Sound Bites

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2008

THE NOTWIST, 'The Devil, You & Me' ★★★ ½

As long-time-in-coming, mellowed-out Euro electronica albums go, Portishead got all the hype. But let's not forget the Notwist, the Bavarian outfit who shed their metallic skin and revealed a chilled-out ambient soul on 2002's "Neon Golden", and have hardly been heard from since - except for side projects such as the knotty 13 & God. "The Devil, You & Me" doesn't immediately reveal itself to have anything quite so divine as "Neon"'s "Pick up the Phone." But it shows Markus Archer and crew to still be masters at creating glitchy, gently melodic music of fragile beauty that communicates just enough of an undercurrent of 21st century anxiety to keep songs such as "Good Lies" and "Where in the World" from being merely soothing.

ALANIS MORISSETTE, "Flavors of Entanglement" ★ ½

It's hard to believe it's been 13 years since the nattering whine of Alanis Morissette's mega-selling "Jagged Little Pill"; that is, until you consider the vacuous Nineties to be the best of all decades in which to be bitterly self-absorbed and that the times haven't changed. We're lucky, then, that - to an extent - Morissette has moved away from the yodeling of yore and that music's angry stammer into something more supple: loops, bloops, an electro-tabla groove prevalent since "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie", a warmer set of pipes. Though she drives over some of Flavors' casual techno curves and industrial buzzes with ease (the cool "Moratorium"), Morissette takes herself too mawkishly seriously as a lyricist and sonic landscaper.

SAM PHILLIPS, "Don't Do Anything" ★★★

After an early career as Leslie Phillips, Christian artist, Sam Phillips reinvented herself as a purveyor of baroque singer-songwriter pop. Then she did so again, creating a sophisticated and impressive blend of torch song, cabaret, gypsy blues and earthy balladry that resides somewhere near Tom Waits' neighborhood. Like 2001's "Fan Dance" and 2004's "A Boot and a Shoe", "Don't Do Anything" is terse and pointed, beautiful and clattering, fragile and forthright.

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