|Thinking of You||Michele Solberg|
|Lift You||Michele Solberg|
|I Must Have Been Blind||Michele Solberg|
|Come Down||Michele Solberg|
|Better Things||Michele Solberg|
|She Deserves||Michele Solberg|
|Devoured Heart||Michele Solberg|
|Frozen Lullabies||Michele Solberg|
Marbles is Robert Schneider of Apples in Stereo's solo project, and Expo marks the first full-length album since Schneider mothballed the name with the formation of the Apples in 1993. The m.o. is very Apples-like, with loads of their trademark catchy melodies, slightly trippy lyrics, swirling guitars, and sonic textures. But instead of the usual '60s psych-pop influences and song structures, ELO seems to be the major influence at work, with tracks like "When You Open" and the pulsating "Magic" sounding like an unlikely lo-fi Jeff Lynne project. The record is filled with vocoders, electronically treated vocals, cheap drum machines, tinny synths, and robotic beats. At its best on songs like "Move On" (wait for the moving guitar/synth duet at the song's climax) and the dreamy "Out of the Zone," the electronics are added somewhat organically and give Schneider's sometimes reedy vocals and simple songs a much-needed boost. A few of the songs don't work quite as well; "Circuit"'s vocoder and the song's nagging melody give the song an overly gimmicky sound, and the record's instrumentals ("Jewel of India," "Hello Sun," and "Blossoms") aren't of much interest. These are small flaws, and the strength of the rest of the record makes up for them.
The record was mixed by Mark Linnett of Beach Boys and SMiLE revisited fame, and he shows his versatility by creating a sound almost directly opposite to the lush SMiLE sound, instead making Expo sound like it was recorded in Schneider's sock drawer. In a good way, though. Like Guided By Voices, Marbles (and the Apples) work better when they sound small and full to bursting, and Expo is no exception to that rule. Apples in Stereo fans will dig this record.
Compared to the nocturnal New York cool of the Strokes, Albert Hammond, Jr.'s solo album Yours to Keep is a sunny California afternoon. It's not quite as radical a departure as, say, James Iha's solo album Let It Come Down was from his work with the Smashing Pumpkins, but Hammond's endearing pop miniatures have their own identity without feeling too self-consciously different from the Strokes. Even the songs that were adapted from his music for the Strokes' fan club tour DVD, like the chugging "In Transit," aren't as hard-edged as his day job's music, and Hammond's sweet, unaffected voice gives lyrics like "Everyone Gets a Star"'s "I know it gets so confusing/Sometimes it all seems to drag me down" a much different feel than they would coming out of Julian Casablancas' world-weary mouth. Actually, two of the most notable influences on Yours to Keep are the Beach Boys and Buddy Holly, artists both far removed in time and sound from the Strokes and the main inspirations on their music. The opening track "Cartoon Music for Superheroes" sounds like a lullaby version of Brian Wilson and company's take on "The Sloop John B." and "Holiday" rhymes "Jamaica" and "take ya," conjuring up "Kokomo." The affectionate covers of Holly's "Well...All Right" and Guided by Voices' "Postal Blowfish" which appear on the U.S. version of the album, give further insight into its friendly, unpretentious vibe and immediate melodies.
Yours to Keep's eclectic feel adds to its unassuming charm, with whimsical tracks like "Call an Ambulance" and the folky "Blue Skies" sounding natural but not predictable next to "101" and "Bright Young Thing," which both have surprisingly bittersweet passages that come on like sudden rain showers. And while most of the album's songs are to the point -- which only adds to their appeal -- "Hard to Live in the City"'s lengthy, brassy coda makes it feel like an impromptu party breaks out at the end of the song. A small-scale project with big results, Yours to Keep is a very enjoyable musical sketchbook. In its own concise, unassuming way, it could even charm those who aren't fans of the Strokes.
Mixing the dusky romanticism of Dexter Gordon and the progressive tonal ideology of John Coltrane, Booker Ervin is often filed under "A" for amalgam alongside other overlooked tenor masters such as Tina Brooks and Hank Mobley. Structurally Sound is perhaps not Ervin's most provocative album, but a solid and tasty endeavor featuring the "suspended" chord sounds popularized by McCoy Tyner during the late '60s. Here, the chords come via the brilliant pianist John Hicks, who opens the album with funky high-end triplet figures on Randy Weston's "Berkshire Blues." Joining in is a well-selected roster of musicians, many of whom were also overshadowed by their more well-known contemporaries, including Charles Tolliver on trumpet, Red Mitchell on bass, and Lenny McBrowne on drums. Tolliver contributes the original composition "Franess," a Wayne Shorter-influenced affair that features his fat and burnished tone. They also cover Oliver Nelson's blissful standard "Stolen Moments" to good effect. Originally ending with an athletic up-tempo version of "Take the 'A' Train," the Blue Note Connoisseur Series reissue includes a sparkling "Shiny Stockings," featuring an especially inspired chorus by Ervin. An oddball version of "White Christmas" also makes it onto the disc, as do alternate takes of "Franess" and "Deep Night."