CD Shorts

Wire
Red Barked Tree
(Pink Flag)

Wire is one of the few bands whose new efforts can stand unashamed alongside their classic work. They’ve convincingly morphed from punk pioneers to post-punk chameleons to electro-rock avatars. For their latest, Wire slims down to a trio to deliver a bracing, varied, and surprising album. Red Barked Tree partially plays like a summation of the band’s strengths—short, sharp screeds, rigorously textured rockers, and moody, motorized funk. The surprise is how the band overlays the material with an affecting melancholic streak and strong melodic flair; there’s an unapologetically catchy quality to tunes. Carefully sequenced, the album climaxes with “Red Barked Trees,” a gentle and psychedelic-tinged tune mixing impeccably restrained groove with surging melody. It’s as vital as the work of any band this year, never mind one 38 years into their career. —Jeff Jackson

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The Alchemystics
Spread Hope
(Northfire Recording)

The Alchemystics represent something of a heavily branched river—in this case, an intergenerational blend of reggae, dub, ska, funk and hip-hop. It has that feel of historic Valley (or rather Hilltown) reggae, and the band’s cred remains enhanced by its inclusion of elder statesman Ras Jahn Bullock of Loose Caboose fame. Now The Alchemystics have incorporated some Cajun and calypso influences and a horn section, and have also begun collaborating with other influential Caribbean figures, including Denroy Morgan, father of ’90s reggae phenom Morgan Heritage, and Kurt Allen, who was named Trinidad & Tobago’s 2010 National Calypso Monarch. The production is crisp, and the overall (spiritual) message is delivered by several messengers of markedly different styles. Check them out at the 2011 Strange Creek Campout at Greenfield’s Camp KeWanee, May 27-30. —Tom Sturm

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Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica
Third River Rangoon
(Tiki)

First Mr. Ho (Boston’s Brian O’Neill) regaled listeners with lovingly recreated Esquivel tunes, a titanic accomplishment. Now he’s back with a mostly original album of what’s dubbed “exotica for modern living.” There’s something undeniably retro about the whole affair, from the fonts to a cheesy, jazzy melodrama that translates to modern ears as exceptional cool. This is a small ensemble (mostly four players, on vibes, flutes, percussion and bass) assault on music that’s equal parts spy movie slickness and globe-spanning melodicism. Mr. Ho and crew balance one of the toughest equations in music: crafting something deeply engaging from the difficult marriage of jazz and flute. Somehow, it never strays toward cloying. Exotica is/was more or less ambient music for the Austin Powers set, and turns out to be a strange but brilliantly listenable idea. Whatever weird river Mr. Ho swims for inspiration, here’s hoping he’ll continue diving in to come up with gems like this. —James Heflin

Author: Advocate Staff

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