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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Byrne's Exotic Research

Afropea: "Telling Stories to the Sea" (Luaka Bop)

In his life after the Talking Heads, David Byrne is involved in numerous projects, from photo exhibitions to (naturally) solo albums -- but probably the most precious of his activities is his tireless promotion of unknown exotic music from all corners of the world through his record label, Luaka Bop. Some of his releases become big hits, like the Brazilian compilation, Beleza Tropical; some go unnoticed, like most of his Asian discoveries. Afropea, in my opinion, is one of the best and definitely the least expectable of Byrne's researches. This is Afro-Portuguese pop music from Angola and Cabo Verde, featuring a brilliant mix of South European melodic sophistication with African rhythmic drive. It has to be heard to be believed.

N.O.M.: "Vo Imya Razuma" (SNC)

St. Petersburg's NOM is arguably the most inventive and provocative Russian rock band. Unlike tired underground veterans they're both wild on stage and challenging in the studio. The new album is a weird combination of two topics: a parody of the '60s sci-fi space exploration craze and Zionism. I'm not sure that they themselves fully comprehend the concept they're creating, but the absurd fun is there. From a musical point of view, this is the least innovative NOM album; with the exception of a few quirky tracks, it sounds almost like straight rock, Red Hot Chili Peppers-style. Worth listening to and seeing the design, anyway.

John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey:

"Dance Hall at Louse Point" (Island)

P.J. Harvey, the rising star of rock and blues, enjoys both cult status and chart popularity. Her new disc, a joint project with guitarist John Parish, will rather add to the former. Not as smoothly produced and rich in texture as her last year's ground-breaking third album, it nevertheless isn't at all the low-fi, made-on-the-road side project one could expect. Yes, the sound is stripped down to basic voice, guitars and drums, but the songs and performance are very strong. In fact, "Dance Hall" feels very much like PJ's early recordings -- which means the girl is as harsh as she used to be and pop fame hasn't spoiled her a bit. Good to know that.

Nirvana: "From the Muddy Banks of the Whiskah" (Geffen)

This should have happened -- the live Nirvana album. Considering Kurt Cobain's monumental cult status, it's not surprising that the record is selling like hot cakes. Now I'd love to write something like: "But it is surprising how good it is" -- but I can't. For me personally, Nirvana has been a one-hit wonder, and the hit is called "Smells Like Teen Spirit" indeed. When I put the new disc on my player, I honestly hoped it would prove my opinion wrong -- but, alas, it has confirmed my position instead. It is energetic but dull, desperate but silly, and honest but too one-dimensional. Jim Morrison and the Doors Nirvana definitely aren't, and "Muddy Banks" is no "Absolutely Live" either.

Love & Rockets: "Sweet F.A." (Beggars Banquet/American)

Ever since their formation in the late '80s from the ruins of the post-punk band Bauhaus, Love & Rockets change their sound and style on every new album. Last year, they were techno-trance, now they're playing semi-acoustic laid-back rock strongly reminiscent of late '60s psychedelia. I don't know whether they are restless musical experimentors or just can't overcome an identity crisis, but whatever musical pattern they try, they always do it in a fresh and interesting way, and they always sound kind of sexy. Very well done once again, L&R -- I just wonder why it doesn't sell better.