|Like Jazz / Jay J & Halo||Thierry Logist||7:55|
|To the Way / Thierry Logist / Francesco Palmeri||Thierry Logist||4:47|
|I Did It Again / Lisa Dubocquet / Thierry Logist / Francesco Palmeri||Thierry Logist||5:54|
Unexpectedly reforming 20 years after their 1983 breakup, Robin Lane and the Chartbusters pick up, literally, where they left off: most of 2003's Piece of Mind consists of new recordings of songs the Boston folk-rockers had written and demoed for their third Warner Brothers LP in 1982, before the company dropped them.
Not only does it sound like the intervening two decades had never happened, Piece of Mind actually sounds several degrees better than either Robin Lane and the Chartbusters or Imitation Life.
Freed of major label expectations and the suffocating slickness that plagued those earlier records, Piece of Mind sounds like Robin Lane and the Chartbusters were meant to sound; the jangly pop tunes are still there, but there's a rootsier feel on songs, like the country-ish "Little Bird." Lead guitarist Asa Brebner breaks out occasional rockabilly or R&B riffs, and the band's trademark three- and four-part harmonies, as well as Lane's own warm alto, sound as good as ever. Though no one song is as memorable as the group's classic first single, "When Things Go Wrong," this is their most consistently solid effort by far, and, surprisingly enough, the best Robin Lane and the Chartbusters album yet.
Building on the artistic success of their last CD, Rhythmix, Univers Zero returns almost entirely to their acoustic roots (no howling electric guitars here), and with a refined and tempered equivalent of the relentless, prolonged gloom of early releases such as 1313 and Heresie. Pieces are shorter and more varied, with some taking the form of almost jaunty medieval dances. The only electric instruments are Eric Plantain's electric bass, plus some discrete sampling and synth keyboards from drummer and leader Daniel Denis, who currently writes all the group's music. Michel Berckmans (oboe, English horn, bassoon) and Denis are the only remaining original members, although clarinetist Dirk Descheemaeker played on several of the later Univers Zero recordings in the mid-'80s. But even with a number of new bandmembers, the group's chamber music instrumentation (saxophones, cello, trumpet, marimba and violin), together with Denis' intricate writing and the very tight ensemble work, is enough to deliver the signature Univers Zero sound. Overt but short gothic/industrial elements, with titles such as "Suintement (Oozing)," "Miroirs (Mirrors)," "Ectoplasme," "Bacteria" and "A Rebours (In Reverse)," serve as bridges between songs and maintain the haunting, sinister edge that initially established the group's reputation. These five pieces, all roughly one-minute-long, display Denis' skillful use of sampler technology; the muted clanging, scraping, dripping, rumbling and squealing seems to emerge from obscure mechanical devices of unknown construction and purpose. A longer piece, "Partch's X-Ray" is an obvious homage to American maverick composer and instrument-maker Harry Partch It uses metallic-sounding tuned percussion, insectoid twittering from the strings and a rhythmic crow-like cawing to create a deliciously malevolent atmosphere. Likewise the shorter "La Mort de Sophocle (Sophocle's Death)," which employs mournful legato strings and percussive crashes to promote a feeling of oppressive gravity. The long closing piece, "Meandres (Meanderings)," also has some of the stabbing dissonance of early Univers Zero as it moves restlessly from one theme to another, although a middle section shows uncharacteristic restraint. The aura is hardly new age, but it is thoughtful. Other pieces such as "Falling Rain Dance," "Rapt D'Abdallah," "Mellotronic," "Out of Space 4" and the two untitled "Short Dance" tracks demonstrate Univers Zero's strong connection to medieval court music (and anyone who has listened to authentic re-creations of this music knows that it can be both melancholy and powerfully rhythmic). Another piece, "Temps Neuf," by virtue of its deep rhythmic groove and bursts of dissonant trumpet, could almost be regarded as a kind of gothic jazz-funk. Univers Zero's excellence lies in its continuing ability to synthesize medieval forms, instrumental prog rock and modern classical dissonance with a splash of jazz and a taste for the suggestively macabre. The group continues to produce creative, highly inventive music, and plays it with precision and panache. Highly recommended for the adventurous listener.
Georgia native Craig Campbell doesn't mess with the formula too much on his second album, Never Regret, throwing in a honky tonk Friday night drinking tune or two, a ballad or two about love and love not working out, and a double-entendre song ("Topless" -- ostensibly about driving a car with the top down), and all of it rides on his smooth-as-honey tenor baritone singing. Fans of his first album will find that this one matches up nicely.