Volume 93, Issue 94

Tuesday, March 28, 2000


Here on Earth has no place on Earth

Teen flick missing what it takes

Special effects keep Romeo alive

Valvola rework organic electronica

Valvola rework organic electronica

Teenagers Film Their Own Lives
Third Gear Records

Teenagers Film Their Own Lives, the first album from Italian trio Valvola, is a bizarre collection of innovative dance music and is something of an oddity.

This genuinely original offering is so unique, it probably won't achieve mainstream success. However, that doesn't detract from the strength of the album. Teenagers Film Their Own Lives is an always interesting and frequently brilliant debut release.

Valvola doesn't structure songs in the traditional sense. Although several of the album's tracks do feature vocals, they aren't the main focus. Instead, wistful voices float in and out of the songs as the band locks into intricate grooves.

With the exception of the excellent and rather funky "Flashin' Light (Some Girls Like To Disco)," there isn't a single discernable chorus to be found. The music is punctuated by whining analog-synth lines, a fluid bass and an occasional wash of distorted guitar. It's all very atmospheric and it's clear the effort was designed to be listened to as a whole, not divided into singles.

The overall feel of the album is extremely warm and mellow, almost soothing. Valvola is definitely capable of making you groove, although their material is a refreshing change from the current electronic dance music. They seem to have bigger aspirations than producing dance floor fodder – they recklessly experiment with different sounds and craft an intricately orchestrated album. At times, its many different layers are virtually smothering.

The most accurate comparisons one can make to Valvola are to similar-minded sound terrorists such as Tricky or Radiohead. Although Valvola's music doesn't particularly resemble the work of either of those artists, they share a similar motivation to do genuinely interesting and peerless work.

If it is possible to describe music as "intelligent," then Teenagers Film Their Own Lives deserves such a tag.

–Aaron St. John

The The
Naked Self

While the '80s unleashed a plague upon the musical landscape, they did contribute a few important rock groups.

U2 and REM may be the first to spring to mind, but The The should surely be counted among the decade's most impressive. With Reagan and Mulroney far behind us, those who found their fame in the decade of decadence have been forced to forge their own niche in the music of the '90s.

To this point, The The has failed to do so. Six years removed from their last release, they were all but forgotten – buried under bubble gum pop and boring rock. But then, amid all the darkness, there appears an ominous figure. That figure is Matt Johnson.

Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against the Machine now wave the flag for the angry and disenchanted, but they must all bow at the feet of their predecessor. The The presents all the doom and gloom one could possibly consume, packaged in an addictive, pop/rock package. Raging against the evils of capitalism and industrialization, The The offers a raw, gritty album, held together with catchy guitar hooks and bass lines.

"ShrunkenMan" showcases Johnson's ability to present the perfect James Joycian character portrait. On "TheWhisperers," Johnson sounds like Suede's Brett Anderson as he sings about the evils of backstabbing friends. "GlobalEyes" features one of rock's great lines – "Truth hides in plain sight/Kentucky Fried Genocide."

Johnson's most personal track is "SoulCatcher," a touching recollection of his life to this point, which contains more of his brilliant lyrics – "My life is halfway done/and I still haven't done/what I'm here to do." Rarely has anyone presented a mid-life crisis so eloquently.

The The is a breath of fresh air – gritty and grungy as that air may be. While definitely not for everyone, Johnson presents a beautifully dark album which could easily serve as the soundtrack to many a brooding night.

A triumph of sadness.

–Aaron Wherry

J. Englishman
Poor Li'l Rockstar

Sibling rivalry can be a dangerous thing.

The jealousy and competition it fosters can either lead to success for both involved, or one can be crushed under the pressure of trying to outdo the other.

Such is the case for the brother of Canadian electronic pop goddess Esthero, J. Englishman.

While his sister has garnered critical acclaim for her unique forays into trip-hop, her brother has decided to pursue the rock 'n' roll lifestyle.

His debut album, Poor L'il Rockstar, brings with it a blend of radio friendly pop and guitar rock with the swagger of a self-assured star.

However, despite this confident stance, J. Englishman's music becomes frustratingly scattered as the album progresses. This is an album where Englishman reveals all aspects of himself, ranging from the dirty and beautiful to the self-deprecating and emotional.

"You can fuck with my head/Leave marks on my neck/Just as long as I'm tied to your bed" he growls in "Abused." In direct contrast is the next track "Pure," which features dreamy crooning and choir-like back-up vocals. On "Flowers of Ophelia" he sings, "I will eat you up/Suck you dry" over light acoustic guitar and ominous piano and bass.

Then it's off into yet another direction – uplifting and radio friendly. "The One Thing," "My Song" and "More" allow him to showcase his acoustic and rock talents alongside his own better-than-average lyrics. Better yet is the centrepiece of this puzzle, "Staring at the Sun," which starts slowly with Englishman's emotional musings before swelling to a monstrous rock hit, complete with pounding guitars and sweeping strings.

The album's 12 tracks then conclude with two intelligent, if not ambitious rock songs which deliver little tastes of the complete J. Englishman. What should one make of this determined young man? At first glance, this debut might seem lost and directionless, but as maddeningly frustrating as it is, it maintains a strong sense of accomplishment.

While more direction and focus would have greatly improved this debut effort, the talent and potential presented within can not be ignored. Englishman has a bright future ahead of him, just as soon as he figures out where he wants to go.

–Aaron Wherry

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