The great conceit behind SA electro-pop duo Hyperbubble is that its most deeply felt love songs are all about machinery. You can hear it in the ardent tone Jeff DeCuir assumes when he name-checks his 707 drum machine and “Casio synthetic strings” on “Synesthesia,” the heady opener to Airbrushed Alibis, Hyperbubble’s new collection of sci-fi squiggles, burps, and brisk robotic beats.
Hyperbubble is at its best when it exploits the inherent humor in its dry, clinical take on relationships. With a groove that splits the difference between New Traditionalists-era Devo and early Berlin, “Nervous System” finds singer Jessica DeCuir declaring “You’re getting on my nerves,” and her deadpan complaint suggests that a little re-wiring could fix everything.
In Hyperbubble’s world, science is sexy, as evidenced by the way Jeff intones, “You’ve got a lovely pair of x-ray eyes,” on the love-gone-sour lament, “Non-Biodegradable Hazardoud Waste Disposal.” The husband-and-wife team has a cartoonish, Hanna-Barbera view of the future, informed by 1960s visions of the 21st century as an era of flying cars and robotic romance.
The formula works because Jeff and Jess genuinely love their bubblegum kitsch fantasy, and also because they have a reliable feel for pop hooks, best displayed on“Commuter” (a celebration of cutting-edge public transportation) and “Rollerboogie Babydoll” (Donna Summer meets Isaac Asimov). They’re not above a little filler, and while the Giorgio Moroder-like instrumental “I’m In Love With My Clone” might have worked on The Warriors soundtrack, it adds little to this album. But most of Airbrushed Alibis is inspired silliness and a charming demonstration of how to commit to a concept.
— Gilbert Garcia
Hastening Down the Wind
Dramatic forms require that pathos be earned. If you’re an artist delving into grief and hopelessness, you’ll get a leg up by touching on humor and joy along the way. The complex music of Warren Zevon fulfilled this obligation beautifully. Zevon wrote heart-wrenching songs, just as many that were funny as hell, and quite a few that were both at once. He also wrote a fair number of turkeys, but it’s easy to forget about those now that he’s passed away. This two-CD set, which collects demos and alternate versions and adds an interview disc, is a surprisingly entertaining reminder of what Zevon did best.
Preludes came to be when son Jordan Zevon was cleaning out one of his father’s storage spaces several months after the singer’s death. He came across a large number of reel-to-reel tapes with unreleased music. Skimming the best of the lot, these 16 tracks offer a look at how Zevon worked as well as present a handful of previously unheard gems. So we get a demo of “Werewolves of London” cut with a gaggle of clowning friends trying to crack each other up. Zevon’s best-known song was allegedly written in a minutes-long goof session, and here it sounds like it, with many of the familiar lyrics not yet there but the placeholders sounding just as hilarious.
“Accidentally Like a Martyr” is also heard in embryonic form, and in this early version it was jauntier and wordier, a hair less effective than the understated classic it would become.
A piano-only demo of “Hasten Down the Wind,” like a number of other tracks here, works because Zevon immerses himself in the song’s bittersweet story even though he’s only singing for himself.
Six songs haven’t appeared on Zevon records in any form. The brilliant “Empty Hearted Town,” written in the early ’70s, finds Zevon alone at the piano making a tale of aching loneliness funny: “Cigarettes make the sun come up/Whiskey makes the sun go down/And in between, you do a lot of standing around.”
“Steady Rain” is warmly sentimental, with tinkling piano mirroring the line “silvery teardrops trickling down my windshield” between bursts of organ and acoustic guitar. Another meditation on precipitation, “Stop Rainin’ Lord”, is less substantial, as Zevon plays guitar and sings in bellowing blues mode, telling the story of a hobo looking for the next bottle of Boone’s Farm wine. The interview disc is entertaining and intersperses music between the banter, but, typical of the form, it’s of dubious replay value.
With vocal personality to burn, Zevon never needed much production for his songs to come off, so these occasionally crude recordings will have some appeal beyond his sizable cult. One way to think of this record is as an “another side” look in the vein of his friend Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3, or perhaps a ghost version of Zevon’s best-of, A Quiet, Normal Life. More than just a vault clearing, Preludes offers insight into the man’s creative process as well as a good number of songs that stand tall on their own. If it turns out to be the end (and given the number of unreleased recordings found, that seems unlikely), it is a fitting one.
— Mark Richardson
Rufus Shoots the Moon
If Rufus Wainwright ever runs out of saliva, he can find plenty dripping off his bony ass that is so regularly kissed (and often licked) by critics and celebrity admirers. He’s one of those artists who is so goddamn cool that he doesn’t even seem to need album sales. Except, of course, he apparently does. Wainwright, you see, has made it clear that his latest collection of operatic numbers, Release the Stars, is intended to be the cash cow he needs to finance his velvet-suit addiction.
Someone should tell him to hold off buying anymore for a while, since Stars, with its vain grandiosity, sardonic poetry, and allusions to high art, has just about as much mass commercial viability as, say, his velvet suits.
This is not to say that the album doesn’t deliver. If you dig Wainwright, then you’ll find plenty to enjoy here, though nothing that approaches the elaborately addictive pomposity and sheer fun of Want One or Want Two. “Between My Legs,” a curious electric-guitar driven departure that will make you smirk, comes close, but just misses the mark. However, his quieter tunes like “Not Ready to Love” deliver in a way his ballads rarely have since his debut.
— Cole Haddon