Picks and Pans Review: This Is Our Music
02/11/1991 at 01:00 AM EST
It isn't exactly an act of revolution to make loud, fast rock music these days. So a movement has formed (with appropriate slowness) to push in just the opposite direction. Call it sleepy-time rock.
The Cocteau Twins, actually a British trio with no link to filmmaker Jean Cocteau (or anyone else of that name), started making fragile, haunting music back in 1980 and finally released a U.S. album in 1986. On its fourth Stateside recording, the band delivers lush synthesizer-based rock with an even lighter touch than usual.
Unlike the Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmons, who tends to get trampled by the weight of a plodding beat, the Twins' singer, Elizabeth Fraser, injects a feeling of ecstasy into even slow, quiet songs. She swoops with amazing ease from angelic soprano notes down to a rich alto similar to Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. In the past, Fraser wrote nonsense syllables to her songs to emphasize sound instead of meaning. Now she often uses real words, even if the meaning remains vague, in such odd songs as "Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires" and "Iceblink Luck."
On their second album, the members of Hex sound like the younger siblings of the Cocteau Twins. Singer-guitarist Donnette Thayer, formerly of the California pop combo Game Theory, sounds breathier and less exotic than the Cocteaus' Fraser, but she also delivers dreamy melodies with often unfathomable lyrics. Steve Kilbey, better known as leader of the Australian band the Church, collaborates with Thayer on music that moves through various mellow moods from cool jazz to a girl-group-on-Quaaludes style. Except for a few times when Jim McGrath breaks loose with his drum beat, the music casts a calming spell.
Unlike Thayer, whose ancestors built a dorm in Harvard Yard, the three members of Galaxy 500 merely studied there. As if to compensate for a brainy past, the band delivers slow-as-molasses songs in an intentionally artless, naive style. The Galaxy's third release includes the usual off-key vocals by Dean Wareham and crude guitar playing. Even so, This Is Our Music evokes a strange charm. A deadpan sense of humor uplifts many of the songs.
"Spook" reiterates a Star Trek episode involving Mr. Spock's third eyelid, and "Fourth of July" kicks off the album with the lyric "I wrote a poem on a dog biscuit/ And the dog refused to look at it...." Galaxy 500 (named after a 1960s Ford) accompanies this and most other tunes by shifting back and forth between two simple guitar chords, re-creating the feeling of rocking to sleep on a rickety old train. This trio, like other leaders of the slowpoke music movement, massages a listener's mind with soft sounds, coaxing thoughts to drift free. (Cocteaus: Capitol; Hex: Rykodisc; Galaxy 500: Rough Trade)