Whether or not you'll want to pick up the Radar Bros. self-titled debut depends on how you feel about those first few Pink Floyd albums in your record collection. (Mind you, this isn't as direct a relationship as you think it is.) First, the easy part: If Piper at the Gates of Dawn makes your stomach froth and your forehead blanch in a chilled sweat, then the Radar Bros. will definitely send you on a panicky dash to the toilet. On the other hand, if Piper, or even Dark Side of the Moon, sits in the Seat of the Almighty at the tippy-top of your LP altar (see it there, strapped in Christmas lights, standing above an offering of stubbed-out joints and various doodads you discovered in a kitchen drawer on your last acid trip), and if you still find the conceptual force behind "Time" or "Money" so brilliant -- so powerful -- that it remains, to this day, unrivaled anywhere in the annals of rock, then the Radar Bros. may seem (like all other music, and the people who listen to it) not only derivative, but shallow. On the third hand (oh wow. This is going Hindu, maahn), if madcap Floyd originator Syd Barrett is your loony lyrical cup of pop whimsy (and you're still grousing that Robyn Hitchcock gets so much credit for essentially doing a karaoke act while Barrett was in the bin), then the you might want to damn the Radar Bros. to the copyright infringement circle of hell -- except they're far slower than Syd, more ambient and less preposterous, less daft -- kind of like, well, a silly, singsong Pink Floyd. On the fourth hand (and this is the hand I'd choose to high-five), if you're absolutely tired of Floyd -- if you think them irretrievably dated, conceptually weak, and, at this point, so overplayed you'd rather listen to Engelbert Humperdinck with Grandpa -- but sometimes still find yourself missing that eighth-grade Pink Floyd moment in your best friend's basement (just after huffing weed out of a beer-can bong), as you lie on the carpet beneath refrigerator-size speakers and imagine yourself as some sort of obelisk floating across a vast, empty desert at sunset (awesome design on this album -- craniums off to Julie Blair Carter), as the guitars slide and wobble through the chordal wash, as the drums build in pounding eighth notes, step by stoned step, toward an epiphany where the cymbals shimmer in your fingertips and you hear dolphin noises and pretty falsetto harmonies within the Wurlitzer of God, then the Radar Bros.' debut is probably worth the money. For old times' sake, of course.
-- Curtis Bonney
Not too long ago -- say, before journalists feigned shock that politicians took money in return for favors -- there were only a handful of archetypes for black women in R&B. Solo artists were either a Whitney or a Mary J., and groups were only a riff on En Vogue. Suddenly that has changed. The hottest male acts in the genre, Maxwell, Tony Rich, D'Angelo, and Kenny Lattimore, display a rugged sense of individuality and a passionate merger of classic and contemporary style. Divas like Erykah Badu and Sandra St. Victor brought the women's point of view to that platform.
Into this climate strolls Adriana Evans -- a smart, 26-year-old San Francisco native whose debut oozes musical savvy and lyrical self-confidence. Her influences are unusual, and her voice is reminiscent of Angela Bofill and Minnie Ripperton, but she owns her inspirations rather than vice versa. Recordings by R&B singers who ignore the rules used to fall through the cracks; now they are all the rage. (There's even a marketing term for the style: "rhythm alternative.") Even so, and despite having the kind of delicate, symmetrical beauty that makes fashion moguls see dollar signs with commas, Evans' route was fraught with complications. After getting "discovered" doing vocals on a Dred Scot rap, she quickly signed to Capitol for a disc, with Scot producing. However, when that label 86'ed its entire black music roster (except for Spearhead), Evans was a free agent. Capitol's loss was PMP/Loud's gain.
Evans' primary strength is her voice, creamy but restrained. She rarely lets loose just to overpower you with gospel vehemence; instead, she's almost rigorously proper. This strategy highlights her phrasing, diction, and sense of time. Her sophisticated musical values (which owe a bit to her mother, jazz vocalist Mary Stallings) are matched by the backing band, whose work recalls Joni Mitchell's jazz-inflected mid-'70s phase and Anita Baker's better recordings. On "Say You Won't," Evans' melodic embellishments recall Aretha's "Day Dreaming." The chorus on "Looking for Your Love" is reminiscent of Earth, Wind and Fire's "That's the Way of the World." The intro of "Heaven" sounds a bit like EW&F's "Feelings." This usage is consistent with Evans' demure approach; she never goes out of her way to call attention to herself or to her style.
It is almost jarring that such an unpretentious, mellifluous recording can generate buzz in an age that tends to reward aggressive idiosyncrasy. Perhaps it's proof that things aren't as bad as many music critics say.
-- Martin Johnson
This Is Jennie
Though I'm almost positive that I'll wake up with deep regret and abiding shame on Wednesday morning -- when it's too late to withdraw this review from print, throw in some sort of defensive irony, or at least drop a couple of dick jokes -- I'll go ahead and praise the Seattle quartet Micro Mini before the charm wears off. Because despite the fact that preciousness is insufferable, cutesiness is heresy, and whimsy is pellagra, This Is Jennie's five or six pop jangles do contain some surprises. And today, surprise is such a rare weed in popular music that we must cultivate it even among the ranks of cuddle-bears.
True, there are several gestures here so anemic and harmless that they couldn't hope to generate anything more than a drooling smirk in a nursery or retirement center. First of all, I take it I'm supposed to resort to the e.e. cummings/archy and mehitabel all-lower-case spelling when choosing to commit the words Micro Mini to print (i.e., "micro mini"). Then there are those irksome musical gimmes thrown in here and there, best exemplified by the "Good evening friends" melody tacked on at the end of the first track, "She's Not F," followed by that saucy unison-bonk-by-all-instruments-just-to-show-they're-tight final chord. (Why not "Shave and a haircut, two bits" or the old bar-blues climb?) And some of the more helium-headed lyrics, such as the break in "Meet Me in Bed After Practice" -- which goes, "In my bed/ Scoring touchdowns in my head" -- are best left to drift off on their own, until they're an untroubling speck many miles off. A far and wee balloonman, indeed.
There's nothing truly awful about any of this, except that it furthers the sort of "earnest smallness" that has plagued the arts throughout the late 20th century, from Philip Glass and Raymond Carver all the way up to the kids at K. Fortunately, Micro Mini seem less than earnest despite their scale. They are, at the very least, aware of being lite -- not in the increasingly annoying kitschy-koo-koo-inside-joke fashion, but as a given and a shrug. More important than this awareness are those surprises -- the somewhat unexpected chordal movements, the unobtrusive cheesy keyboard, the clap-along break ("She's Not F"), the mildly atonal string-slur riff (in "Repairs") that dissolves the saccharine from the strum. And though the lyrics are pure fluff, the voices of lead singer/guitarist Lance Paine and Amy Barnet on "auxilary [sic] percussion" (read: tambourine) work well together, in that collegiate, whimsical way. In fact, the tones are pleasant throughout: mild distortion atop simple bass lines, creating a smoothed-over feel. Yes, Micro Mini are overinterested in their own adorability quotient -- Seattle's The Stranger calls them "the cutest band EVER!" and the group's promotional Website describes their music as "supreme pop frivolity that won't be denied its moment in the sun." But I guess there's a place in the world for those downy creatures that peep and whine and generally make you want to squish them with your bare hands.
-- Michael Batty