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Wednesday, Nov 29 1995
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Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks
Orange Crate Art
(Warner Bros.)

In his recent Beach Boys biography, The Nearest Faraway Place, Timothy White notes that the "unmanly" aspects of Brian Wilson's falsetto singing were "one of the biggest 'hangups' of his life." Still, the voice behind "Don't Worry Baby" brought an emotionality to boy music that has rarely, if ever, been matched. Few contemporaries could pull off the vocal range once called "castrato": Roy Orbison and Marvin Gaye handled falsetto with aplomb, but Frankie Valli sang like a premonition of Edith Bunker.

Though Brian Wilson once elevated such singing to new heights, he's down in the Valli on the title track of Orange Crate Art. Elsewhere on this "collaboration" with Van Dyke Parks, Wilson's 53-year-old voice sounds as perplexed and unremarkable as it did mangling "Do It Again" on a recent Letterman show. Die-hards have proclaimed this release Wilson's best work in years, the Smile sessions revisited. This is wist-ful thinking, to say the least.

During the recording of 1967's abortive Smile, Wilson's fellow Beach Boys complained about songwriter Parks' fastidious lyrical touch, claiming that Wilson's references to chandeliers and muted trumpets just didn't fit into the world the band had carefully created. No other pop group has ever defined a microcosm as succinctly as the Beach Boys' Southern California, circa 1963. On Orange Crate Art, the fact that Parks' song cycle is set in Northern California virtually shouts out a disclaimer: Wilson is way out of his element here. Though he gamely follows his colleague to Sacramento and the "Frisco" of the Gold Rush era, he's lost the moment Parks ducks into a store to trade "two bits for Cokes."

With no songwriting help from Wilson, Parks has orchestrated a precious version of adult-contemporary session music that leans much too heavily on steel drums. Parks is an avowed classicist, slumming Jimmy Buffett's stomping grounds; he has little regard for the double-picked guitars CR>that Wilson once used to balance his own barbershop/show-tune proclivities. One of Parks' new songs, "Movies Is Magic," offers the rejoinder "real life is tragic." In the recent movie I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, documentarian Don Was sought, to little avail, to make magic to prove Wilson's mental and creative health. On Orange Crate, each song is inadvertently more depressing than the last. The music Wilson makes, which no longer pursues universal truths, is now about Wilson himself, his famously jumbled personal life -- and our empathy.

-- James Sullivan

Emergency Broadcast Network
Telecommunication Breakdown
(TVT)

This newspaper, in voluntary cooperation with TVT, is conducting a test spin of the Emergency Broadcast Network's 20-track, CD-ROM-ready disc with accompanying interactive video liner notes. We have developed this system to keep you informed in the event that Telecommunication Breakdown, despite its telephone-book-size press kit and relentless promotion, should fail to measure up to federal, state, and local authorities' standards.

Most famous for its opening video on U2's "Zooropa" tour, EBN musically amalgamates Consolidated's industrio-political dance style with Negativland's megasampling techniques. Three members strong -- anchorperson Joshua Pearson raps from his "telepodium," spin doctor Ron O'Donnell works the turn-tables, and videologist Gardner Post orchestrates the TV monitors that backdrop live shows -- this collective stitches spoken samples scratched from docudramas and newscasts onto a spew of funk and techno, dovetailing each track together with clever splatter.

Produced by Meat Beat's Jack Dangers, Breakdown tunes to a variety of channels: "Super Zen State" could thump pumps in any dance club; "Get Down" kicks like Nation of Millions-era Public Enemy; and Brian Eno's remix of "Homicidal Maniac" is a Scorn-ish, groovy nightmare. Though EBN's political stance is pretty muddled, the trio addresses global warfare, technology, and tCR>he hypocrisy of world leaders; "Shoot the Mac-10" (the best cut, which features rapper Melle Mel and producer Bill Laswell) is a killer study of guns.

Had Breakdown been a real disaster, the review you just read would have been accompanied by official slags and belittlement, but EBN (probably an eyeful as a live act) manages to pull off a complicated project, the collages of sound and sight effectively commenting (and capitalizing) upon our culture's short attention span. This newspaper serves the interest of the Bay Area's musical community; this concludes the test.

EBN plays with Banco De Gaia Sat, Dec. 2, at the Trocadero in S.F.; call 995-4600.

-- Colin Berry

Cypress Hill
III (Temples of Boom)
(Ruffhouse/Columbia)

Genius/GZA
Liquid Swords
(Geffen)

On the final stop of the Lollapalooza tour last summer, Cypress Hill ended their performance by smashing their equipment and deflating the set -- a 6-foot-tall bong and a giant blowup Buddha that had stared down the assembled like the serene yin to the moshing yang of the crowd. Was such a traditional rockist gesture from this multiracial hip-hop crew symbolic of their biggest asset (their crossover status) or their biggest liability (their crossover status)? Was it the macrocosm of a peculiar image (merry pranksters gone insane in the membrane), or the microcosm of Cypress Culture (one nation under a groovy green Buddha)? Or did someone just spike their pot with PCP?

Cypress Hill's ability to cross-pollinate seemingly contradictory elements has certainly worked to their mainstream success, and III (Temples of Boom) is no exception; not only does the trio pull off some quasi-mystical hippie shit (for which P.M. Dawn was reviled), but "Killa Hill Niggas" even puts East/West Coast rivalries to temporary sleep with guest vocals by Staten Island's own RZA and U-God of the Wu-Tang Clan -- an appropriate gesture, since Cypress Hill has always peppered the g-thang with the gritty NYC thing.

But the aforementioned talent is best evinced in producer Muggs' stellar art of noise -- the ominous blur of sirens, whistles, and off-kilter beats, now fleshed out with sitars, tablas, operatic chorals, film dialogue snippets, and other miscellanea that link each song together. Ensuring, as De La Soul once said, that it might blow up but it won't go pop, Muggs keeps it either dank and dark ("Illusions") or loudly confrontational ("No Rest for the Wicked," in which Ice Cube gets his, uh, with "no Vaseline"). Less a concept album than a site-specific soundtrack, Samuel Jackson appears Pulp Fiction-style to shepherd the whack through the valley of darkness.

Like Cypress Hill, Genius the GZA is on some Far Eastern trip, but of the kung fu fightin' variety. Taking the Wu-Tang's hip-hopera to its logical conclusion, Clansman Genius constructs his own clunky swordsman epic, some business about a famous samurai who decapitated 131 lords and fought off a band of ninja spies. The song titles are listed out of order in the liner notes to plunge the listener into the cipher-cracking battle, which would take a degree in Dungeons & Dragons (and Hong Kong flicks) to conquer. If the name Liquid Swords is a reference to Genius' barbed tongue and complex lyrical flows, the concept gives mythical -- and meaningful -- status to deadly mundane life in "Killah Hills 10304."

Swords closes with "B.I.B.L.E" ("Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth") and the refrain, "The first shall be the last and the last shall be the first" -- that's advice worthy of any fire-and-brimstone preacherman. And they call rap nihilistic.

-- Sia Michel

Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy: The Complete Prestige Recordings
(Prestige/Fantasy)

Comparable to the worldwide church of John Coltrane, a kind of cultlike fascination surrounds the music and mythology of Eric Dolphy. With an emotional intensity, a technical fluidity, and a singular voice that were the scorn of lesser players and inspiration for peers like TranCR>e, Ornette Coleman, and Charles Mingus, the bass clarinet/alto sax/flute virtuoso blazed across the revolutionary jazz soundscape of the early '60s with what bassist Richard Davis called "an angelic passion for life itself."

Dolphy once referred to getting as much "human warmth and feeling into my work as I can," which extended to his personal existence as well. He was known to give up his own paying gigs to out-of-work musicians, sometimes buying NYC newcomers groceries with his last few dollars. Mingus respectfully referred to him as "St. Eric," for he worked miracles on the bandstand as well. But like many artists who steadfastly pursue a personal vision (be it kindness in a cruel world or individuality among conformists), Dolphy endured injurious opposition from the jazz establishment.

This long overdue, nine-disc anthology of Dolphy's prolific tenure with Prestige from April 1960 to September 1961 underscores the deafness behind complaints that Dolphy both played and wrote too far "outside" the grasp of the general jazz public. Since the advent of the post-bebop innovations from roughly 1950 onward, too many critics have misperceived and thus misrepresented the music to an impressionable public. In 1961, after months of controversy in the industry press, Dolphy was awarded the New Star for alto sax in the Down Beat International Critics Poll. "Does this mean I'm going to get to work?" Dolphy quipped in response. Unfortunately, he didn't -- at least not regularly, and rarely as a leader. In fact, seven of the 13 sessions compiled for this box set feature him as an accompanist. Friends claimed his resultant economic instability contributed to his poor health and untimely death of diabetes at the age of 36.

Though the discs cover a wide range of moods from gorgeous lyricism aided by Ron Carter and Mal Waldron to flying sparks in saxophone blowouts with Oliver Nelson and Ken McIntyre, the meat of these sessions comes from Dolphy's stints as principal composer and leader in collaboration with pCR>rodigious trumpeter Booker Little on the classic Far Cry and live Five Spot albums. Here, we gain a vivid picture of the quintessential Eric Dolphy: joyous ("Miss Ann"), romantic ("Serene"), and impassioned ("Prophet").

-- Sam Prestianni

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