Saturday, November 4, 2006
Evanescence’s 2003 debut Fallen sold about 6.5 million copies in the US alone, and The Open Door, their highly anticipated new disc, comes late in a year when rock bands are scarcer than ever on the charts. The band presents the full-length studio debut of its new line-up, after the departure of founding guitarist Ben Moody and the addition of six-stringer Terry Balsamo.
The Open Door is flooded with many interesting ideas as Lee sets her sights on exploring chilly corridors haunted by Portishead electronic nuances and creepy choir arrangements, which is a refreshing change from her earlier works. Lithium (not a Nirvana cover), for example, displays a newfound maturity and richness in her vocals until they’re buried under a bundle of guitar strings, while the stunning Good Enough sees her riding a wave of gentle piano, ending the album on an uplifting note. With the help of new guitarist Terry Balsamo, who shines particularly brightly on Sweet Sacrifice, Lee takes Evanescence in a direction that’s even more compelling and far more multi-dimensional.
Best song: Lithium
Worst song: The Only One
Justin Timberlake — Love Sounds (Sony BMG)
It’s the searing synth riffs and skyscraping strings which grab your attention, not stuttering beats or startling sound effects, although these, too, are present in abundance. Timbaland, who produced half of Justified, was moving in a similar direction in his work with other artistes (Bubba Sparxxx, Alicia Keys, Brandy), so it seemed like an inevitable progression for the two to produce something even warmer and more organic for Timberlake’s follow-up, FutureSex/LoveSounds. Chop Me Up gives up the grit rap-style but still manages to recall both Prince and Stevie Wonder. Even better is My Love, a sumptuous collaboration with the rapper T.I., which must be one of the year’s best songs. It starts with a 90-second prelude, a clattering rhythm track with a bit of rapping and snippets of melody. Then the real thing hits, sleek synthesizer chords punctuated by tiny bursts of silence. The one big misstep, Damn Girl, featuring Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas, is more average than it is annoying and hardly detracts from the record even if it keeps it from perfection. Meanwhile, What Goes Around Comes Around aims another kick at his most famous ex: "You’re living a lie," he wails. Timbaland has long been known for hiding little surprises near the end of songs, and here he takes his obsession with transformation to new heights. After five minutes, a staccato ode called Lovestoned suddenly gives way to a quiet, guitar-driven interlude, I Think She Knows.
Best track: My Love
Worst track: Losing My Way
Cut Chemist — The Audience’s Listening (Warner)
The Audience’s Listening is a stockpile of great beats – both rare and danceable – ingenious quotes, and great hooks. Unlike some current DJs, Cut Chemist doesn’t just settle to lie on a hot riff and catchy beat; throughout each track there are tempo changes, layers of effects, time signature changes, drum fills, clever audio clips, and vocal elements. Even though the album has moments of profound production, there is still some room for a couple of quality collaborations, one with Hymnal (What’s The Altitude) and the other with Mr Lif and Edan (Storm). Hymnal ties together tight rhymes that also contribute to the album’s at times witty approach. Perhaps one of the cleverest tracks of all is a phone conversation between two turntables (Spat). In this one, Cut Chemist uses his in-depth tone knowledge to create moods between the two sides, a conversation in vinyl that eventually graduates to an argument of scratches. The Audience’s Listening is artistic, sharp, comprehensive and technical but, most important of all, it isn’t pretentious.
Best track: Garden
Worst track: What The Altitude
Album of the month
Mars Volta is one of the very few bands successfully making a case for high-concept progressive rock as a mainstream crossover tool. Amputechture delves even further into the realms of experimentation, taking you to other-worldly places that render you speechless with astonishment. The album opens with Vicarious Atonement, five minutes of spectral effects and piercing guitar that gets a boost at the beginning of the next track, Tetragrammaton, and then blooms into full glory after a few more minutes. The architects of the moments of brilliance, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, are masters of their craft, each bringing something special to the sound. For instance, the fusion of rock and jazz on Day Of The Baphomets is a fantastic excursion into sonic experimentation. The record mutes in the middle for a gorgeous little tune, Asilos Magdalena, sung in Spanish. Of course, the album’s respite from self-indulgence comes in the form of Viscera Eyes, which incidentally is the inaugural single. Compared to the rest of the album, the track is surprisingly linear, brandishing the same riff throughout without being too ambitious or egotistical. Tetragrammaton is probably the best track Mars Volta has managed since Comatorium’s Roullette Dares (The Haunt Of) or Concertina from the Tremulant. Brilliant work.
Best track: Day
Of The Baphomets