If you consider the pleasures to be found among the numberless strains, variations, and sub-genres of "American music," it's hard to look at the term "world music" without a raised eyebrow. For a genre that allegedly covers every other kind of music outside of the United States (but usually ignores a country's successful local sub-genres, like Scandinavian death metal or Japanese hip hop), a reasonable definition of world music for sale in this country sounds both irritatingly vague and rigidly stereotypical. To many minds, world music consists of swarthy folk or folk playing cultural dress-up, crafting music with weird drums and vocals that aim to be more pretty than forceful. Not only is this definition narrow and ethnocentric and a perfect example of the way Americans look at the rest of the world, it leaves little room for folk like Arto Lindsay, a Brazilian-born New York No Wave alumnus who has been crafting pretty-to-breathtaking Southern-hemisphere pop for nearly 10 years.
If they sound like anything, the 12 songs on Invoke are reminiscent of the late-afternoon groove on Lindsay's much-praised 1997 album Mundo Civilizado. Lindsay's main gifts are subtle and mature, and his greatest one may be the way in which he covers up his most overwrought lyrics with a voice that sounds like a gentle, melodic combination of sighing and daydreaming. He may write something like "All those hidden variables/Make my life terrible/Dexterity itself yields/All those numbers," but when he sings the words in either English or Portuguese, the supple waves of percussion and guitar wash all the pretensions away.
So is he "world music" too? Naw. He's more like a nerdy, bespectacled solo traveler trying to carve out a tiny niche in a crowded Third World cathedral so he can marvel at the wonder of the angels in the architecture. For not much effort at all, you can share some of this peculiarly private beauty that is, if you can figure out where it's kept at your record store.
In 1995, Oasis was the reason so many Americans started listening to British bands like the Verve and Blur. The band grafted Liam Gallagher's punk sneer onto Beatles-esque pop songs to create arena-ready rock that didn't skimp on melody.
In 2002, Oasis is the reason so many Brits are listening to American bands like the White Stripes and the Strokes. By beating us over the head with Maxwell's Silver Hammer, the brothers Gallagher Liam and Noel have descended to the depths of self-parody. Copies of their albums should come with ironic detachment free with purchase.
Oasis' joyless sixth album, Heathen Chemistry, sounds identical to its three previous albums. The only discernible difference here is that Liam, perhaps on a dare, has decided to sing everything through his nose, which makes his tracks sound like late John Lennon er, later John Lennon.
But he fares better than his brother Noel, once the brains (I use this term loosely) of the outfit. His bland vocals sound like a cross between Andy Partridge of XTC and Billy Bragg but with a strange inflection that would sound right at home on Top 40 Country radio.
And then there are the songs, which might be the brothers' weakest batch yet and that's saying a lot. Lyrics range from the asinine to the stupid. The first line of "Little By Little," which might be about 9/11 or about, um, relationships, goes "We the people fight for our existence." And from "She Is Love," which isn't about 9/11 but rather about the personification of love in a woman with great hooters: "And she is love, and her ways are high and steep."
Perhaps we have been indulging these two boobs their Beatles fixation for far too long. Perhaps it's time, my fellow countrymen and -women, to take up arms against our common enemy. We can start by throwing boxes of Heathen Chemistry into Boston Harbor. Who's with me?
Joe Louis Walker
Joe Louis Walker knows how to work a song. He's been playing guitar since he was 14, honed his talent under Mike Bloomfield's tutelage, fronted some of the best blues bands on the San Francisco scene, got involved with gospel along the way, and has more than 10 albums to his credit. But nothing can prepare you for the opening riffs of "You're Just About To Lose Your Clown," the first track off In the Morning, Walker's latest, where he sets an instant groove with chunky guitar riffs, then soars Carlos Santana-style backed by a sultry Latin beat. Walker stretches the number for more than five minutes, taking so many musical twists and turns that your head will spin long before the final fade.
Walker ably switches gears for the gospel-tinged title track then gets the party moving again on "Joe's Jump," a real foot-stompin' and hip-shakin' blues tune. Fresh and inventive, his licks cut through the shuffling beat like a well-aimed whiplash. Walker shines the brightest, however, on a frenzied take on the Rolling Stones' "2120 South Michigan Avenue." He exchanges gritty guitar riffs with an unnamed organist, while his formidable rhythm section (G.E. Smith on rhythm guitar, T-Bone Wolk on bass, and drummer Steve Holley) hold down the backbeat. Their six-minute jam, which veers from hard-driving rock to dirty, funky R&B, is utterly transcendent. Andria Lisle
One of the great contributions that rock-and-roll has made to world culture has been the way its practitioners have demolished a homogenous definition of "vocal talent." From Tom Waits' shots-of-gravel-with-Pennzoil-chasers croak to Liz Phair's cool, thin girltalk monotone, rock artists have changed the qualifications for melodic vocal communication to prize above all the ability to sing or say what you need to say however you need to sing or say it.
Therefore, it could be argued that esteemed postpunk futurists Pere Ubu will be remembered more for lead singer David Thomas' genial, quivering friendliness than for their initial late-'70s outbursts of synthesized industrial racket. Though he's mellowed, Thomas' voice is still as alien as his band's music, but it also continues to humanize their sound. Embrace his yips and quirks, and you'll discover one of the most intriguing frontmen around.
St. Arkansas is easier listening than touchstones like Dub Housing or The Modern Dance, but the music remains thunderous and disjunctive, mixing up Mission Of Burma squeal and whine with Gang Of Four rhythms and stray sound effects telephones, radio tunings, maybe even photocopiers. Through it all, Thomas exults in the joys of wearing a suit, watching the river, and hearing himself sing or say what he needs to say however he needs to sing or say it. AE