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© St. Petersburg Times
published July 14, 2002

DJ SHADOW, THE PRIVATE PRESS (MCA) Electronica fans have waited six years for the followup to DJ Shadow's brilliant groundbreaker Endtroducing . . ., one of the genre's few classics. Six years in pop music -- that's like dog years, isn't it? A lot can happen, and it did. Other electronica artists, say Moby and Fatboy Slim, logged on to play with Shadow's technique of fashioning songs from obscure samples, "found sounds," and ripped-off riffs. A vinyl fetishist, Shadow (born Josh Davis 29 years ago in California) on The Private Press again relies exclusively on tiny treasures found in record stores around the world, the more obscure, the better.

If you don't think there's an art to weaving all of it into a pastiche, go ask a visual artist who works with found objects or collage. Shadow's medium includes snippets from privately funded vanity records (i.e., the private press) and, by the way, he knocks himself out trying legally to clear the use of each sample. The album opens and closes with a home recording of a woman in 1951 dictating a Recordio letter -- it was briefly the rage -- to relatives: "Tonight we got together, kept the kids up, decided to have a little fun making this record." As openers go, it's a charmer. Apropos, too, because the record is fun.

Shadow also plays with bits from a 1960s high school drum corps record made for band boosters, discarded demo tapes from rap star wanna-bes, and odd foreign language bits.

Shadow -- and Moby, too, with the emotional, gospel-fueled Play -- have proven not all electronica is chilly and remote. The Private Press teems with feeling in spots. Melancholia drifts over much of the album. Emotions, too, come in the form of rage. Blood on the Motorway is a curse-filled diatribe, complete with cartoony car crash noise. Rush hour madness. The sprawling You Can't Go Home Again, floating on synths and piano, is buoyed by regret.

The album's missteps include samples of saccharine vocals -- in one spot a cheesy New Age gospel refrain. Was Shadow trying to be ironic? Was this a finger poke at Moby? Whatever, it sounds lousy. Crummy rapping mars the otherwise B-boy bouncy Walkie Talkie. Give Shadow props for his ever-experimental nature. Props, too, for sheer playfulness. Hear those samples from Disco Duck and Star Trek?

So, the questions: Is The Private Press as good as Moby's Play? Kids, Moby, genius that he is, was working in Shadow's shadow on that one. Shadow's real competition remains himself. Okay, is The Private Press as brilliant as Endtroducing . . .? As a wise old relative of mine used to say, you can only break ground once, honeybunch. After that, everyone's just playing in your dirt. A-.

-- GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic

* * *

OASIS, HEATHEN CHEMISTRY (EPIC RECORDS) It's easy to hate the Gallagher brothers. They're rock's most infamous enfants terrible, self-indulgent, bigger divas than Cher and always prone to alcohol-induced tantrums. Plus, their shtick, continually paying homage to -- or is that ripping off? -- the Beatles, seems more derivative than doting.

I wanted to loathe Heathen Chemistry, the latest from the Brit bad boys. Instead, I found myself tapping my toes to opening track The Hindu Times, a psychedelic electro-whirl, marshalled along by fierce guitar. First radio single Stop Crying Your Heart Out was a wise choice; it overflows with achy, echoing piano, reminding us of Oasis' stronger material on 1995's smash What's the Story Morning Glory? Heathen Chemistry's folksy tunes are the real winners. Song Bird is acoustic, charming, sappy, but sweet like summer.

Lead singer Liam even gives principal songwriter/guitarist brother Noel another shot at vocals on this album. One song featuring Noel, Force of Nature, is upbeat fun. Noel's delivery is less snide, but Liam's menacing voice is stronger.

Heathen Chemistry has its faults: washed-out guitar on Better Man. Born on a Different Cloud is stripped-down and murky. Both sound like Beatles rejects. But again, originality has never been Oasis' forte. B-.

-- BRIAN ORLOFF, Times staff writer

* * *

THE VINES, HIGHLY EVOLVED (CAPITOL RECORDS) Every so often, a new band comes along that demands your attention.

Put the Vines on the top of the list.

The group from Sydney, Australia, blasts onto the U.S. scene this summer after taking Britain by storm with two singles, Caribbean-influenced Factory and supercharged, Nirvana-esque Highly Evolved.

What makes the Vines so interesting is that, though influences of late 1960s rock and early 1990s grunge are evident, the band absorbs the sounds to create its own. They're not derivative copycats, whether screeching Outtathaway! or delicately harmonizing on Homesick.

The band shows its versatility with a dozen songs, often about seeking a place in life -- whether free of all restraints on the relentless Get Free, or just relaxing in the secret garden of an idyllic Country Yard. The members bend tempos, mix disparate styles in the same song (such as the alternating reggae and rant of Factory), and generally succeed in creating an eminently excellent CD for anyone who likes rock 'n' roll music. A

-- JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times staff writer


ANI DiFRANCO, RENDER: SPANNING TIME WITH ANI DiFRANCO (RIGHTEOUS BABE) Ani DiFranco embodies the DIY (do-it-yourself) spirit. Not only has DiFranco released 13 solo albums over the course of a prolific 12 years, but she did so on her own record label, Righteous Babe, which she built at age 19.

DiFranco also tours ceaselessly, selling out shows thanks to a devoted cadre of fans. Naturally, it's about time DiFranco released a film about her music and career. Render: Spanning Time With Ani DiFranco, a nearly two-hour film, issued on both VHS and DVD, also features two unreleased songs to tide fans over until the next album.

Unlike other musicians who have released MTV-style documentaries or standard on-the-road videos just to pander to fans eager for glimpses into their lives offstage, DiFranco delivers a challenging, thought-provoking and, yes, entertaining film. Render captures DiFranco on tour, recording in the studio, and at home in Buffalo, N.Y., with an artful handheld camera that grants the film an immediacy absent from other rock documentaries.

Render begins with dreamy shots of DiFranco during her magnetic, feisty and truly fierce live performances. Once strictly a folk singer, she now leads a band that includes a brass section. Highlights include an uninhibited Your Next Bold Move and the new Slide. DiFranco delivers indelible performances of spoken word material, including My IQ.

Especially compelling is a segment focusing on DiFranco's political beliefs, namely her vehement stand against the death penalty. DiFranco's politics often fuel her songs. Render finds the singer and friends visiting a legal center in Atlanta that specializes in death-penalty-only cases. Concert footage of DiFranco performing the impassioned Crime for Crime is spliced between footage of lawyers; it's artful and intense.

DiFranco has always made music with a message. Like her canon of albums, Render captures the singer's essence: playful, political and poetic. It's an artistic statement that's more than just a souvenir for loyal fans. A.

-- B.O.

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