Mainstream rock lost a lot in the late '90s and early 2000s, and amongst the many casualties were the female-fronted rock bands of the mid-'90s. Maybe Alanis Morissette made the Jennifer Trynins, Veruca Salts, and, specifically, that dog.s of the world commercially invalid. But Anna, the debut solo record from former that dog. frontwoman Anna Waronker, is proof that this phenomenon wasn't due to a lack of talent. Fresh off of notable production work on Imperial Teen's On, Waronker has returned with set of three-minute pop songs shrouded in a (tidy) layer of feedback. And like on the three that dog.
records, Waronker's songwriting sticks, whether it's on new wavey power pop like "All for You" and "I Wish You Well" or on any of the album's few more melancholy ballads. That means Anna is nothing revolutionary, of course, and that dog. fans have certainly heard this before. But that same audience will most likely want to hear it again, as will anyone who believes female rockers don't need to choose between being a folky riot grrrl (Ani DiFranco, Dar Williams) or a mainstream maven (Meredith Brooks, Sheryl Crow).
Back in the '60s and '70s, soul music had plenty of regional sounds. Memphis had a distinctive sound, as did Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit. And in the 21st century, hip-hop can be every bit as regional as R&B was back in the day. New York and Philly MCs tend to have their own way of flowing; rappers from the South and the West Coast also have their regional rapping styles. If one heard Informal Introduction -- Shade Sheist's first full-length solo album -- without knowing anything about the rapper, it would be easy to assume that he was from the West Coast. And sure enough, Sheist was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. This 2002 release is unmistakably West Coast -- Sheist's rapping style is right out of Snoop Dogg, Warren G, DJ Quik, and Eazy-E, and the sleek, R&B-drenched grooves (some of which have a strong George Clinton/P-Funk influence) owe a lot to the influential Dr. Dre. Because of that heavy Snoop/Quik/Dre/Warren G influence, Sheist will inevitably be categorized as a gangsta rapper. But lyrically, Informal Introduction isn't all that violent. Although Sheist uses plenty of profanity and employs a lot of playa/baller/hustler/pimpin' imagery, this CD is more entertaining than threatening -- essentially, Informal Introduction is an R-rated party album. By 21st century standards, Sheist is hardly groundbreaking; no one who has listened to Snoop, Dre, Warren, and Quik extensively in the '90s will find Informal Introduction to be the least bit innovative. But the grooves are generally likable, and tunes like "Thug Luv" and "Stop...
And Think About It" are fairly catchy -- highly derivative, certainly, but catchy nonetheless. Informal Introduction won't go down in history as one of West Coast rap's definitive releases, but it's a decent, if slightly uneven, effort that does have its moments.
Most North American fans were introduced to the ladies of Shonen Knife via the cryptically titled 712 (1991). They even toured the effort, opening up for a then-unknown Nirvana. Actually, the numeric insignia was derived by taking a contraction of seven (nana), one (ichi), and two (futatu) to create the "na-i-fu," the Japanese word for knife. The material immediately unleashes the band's tongue-in-cheek sincerity and prankster attitude on "Shonen Knife," which commences with the herald "Good morning, Shonen Knife freaks..." and dives into a repetitive four-on-the-floor sample of E.L.O.'s "Don't Bring Me Down." The following off-kilter Dadaist rap hails the arrival of this, their latest record, before reeling off a litany of their favorite musicians: "Nick Lowe, Costello, Beatles/Redd Kross, Ramones, Buzzcocks," then proudly proclaiming "Shonen Knife is a cult band!" Couched within the Gen X anthem and garage façade of "Lazybone" is the band's understated penchant for catchy choruses and power pop melodies. They are perfectly matched to guest Atsushi Shibata's forceful guitar solo. Among the other social observations are an extolling of weight loss on "Diet Run," a surreal ballad to a breakfast cereal during "Fruit Loop Dreams," as well as paeans to White Flag and Redd Kross. The latter were enthusiasts of the band, giving them positive feedback in the press. The cover of the Beatles' "Rain" sticks pretty close to the original, with guest drummer Victor Indrizzo (drums) going so far as to replicating Ringo Starr's drum fills beat-for-beat.
Even more striking is their take on John Lennon's "The Luck of the Irish" featuring Redd Kross's Jeff McDonald on lead vocals that nail Lennon's weary inflections. 712 is a recommended starting point for those wishing to indulge themselves in some whimsical and thoroughly unpretentious rock & roll.