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Chef Menteur, "The Answer's in Forgetting"

Chef Menteur’s second full length retains the sense of a group setting obscure crossword clues while working out what their equipment will do. The sound is deeper and tighter but doesn’t completely abandon post-space-drone- audio-collage.

 

Backporch Revolution

Alec Vance and Jim Yonkus remain from Chef Menteur’s 2005 debut, We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire. That’s all well and good, but Dan Haugh’s drumming and (on one track) Brian Abbott’s banjo and sitar, bring fresh energy and discipline into the mix. Not that either of them seems responsible for the biggest surprise: the first bars of this album feature Vance simply strumming an acoustic guitar. Given the band’s previous catalogue and performances it’s as unlikely an opening as if they’d covered “Do You Think I’m Sexy?”

However, The Answer’s in Forgetting does not completely kick out the jams. “Parasitic Oscillation” goes back and forth between darkness and nothingness in a pointless manner before providing perfect contrast to ”Tonalli,” which swings in on percussive breaks and a lovely piano figure. “1491” scorches along like the comet of that year which came closer to Earth than any other. Again the track provides neat contrast when it bleeds into “I.E.D.,” a Mogwai-esque excursion that shows the benefit of Haugh’s dynamics and actual melody in the guitar lines. If they keep this up they’ll write an actual song with verses and a chorus!  As if to scratch that thought, the subdued drone of “Goodbye Callisto” follows— an ode to sandals, a nymph, a moon, or more likely a tribute to Xena’s nemesis. “OT III” ends the disc in a brief punchy swirl of banjo, sitar and synth which perhaps references the band’s “Oceanic 23” track from a WTUL radio compilation, or not.

Some of the pieces here rival Chef Menteur’s finest earlier track “W.A.S.T.E.” which used the voices of New Orleans trash collectors as the basis of a sublimely rhythmic nod to Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.  Given a pleasing penchant for the obscure it can only be a matter of time before they title a piece “Remembering the Octahedron”.

For now the band eschew lyrics but, given that they (or possibly just Vance) enjoy linguistic puzzles and literary references, that too could change. Best keep a dictionary handy, anyway, as they understand the value and fun of naming a track “Trebuchet” rather than, say, “Shoebox Diorama.” With The Answer’s in Forgetting and Potpie’s Potpie Plays the Classics the back porch revolution continues to gain momentum.

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Review of the Day

Cristina, "Sleep It Off"

Ze
For her 1984 follow-up, Cristina enlisted the production genius of Don Was, who brings to Cristina's vocals a musical backdrop every bit as bizarre and infectious as his own Ze Records project Was (Not Was). Forgoing the extended disco excursions of her debut, Cristina and Was instead created ten radio-ready pop songs, trying to outdo Madonna at her own game, perhaps. Along with originals penned by the singer herself in conjunction with Was, Doug Fieger (of The Kinks) and Robert Palmer (!), Cristina also performs distinctive covers of songs by Van Morrison, Prince and obscure country singer John Conlee. The album features excellent guest contributions from contorted punk saxophonist James Chance and jazz legend Marcus Belgrave. With all this star power, I partially expected Sleep It Off to sound like smooth, competent 1980s new wave pop. Well, it doesn't sound like that at all, but what it does sound like is harder to nail down. Producer Was adds stacks of keyboards and synthesizers, wacky loops and sound effects, creating a densely populated architecture of sound that at times threatens to steal the show from Cristina's vocals. Perhaps in order to cement the Brecht comparison, Cristina and collaborator Ben Brierly perform a gothic-y cover of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil's classic ode to purchased love "Ballad of Immoral Earnings." With some of the tracks recalling the sophisticated disco of her early singles, and some taking utterly bizarre tangents into electro-Country ("She Can't Say That Anymore") and cheesy 1980s pop balladry ("The Lie of Love"), the overall effect of Sleep It Off is pure eclecticism. As such, it never becomes boring, although it does lack a certain focus, which probably explains the public's indifference to the album at the time of its release. The lack of any obvious single normal enough for radio airplay probably also contributed. "Don't Mutilate My Mink" gleefully rips off the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK," for one of the album's funniest, most confrontational tracks. Bonus tracks include horrible session outtakes, a bizarre Christmas song, and a really nifty cover of Prince's classic "When You Were Mine." Sleep It Off is an interesting mess, one I don't think I'll be returning to any time soon, but that I am nonetheless glad has received the deluxe reissue treatment from Ze.

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