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Sunday January 29th

The Cannanes Export Beautiful Pop; Pharcyde's Latest Like Plain Crap

The Cannanes and Steward

Communicating at an Unknown Rate

three and 1/2

The 2000 Summer Olympics showed us that there is much more to the Land Down Under than Fosters' ads and drunken crocodile wrestlers. But in all of NBC's dramatic tales of accomplishment in the face of adversity, one group of Aussies was completely ignored.

The Cannanes have been making beautiful music in Sydney since their formation in 1984. They're about as Australian as an indie rock band can be. But despite their perseverance and more than 11 releases in the face of constant setbacks and lineup changes, they still didn't even get an on-air mention. Shows how cool NBC is.

But you, dear reader, are much cooler than NBC, and that is why you must at least listen to Communicating at an Unknown Rate, the Cannanes' newest release and a collaboration with Stewart Anderson of British pop outfit Steward.

Poppy cheer and contemplative gloom mesh for an ethereal sound on Communicating. Adhering to their trademark lo-fi ethic, the Cannanes use guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and the occasional brass instrument to make simple but endearing pop creations that lie somewhere between the Velvet Underground and Belle and Sebastian.

But even though these are some serious compositions, you can't help but pick up on the fun the Cannanes must have had making this record. There's a sense of some kind of inside joke running throughout Communicating. Think Pavement, but more subtle.

In fact, everything about the Cannanes is subtle. The record's most rocking track, "Clean Forgot," though upbeat, could barely be said to rock out. Anderson's mumbles and lilting accent add to the sense of a group of subdued, sleepy-eyed rockers. Do the Cannanes even break a sweat live? Does it matter? A catchy guitar riff, relentlessly repeated, and the sing-along chorus make this the most infectious track on the album.

A close second is "Mirage," which centers on a smooth, almost R&B-esque bass line that bounces throughout the song. Fuzzy, distorted guitars float about like flying saucers as bassist and vocalist Frances Gibson quietly muses about something introspective. Her accent and low vocal mix make it hard to tell what she's talking about, but it sounds good.

Gibson's vocals at times sound uncertain and shaky, but at other times they're solid and powerful. But regardless of if she's being timid or forceful, her voice always retains a pretty innocence. It's at its best as a haunting moan on the slightly Western-sounding "Kurrajong Hotel," and as a background effect on the instrumental "Oh Yeah!"

While Gibson and Anderson definitely capture the mood of each piece with their elfish voices, don't expect to hear anything too deep from them. This is pure pop - light and fluffy.

But that's OK. That's what the Cannanes do. And they do it well. Even if they didn't score a gold this summer, this is a group that's worth a listen.

By Brian Bedsworth

Dwight Yoakam

Tomorrow's Sounds Today

three stars

Hey y'all, get out your cowboy boots and acoustic guitars - Dwight Yoakam is pelvic-thrusting his way into the new millennium and bringing that honky- tonk twang right along with him on his latest album, Tomorrow's Sounds Today.

Yoakam hit the top of the charts with "Suspicious Minds," featured in the 1992 film "Honeymoon in Vegas." His same guitar-driven, upbeat rockabilly style has propelled him toward expanding the country music tradition, resulting in a diverse portfolio of love songs and laments.

Tomorrow's Sounds Today steers away from country's usual boom-chic-chic beats, dueling banjos and whiny lyrics. Yoakam incorporates several world music styles and draws from the influences of Hank Williams Sr., Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly to spice up the theme of a life gone a bit off course.

A truly well-sung, melodic little ditty, "For Love's Sake" features a chugging reggae rhythm highlighted by band member Scott Joss on fiddle.

Though a simple song, "For Love's Sake" is the album's gem. Yoakam succeeds in refreshing country music and composing a love song that isn't a tear-jerker about some long-lost (and possibly dead) lover.

As further proof that the King isn't dead (he's only taken an extended vacation) and that the 1980s are back in style, Yoakam cooks up the old crooner's tune "A World of Blue" and boot-tapping version of Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me."

Reminiscent of a young Elvis's lip snarl and lonely heartache, "A World of Blue" is replete with swooping vocals and vibrato. "I Want You To Want Me" on the other hand, adopts Yoakam's country vernacular to bring big hair and the formula out of the 1980s and into 2000. Although catchy, the lyrics are totally inane, demonstrating that Yoakam really is at his best when writing his own music.

With Tomorrow's Sounds Today Yoakam once again has successfully transcended the barriers of specific music genres and delved deep into the creative process to produce an album that appeals to people of all musical tastes.

By Sarah Kucharski

The Pharcyde

Plain Rap

two stars

There was a time when The Pharcyde were regarded as hip hop's cream of the crop, leading the industry to new and exciting heights.

Now it is regarded as a group that was hip hop's cream of the crop.

With the release of its third album, Plain Rap, The Pharcyde has established itself as a group of hip-hop has-beens, incapable of producing music worthy of a title any greater than the album might suggest. The title, Plain Rap, shows no sense of irony. Instead, it should be seen as a sign of quiet resignation.

At least that's what I gathered from listening to the album. If there was supposed to be some sort of irony implied by the title, it is lost on me. The record is a sub-par conglomerate of near-music that never really comes any closer than hinting at the group's former greatness.

Perhaps it's the absence of Fatlip, one of the group's more colorful members, who has decided to pursue a solo career. While never known as the star of the group, Fatlip's solo release was met with critical acclaim, while Plain Rap has been met with something more akin to critical nausea.

The group has lost its playful, daring innovation. It's no longer pushing the envelope. It's simply trying to mimic its former self. It relies on cut-and-paste methods of song production, slapping uninspired lyrics over what would have been phat beats, had the group not dazzled the world with the same beats years earlier.

The first track, "Bootie Brown," answers those who have supposedly been asking where The Pharcyde's been by explaining that it's been preparing for 2000 and beyond. However, it seems that in preparing for 2000, the members must have holed themselves up in a cave, ignoring the rest of the industry as it evolved and matured.

Oblivious to all of this, they returned with an album that smacks of cliche, from the unimpressive collaboration with Blackthought of The Roots on "The Network" to the goofy, obnoxious "Blaze," a pro-weed anthem that falls far short of their previous ode to smoke, "Pack the Pipe."

Perhaps they were trying to get a little more serious. Perhaps they were showing the hardening effects of the rise and fall of celebrity. Whatever the intent, the result was disappointing, both to the fans and, depending on how you interpret the album title, to the band members themselves.

On the bright side, I think I made out a reference to Joe Forte on "Misery," but I might have been mistaken. Still, it takes more than a reference to Smooth Joe to win the hearts of even the most diehard Pharcyde fan.

By David Povill


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