Before we get on to the real “meat” of this week’s column (which is, as always, pork), let’s rejoice together for a moment about the recent Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding reunion, which plays right in to my winter olympics coverage, extensive and in-depth as always.
First, a brief re-statement of my central theory on winter sports: people who willingly go out in the snow for any reason are idiots, especially if they’re not getting paid. Therefore, the main part of the winter olympics that I really enjoy is seeing a skier tumble down a hill after some grievous mis-calculation, or the simple exhilaration of watching a great athlete attacked by the hired thugs of another great athlete. My dream for the current winter games is to see the snow people adapt that whole Tyson-Holyfield thing in some new, bizarre way; I believe what’s needed here is one more bold step towards cannibalism. So, yes: I’m psyched for the olympics this year!
Which is why seeing Tonya and Nancy together again was just the perfect way to kick off the year’s events, even though the attendant padding -an hour and forty-five minutes of it before the main bout, making this the best entertainment bargain since Geraldo revealed the contents of Al Capone’s vault -was indeed grueling. But wasn’t it all worth it to get to the heartwarming interview segment, wherein these two great champions proved they hadn’t lost a step after all that time? Ah, the tears, the anguish, the irony, as Tonya told Nancy her hair looked good! as Nancy acknowledged how much their initial competition had done for the sport! as the interviewer incisively focused on the pain of their encounter, never mentioning the enormous dough they both must’ve bagged as a result.
What can I say? It was another proud moment in the history of American sports, and I’m proud to have taped it. Mrs. Kelp (the Divine Ms. K) and I were both whelmed. And now, back to pork.
There’s a good little stack of enticing new releases out, dominated by either entirely new or relatively obscure faces, a good portion of whom are working the pop side of the fence (definitely the side of the fence that needed it). Possibly my favorite of the newcomers is Ray Wonder, a Swedish quartet from the town of Umea (which is one of those towns you pretty much. need a Swedish typewriter to spell correctly, and even though I really like the group, I’m definitely not budgeted for a Swedish typewriter. Just draw a little circle over the “a”).
The music on their latest, “Good Music” (NONS) is energetic, quirky and slightly neurotic, somewhere between XTC and the Ben Folds Five, very melodic and inventive, cool chord changes, definite Kinks references too -certainly good enough to make me real curious about the rest of their catalog, which seems to be five or six cds strong. (It’s all in English, too -at least it is on “Good Music” -so you don’t have to worry about getting into any tussles with any of those nasty foreign languages.) NONS (which stands for North of No South) is a Swedish label that is supposedly seeing general American distribution; but if you can’t find it, you can e-mail them at email@example.com; or write to NONS, P.O.Box 14128, Minneapolis, MN 55414.
Also firmly in the quirky, melodic pop category (always one of my favorites) is Trunk Federation, whose new “The Curse of Miss Kitty” (Alias), which comes out in early March, sounds like an American cousin of Ray Wonder in a grungier, more specifically alternative kind of way; the other obvious reference points being the Flaming Lips, who are less concise and more flamboyant, and occasionally (in their quieter, less hyper moments), Papas Fritas. Though their consistent invention makes the album an interesting listen, bland vocals and lyrics that aren’t particularly affecting prevent it from striking a deeper chord; still, there’s a lot going on here, especially in terms of arrangement and orchestration, and this one’s a big improvement over last year’s debut, so I’ll keep rooting for them.
Then there’s Snout, a new Australian band whose new CD “The New Pop Dialogue” (Au-Go-Go) I found occasionally amusing, largely for its occasional Beatles, Kinks, and Who references; one has to conjecture that if they funneled these influences more effectively, they’d sound less like Cheap Trick, but there’s still some good moments.
And next on our ascent up the scale of noise is Sixteen Deluxe, who, on their debut “Emits Showers of Sparks” (Warner Bros.), occasionally manage to sound like a Pretenders/Curve hybrid, pretty noisy and Anglo for a bunch of folks from Austin, Texas. When it works, as on “Lullaby” and “Honey”, it works great; when it doesn’t it still isn’t terrible -just a little relentless.
So there -go forth and dig the pop music (and if you’re in that mood, don’t forget about the You Am I album on Reprise). And R.I.P., Carl Wilson, who will be sorely missed.