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Wednesday, Jan 22 1997
10 cents
Everybody Wins
(Angel Dust Records)

Remember grammar school recess when you were a kid and they were picking teams for, heaven help us, smear the queer? So much rode on where you landed in the draft -- specifically, on not being last: "OK, heh heh, I guess we're stuck with Freaky-boy." Even if you never held the highly vaunted position of Freaky-boy -- even if after one week of school you spent recess hiding in the storm ditch poking tadpoles with a stick -- remember how the last 10 picks leading up to Freaky-boy gave rise to the feeling that competition was, in fact, barbaric? That the whole adult world of corporate streamlining and uncomfortable shoes sucked?

If so, then 10 cents is your kind of band and Everybody Wins is your kind of album. (All you other schoolyard fascists can read elsewhere now -- if you can read at all.) This is happy music for the overlooked, for those of us special enough to have colored our fingernails with Magic Markers during math class, or who wore capes and tiaras up until sixth grade, or sat alone at lunch and shared our PB&J with an imaginary creature from another star cluster. The beats swirl and pop; there's a clean-cut chicka-chicka doodle guitar; the bass is down with a Sesame Street-funky backbone; the goofy rhyme-game vocals are deceptively insightful; and most important, there's an electric piano filling in the breathing room with that happy-TV-theme-song feeling (Sanford and Son and What's Happening!!). 10 cents is a really good version of what the Tom Tom Club tried to do.

And Happy Music is a goddamn difficult genre -- a genre we are in desperate need of after eons of sludge. To make Happy Music you have to do three things: risk being stupid, rise above novelty, and somehow explore alienation without anyone noticing. No Doubt, who are willfully stupid, are an example of a failure. The Presidents of the United States of America, while funny and intelligent, can't quite squeak out of the novelty camp; they shun all weighty concerns. 10 cents, on the other hand, because what they really address is a childhood loneliness that sticks to your hair like freshly masticated gum -- even if the music is all major key and funky and full of rhyme games -- pull off the first decent batch of Happy Music I've heard in a while. It's happy because it's actually sad. So, where the hell's my tiara, anyway?

-- Curtis Bonney

Flying Saucer Attack
Sally Free and Easy EP
(Drag City)

Tele:Funken/Flying Saucer Attack
Distant Station
(Drag City)

Indie rock is a small, insular community created by a handful of labels that only likes its innovation in small doses. A tape hiss here, a cheap Casio there, but for god's sake, don't stand up in the canoe. It's that resistance to change that's drowning the genre (some say the cement boots have already hit bottom).

Flying Saucer Attack -- a Bristol, England, duo trafficking indie ambient straight from the bedroom four-track to the headphones of boys who wear thick plastic eyeglasses and zip-up jackets -- doesn't want to be indie's savior or its martyr. But there's an implicit message in the full-length records and obscure singles FSA's released since 1992: Change or die.

The problem is that FSA wants to infuse indie rock with a shot of the even more elitist (but more open to experimentation) ambient music. That's fine, say the indie rockers who already feel anxious about missing this ambient thing they've heard so much about. (Believe the hype and you'd think electronic music's gonna turn us all into drooling sheep who'll bray at blips and beeps loud enough to embarrass Eno.) FSA puts ambient music (usually a faceless electronic form) into a context that four-piece chauvinists can understand. All of the parts are there, including the aforementioned bedroom four-track, analog instruments, label politics (would the same crew prick ears if they were on, say, ffrr, not Drag City, home of indie perennials Smog and Palace?), and the media-shy elitism.

Don't look for aberrations on either the Sally Free and Easy EP or the Distant Station full-length. The 15-minute EP's title track -- a cover written by Cyril Tawney in 1958 -- sounds like a B-side castoff from a My Bloody Valentine single. Tele:Funken's 25-minute remix-cum-composition "Part I" begins with a wash of harmonies, flits on for about 11 minutes, picks up some nonrhythmic percussion, then scratchy broken-speaker sounds, then some repeating phasers. As a whole it's like most ambient music: occasionally compelling, but rarely emotional.

The other piece, "Part II," is more overt electronica, barely audible for three minutes, then buzzing with flying saucer sounds and blips and beeps that wouldn't sound out of place on one of Tangerine Dream's 40 records. Sorry, but indie rockers claiming that 25-year-old sounds lead to the future is as stupid as peeling grapes with a spoon. Which is another way of saying Tangerine Dream was a failed experiment, one that ended long before they laid down the soundtrack for Tom Cruise's Risky Business.

-- Jeff Stark

William Parker's In Order to Survive
Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy

Those ill-acquainted with bassist William Parker and his In Order to Survive bandmates (drummer Susie Ibarra, pianist Cooper Moore, alto saxophonist Rob Brown) may find a first spin of Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy somewhat difficult. Not that the songs require some recondite conditioning to fully appreciate, but they're not pretty, safe, neat, and clean like the sounds fed to us on the mainstream airwaves. Corporate-jazz lifers like Bob James or George Benson paint dainty little landscape or still-life pictures, while Parker's big, bold abstract expressionism renders reality in all its disorienting, dangerous, and at times strikingly beautiful (or ugly) actuality.

Compassion marks the final installment in a trilogy of works, which also includes In Order to Survive (music for sextet) and Testimony (a solo bass venture). Parker says the trilogy is based on "embracing and making a commitment to life in its highest partial." He's not talking about trying to wash away the grime of existence by imposing a façade of squeaky-clean order. Precisely the opposite. As one of the nation's pre-eminent innovators on the upright four-string, Parker revels in the down and dirty like an elephant in a mud bath.

As a rule, the bassist evades repetitive riffs and tidy diatonic harmony. On "Holiday for Hypocrites," he doubles Brown's bent sax lead, but he does so microtonally, slyly pushing the contours of his riffs. Clearly, the "proper" alignment of notes takes a back seat to the overall tonality of a piece of music. In his "Sound Journal," Parker refers to this process as taking "the note into a sound ... which is the note that has no name." This kind of extended technique may initially seem sloppy or haphazard, but the internal logic grows more vivid with each listen.

A frantic energy informs much of this disc, with only a few overblown moments, largely thanks to Ibarra. Her colorful cymbal splashes, sensitivity to group dynamics, and polyrhythmic finesse -- especially on "Unrestricted," where she implies resolution for Moore's chords during the silences (yes, on percussion) -- simultaneously drive and temper the wildness. As the melodic frontman, Brown's hanging-on-a-prayer wistfulness honors the bent but unbroken spirit of Albert Ayler while embodying William Parker's ethos that the mud-caked, sinuous route is often more sincere than the rigidly clean, straight line.

-- Sam Prestianni


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