Random acts

Of note

Kane wins fellowship Local singer/songwriter Christine Kane was recently awarded a fellowship by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Although no details about Kane’s upcoming residency were offered, the center’s program allows artists to work on their creative projects in relative seclusion for up to two months. For more information about Kane, visit www.christinekane.com.

Listening room (album reviews)

The corner of my home office was for the longest time haunted by a roughly knee-deep pile of local-music CDs to review — a veritable mountain of unlistened-to music that just sat there, looming. After a few months, I slowly came to believe that the pile looked at me through invisible, yet purely malevolent, eyes. I began to avoid it.

But it kept getting bigger.

Soon, it started to creep out of its designated lair, its plastic tendrils reaching out to explore new places to live, perhaps like the choking vines of some parasitic plant. Something had to be done. In a fit of holiday-boredom-inspired bravery, I slowly began to hack away at the heap of unheard songs.

Here’s what I discovered: albums that had been awaiting review from as long ago as Bele Chere, several paper clips, a flier for a show I never ended up going to — and that my album-critiquing method needs a bit of streamlining.

The New Year, I decided, is the ideal time for leaving behind such slack reviewing policies. This week, Random Acts presents two in-depth local-album reviews that have been a long time in coming. And man, you should really see my floor now.

The Other Pink Meat, Monsters of Japan (ill samurai music, 2002)

When I heard that Monsters of Japan were releasing a studio album, I had my doubts. I couldn’t fathom their stage show — with its fake blood, demonic face paint and scantily clad, writhing female dancer (the apparent star attraction) — translating to tape with particular ease. To my surprise, the group’s songs held up fairly well sans over-the-top stage antics.

While not exactly deep, the Monsters’ lyrics are typically quite clever … in a disturbing sort of way. Take, for instance, the Southern-rock- and metal-inspired barnyard comedy of “farm fun,” with its occasionally explicit and bestiality-alluding lyrics leading up to the payoff refrain, “Thank you, goat and sheep/ for givin’ me a taste of your pink meat.”

It’s not Dylan — or, for that matter, even Spinal Tap — but it has a moderately sickening charm all its own.

Don’t assume, however, that the Monsters’ music is a mere succession of musically embedded gross-out jokes. The band provides its songs with a backbone of old-school heavy metal, funk and groove to carry the listener though. The resulting music combines the mentality of modern-day rock comics Tenacious D with the stage presence of a KISS cover band.

Of particular note: “blood on the ice,” perhaps the hardest-rocking ode to ice hockey to ever come out of North Carolina; “nipples baby,” which slides the group into a firmly funk-powered groove; and, of course, “farm fun.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

Smush Factory 2 Compilation, Various Artists (Top Shelf Music, 2002)

Asheville’s hip-hop scene has been so far under the radar for so long that many people, myself included, simply thought there wasn’t a scene to find. Groups like GFE (Granola Funk Express) were simply anomalies, a musical aberration in a town filled with indie rock, bluegrass and acoustic folk. And all the while, the underground hip-hop scene grew and grew.

Then, a few months ago, I received a compilation CD from Smush Factory (or Smush Factor — the names seem to be used interchangeably), a local hip-hop promotion group.

The second Smush Factory comp is a classic mixed bag. Some songs border on moving, particularly the opening track, “The Hard Part” (featuring Murs, Foulmouth Jerk & Gus with DJ Equal), which is sort of an advice manual for aspiring underground rappers. Other tracks have a local appeal, like Ironfist’s particularly melodic tune, “Asheville,” about loving and hating the titular town.

For every good track, though, one or two simply fall flat. Among the album’s higher-profile acts, amateur rappers — those performers with little to say and no particular rhyming power with which to say it — are commonly encountered among the album’s 22 tracks.

That said, a few tracks hint at incredible potential, the most striking being GFE core member H. Brycon’s tightly arranged fiddle-and-drum-machine-backed “Still in the Ville,” which contains the brilliant lines, “I’m GFE for life/ but your hippie jokes, not me/ I’ve never been a tree hugger, man/ that’s where dogs pee.”

Overall, the latest Smush Factory compilation is a solid document of a still-growing scene — and as a musical snapshot of a place and a time, it’s a remarkably successful album, chronicling both the Asheville scene’s brightest stars and duller gaseous bodies.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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