Oct. 27 2010 10:18 AM

CD reviews of the latest from The Fresh and Onlys, Martina Topley-Bird and Tricky


Mixed Race
Goes well with: Massive Attack, UNKLE, Danger Mouse

Being a dedicated Tricky fan can sometimes be a challenge. Ever since 1998’s Angels with Dirty Faces, Bristol’s dark prince has often overdrawn his once-infallible artistic credit through things like cheeseball duets with Live’s Ed Kowalczyk and an album-long collaboration with DJ Muggs.

But the saving grace has been that each one of his subsequent albums has had some viable sign of the brooding danger and obtuse head-nod vibrancy that were earmarks of his stellar debut. Perhaps unfairly, everything he’s released in the last decade has been dubbed a potential “comeback” album, both negating previous efforts and predisposing listeners to forever make comparisons with that 15-year-old record. Mixed Race stands on its own as a welcome addition to the trip-hop pioneer’s polarizing catalog, simply because it sounds so good from start to finish.

From the Middle eastern beats of “Hakim” and menacing rap-whisper on “Early Bird” to the Bobby Gillespie-led slink of “Really Real” and blunted Peter Gunn retread “Murder Weapon,” all the essential Tricky-isms are here and working well with one another. At a thrifty 30 minutes, it’s a quick listen. But most importantly, it leaves you wanting more.

—Scott McDonald

The Fresh and Onlys
Play it Strange

(In the Red)

Goes well with: The Sadies, The Byrds, Man Or Astro-Man

Similar to how a fuzzy frosting of lo-fi hiss defines albums released by the likes of Sebadoh, Guided by Voices, Wavves and Times New Viking, San Francisco’s The Fresh and Onlys’ most prominent feature is the thick haze of nonstop reverb surrounding all of their songs.

The downside is that nonstop reverb tends to get repetitive and tiresome.

In recent years, The Flaming Lips have introduced this element sporadically on their albums to great effect—especially on last year’s double LP, Embryonic. But when every song on an album has it, you’d better absolutely love reverb, or it’s gonna get old.

Even more of a bummer is stumbling across a potential raging garage-rocker like “Red Light Green Light,” which fails to pop as hard as it should because all the dynamic shifts blend together and hide the hooks. What’s really missing from this disc is a rave-up on par with “The Delusion of Man” from the band’s Grey-Eyed Girls. The seven-minute-plus “Tropical Island Suite” veers into similar territory but fails to generate the same momentum.

In the end, Play it Strange seems to present The Fresh and Onlys as a sort of paradox. Their signature sound clearly separates them from many of their garage-rock-revivalist peers, but it also serves to alienate much of their potential audience.

—Dryw Keltz

Martina Topley-Bird
Some Place Simple
Goes well with: Goldfrapp, Amel Larrieux, Nina Simone

Martina Topley-Bird is no fool. And the enigmatic chanteuse—who broke out as a teenage co-vocalist on Tricky’s acclaimed debut, Maxinquaye—tends to listen when she’s given good advice. Recently, she did exactly that when Damon Albacaught her stripped-down live show and suggested she use his Studio 13 to record her reworked live songs. The result, Some Place Simple, is her best album yet.

While her Mercury-nominated debut, Quixotic (edited, re-sequenced and released stateside as Anything), and Danger Mouse-produced follow-up, The Blue God, had plenty of great songs between them, too many times they found Topley-Bird buried in a mound of slick production. Simple remedies this thoroughly and puts the post-apocalyptic torch singer exactly where she should be—front and center. The minimalist accompaniments really let her whiskey-soaked timbre come through, and re-imagined versions of classics “Intro,” “Sandpaper Kisses” and “Too Tuff to Die” surprisingly trump the originals.

Although it was never really lost, oddly enough, it seems Martina Topley-Bird has finally found her voice.

—Scott McDonald