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Picks by Sullivan Bianco (SB) and Kevin McCarthy (KM)


The High Llamas

The High Llamas' fourth release is loaded with ghostly soundscapes and moody chamber pop. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Sean O'Hagan takes his lead from Brian Wilson but borrows just as freely from exotica (Eden Ahbez, Esquivel and Martin Denny), Brazilian music (the album's opener, "Bach Ze," is an homage to Brazilian guitarist Tom Ze) and '60s rock, evoking the eerie harmonies of the Byrds and the Zombies. O'Hagan seems to have come down with a case of the millennium blues as Snowbug is ripe with subtle apocalyptic imagery ("shutters come down/safety inside/exile at home/this is more than just a place where we hide"). The High Llamas create a deeply textured vibe driven tapestry when restrained, but go a tad far with pre-apocalyptic gluttony. (KM)

Box of Pearls

Box of Pearls: The Janis Joplin Collection

This box set needs no pretext: here lie Janis Joplin's four studio albums, two LP stints fronting Big Brother and the Holding Company and two feral studio projects, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama! and Pearl, attached to a fifth disc of rarities. What's fascinating is that its new inclusions (the first Big Brother album, the extra tracks on each disc) belie her rep as incapable of singing a syllable unshredded by her wheezing, mucosal soul-shrieking. She crystallizes on these tracks as nothing less than the '60s vocalist answer to James Dean, someone who clings onto a song for dear life, always somehow hiding in plain sight (or hearing), negating previous styles and disturbing a generation forever. (SB)

69 Love Songs, vol. 1

Magnetic Fields
69 Love Songs, vol. 1

69 ... vol 1's spareness and austerity are the glummo rock version of Verve's "Best of" (Berlin or Porter or Kern or Arlen) sets, with singer Stephin Merritt and various guest vocalists playing mumblety peg with classic love songs. Merritt basically redreams the genre and pins its history to his throbbing, wallowing morning-after basso voce. Is it a coincidence that "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side" sounds like Morrissey with a Taco "Puttin' on the Ritz" Ockerse drum thunk? Nino Rota, Judas Iscariot, Prozac, the immediate stars of this disc are eclipsed by bleakness--what other pop album begins with suicide tease ("I'll have to jump in a lake/ then all my friends will hate you")? (SB)

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From the December 20, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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