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STEVEN BROWN, "HALF OUT"

Not to minimize the great work that the LTM label has done dusting off the extensive back catalogs of labels like Factory and Les Disques du Crepuscule, but when I hear something like this Steven Brown album, it makes me wonder if their time and energy might be better spent on more worthwhile archival projects. LTM
Brown was, of course, a member of cult avant-garde band Tuxedomoon, the San Francisco collective that pulled up stakes and moved to Belgium in the mid-1980s. Last year LTM reissued a couple of albums by fellow Tuxedomoon alumnus Blaine L. Reininger, and it's actually a little weird how similar Brown and Reininger's solo material sounds, especially considering how little it resembles their work in Tuxedomoon. For their solo projects, both artists developed a distinctly MOR style of urbane, jazzy pop music with literate, world-weary lyrics. Luckily, Blaine L. Reininger's albums were saved by his prodigious talent on strings and his use of neo-baroque chamber quartet orchestrations. Steven Brown has no such saving grace however, and 1991's Half Out, his third solo album, suffers from "adult contemporary" blandness and an annoyingly overcomplicated production style. Each track is filled out with loads of superfluous compositional elements: keyboards, horns, emulators, synthesizers, strings, drum programming, accordion, guitars and backup vocals. It's all a bit exhausting, making relatively minimal tracks like the point-counterpoint "Violorganni" (a duet with Reininger) a welcome respite. For the majority of the album (and the four extraneous bonus tracks), Brown's music seems over-calculated and pseudo-sophisticated, from the tiresome opening monologue ("I've got a million things to say but I forgot. I could write a book but I lost my pen."), to the ill-advised Cole Porter cover ("In the Still of the Night"). In an effort to prove how intellectual and literate he is, Brown name drops Jean Cocteau, randomly breaks into French and Italian, and spins some incomprehensible yarn involving "Willy Loman with his Flemish Reader's Digest." Frankly, it's all a bit pompous, a collection of empty artistic gestures that don't seem terribly substantive. I seriously doubt I'll be giving Half Out another spin any time in the near future. 

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Review of the Day

Rjd2, "The Horror EP"
Definitive Jux
DJ/Producer Rjd2's 2002 debut album, Dead Ringer, showed his talents for hip-hop beats and instrumental soundscapes to make catchy, danceable, yet intelligent music. Captializing on the success of the album, Def Jux has released this 2-CD EP of remixes and new tracks, with the second disc featuring multimedia content. The remix CD is a tricky issue these days. It used to be the bastion of alternate mixes and guest appearances, where these days it's usually just filler to tide fans over until the next record. Because of that fear, I can see why someone would be pressed to spend eighteen bucks on this, and it seems Rjd2 himself agrees, calling it "not even an album" in the thanks section of the liner notes. True fans will find some things interesting here, particularly the live DJ sets from the Beta Lounge and the Bowery Ballroom, and the animated video for the title track. As for the music section, this is really what a remix EP should be like, as the remixes are almost reinterpretations. The title track makes its appearance to start off, as is customary, and then the party really gets started. The "Ghostwriter Remix" is beat heavy and groovier, with keyboards taking the lead. The real treat is in the middle with a new guitar line and the same horns and vocal refrain making it a great club track or fine driving music. The "Final Frontier Remix" features some nice rhyme skills from multiple MCs with new beats and samples from Rjd2, though the repeated "We're HERE!" gets old the second time it's heard, just like the original. The new tracks of "Bus Stop Bitties," and "Sell the World" are real treats, as they're just two great tracks with top-notch beats and great grooves that are more David Holmes than Rjd2. The instrumentals are just filler, sure, but they're great to drive down the street to impress, or to throw in your own ingredients if you're a DJ yourself. All in all, this is not a bad value with all things considered, and the packaging is really cool. - 

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