bristol in 1995 at the height of yet another Rock is Dead craze, Tricky did indeed seem to herald a new age of pop. A child of Prince and (Eric B. and) Rakim, Tricky seemed electronica's best bet for stardom -- a Phil Spector of the post-rock era, a poster boy for a faceless genre. His debut, Maxinquaye, finished second to PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love in The Village Voice's definitive Pazz and Jop national critics poll that year -- and it should have won. A bone-deep blast of dystopian dream funk rivaled only by Sly and the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On, Maxinquaye was one long, brilliant, claustrophobic groove. But Tricky's subsequent albums increasingly traded groove for claustrophobia. Each and every record was still fascinating on its own terms, but each was also harder to listen to than the one before, and each was greeted with diminishing commercial and critical returns.

Six years later, rock is alive and well, and more pleasure- intensive imports -- Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx, in particular -- have stolen Tricky's trick of uniting electronica's dance-floor functionality with classic rock's album-oriented demands. Nevertheless, Blowback is a comeback of sorts -- the one-time wunderkind's strongest and most tuneful album since Maxinquaye, arriving at a time when it's almost too late to matter.

The guest stars here -- Alanis Morissette, Live's Ed Kowalczyk, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana in cover form -- are naked bids for crossover action that hasn't happened yet and probably won't. But more than that, they're also merely new sonic elements for the studio wizard at the record's core to play around with -- and most of them have never sounded better than they do here. Blowback starts strong, fades late, and is too dependent on the auteur's newfound obsession with dancehall toasting, but it still burns with ambition and the music to match. -- Chris Herrington

Grade: A-

Tricky will be at the Mid-South Coliseum on Monday, October 15th, with Tool.

Gravitational Forces, Robert Earl Keen (Lost Highway)

Robert Earl Keen's best album in his decade-plus career is No. 2 Live Dinner, recorded at Floores Country Store in Helotes, Texas, and the Cactus Café Ballroom in Austin. This makes perfect sense: Keen, a chummy Texan with a nasal tenor, a warm stage presence, and a profound talent for songwriting, is more at home on stage than in the studio. His studio albums have been a little too spotty and unfocused to stand up to his famously raucous live shows, which attract everyone from roots-rock elitists to beer- drenched frat boys to NPR suburbanites.

Keen's latest release, Gravitational Forces, doesn't change that trend. Just as some authors are better writing short stories than novels, Keen's specialty is an intelligent, evocative song rather than a cohesive album. So all of his releases, no matter how spotty, contain enough highlights to justify the sticker price, and Gravitational Forces has more than its share.

Dusky and beautiful, "Wild Wind" recounts the fates of different characters within a community. Keen does equally well with a tender cover of Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone," and his take on Townes Van Zandt's "Snowin' on Raton" is a gentle and wistful gem, a lovely road song that ends most of his concerts. But the best moment on Gravitational Forces is "Not a Drop of Rain," a heartbreaking song about emotional and romantic distance with an unusual rhyme scheme and a sad-eyed hook: "A string of broken promises/Another link of chain," Keen sings. "It's been a long hot summer/Not a drop of rain." Possessed of a simple, dusty elegance, it ranks among Keen's best, most honest songs.

Gravitational Forces showcases an undeniable songwriting talent working in the awkward album medium. It's a fine record with some great songs, but one can't help thinking they would all sound better live. -- Stephen Deusner

Grade: B

Robert Earl Keen will be at the Library in Oxford on Saturday, October 13th.

Anthem Of the Moon, Oneida (Jagjaguwar)

It is perhaps inevitable that fellow New Yorkers the Strokes will garner the lion's share of drooling publicity and licentious backstage anecdotes (undoubtedly future Behind the Music fodder). But Brooklyn's Oneida, at the very least, deserve a drunken hosanna and a sloppy wet willie, which I will be more than willing to deliver when they play here next week. The Strokes' debut Is This It, an ennui-soaked love letter to their city, possesses an urbanized, irresistible sheen -- as if saying to NYC, "You bore me, you sweet-assed son of a bitch." With Anthem Of the Moon, the druidic Gothamites of Oneida, on the other hand, seem to be in full retreat from their hometown. The band's rustic, ritual vibe evokes Zeppelinesque images of Bron-Y-Aur and Aleister Crowley's Loch Ness estate. The new record even arrives with the legend that it was recorded in an "array of Colonial-era ruins in the woods of western New England in the midst of stones." Very Lovecraftian.

Oneida's previous full-length, C'mon Everybody Let's Rock, was an infectiously populist arena-rock record. It appealed equally to high-minded critics and ass-shaking proletariats, not unlike the best work from Long Island's own Blue Oyster Cult. The band's newest one, however, is darker and more pastoral. It's a prime example of the ever-burgeoning genre of bucolic psychedelic rock. Perhaps their closest historical antecedents might be the original Transcendentalists of 19th-century New England, though Oneida doesn't wield such stately surnames as Thoreau, Emerson, or Holmes, choosing instead monikers more suitable for cutout bin gangstas: Papa Crazee, Kid Millions, PCRZ, and Fat Bobby.

Make no mistake. Oneida's brand of provincial psychedelia has nary a trace of countrified whimsy. This is head music of the lowest order. The band's trademark buzzsaw organ stirs up the dark bits of our collective unconscious and their lysergic melodies distract us from the gurgling void below. -- David Dunlap Jr.

Grade: A-

Oneida will be at the Map Room on Monday, October 15th, with the Interceptors.

Let's Go, The Apples In Stereo (spinART)

Robert Schneider is truly a man to be envied.Just look at all the fun he's having. His band, the Apples In Stereo, is resting comfortably atop the Elephant-6-collective heap (which also includes such recently notable indie bands as Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control) and making some of the sunniest American music since 1965.And with the release of his newest Apples EP, Let's Go, Schneider is poised to take everyone else on this fun ride with him.Well, not exactly.

Released in conjunction with Heroes & Villains, the soundtrack album for The Powerpuff Girls cartoon on which the Apples contribute the bouncy but forgettable "Signal In the Sky" -- also Let's Go's lead track -- this EP is a self-consciously fun-filled affair.The problem is that there just isn't much to it. The record's two highlights, a live, punked-out version of the Beach Boys' cult classic "Heroes & Villains" and a surprisingly touching, introspective acoustic demo of "Stream Running Over," which originally appeared on the band's last full-length, The Discovery Of a World Inside the Moone, are worthwhile enough.But two good songs do not a wise album purchase make. The rest of Let's Go is filled out by a demo version of "Signal In the Sky" and a droning ditty called "If You Want To Wear a Hat." In all truth, this record really is probably only notable for hardcore Apples or Elephant 6 fans. -- J.D. Reager

Grade: C

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