Cool Spins

Lisa Loeb: Cake and Pie (A&M) It's been about four years since Lisa Loeb's last album, Firecracker, came out, and if the lyrics on her new one are any

Lisa Loeb: Cake and Pie (A&M)

It's been about four years since Lisa Loeb's last album, Firecracker, came out, and if the lyrics on her new one are any indication of the life she's been living during the interim, it would appear that she's spent a lot of time in rocky relationships. This is bad for her (I suppose) but good for us, because she has a real gift for describing romantic disillusionment and misery; though her style remains a sort of wispy folk-pop, what she's describing is definitely the blues. Musically, this is her strongest album to date: Many of the hooks are memorable, the arrangements veer from surprisingly forceful pop-rock to more contemplative folk spaces, plus there is a judicious use of strings on two tracks; it's a nice combination of styles pulled together by Loeb's breathy vocals and appealing persona. This time out, she's collaborated with an interesting variety of musicians, songwriters and producers, including Randy Scruggs, Dweezil Zappa and the ubiquitous (but undeniably talented) Glen Ballard. With many of her songs, I feel like I'm looking over the shoulder of someone writing in a journal, or eavesdropping on a telephone call; her lyrics have that sort of casual, conversational quality, and that's precisely why she has been able to connect with so many people. In general, I prefer the somewhat softer first half of the album to the more rockin' second half, but then she saves the best for last: “She's Falling Apart” is a spare and frightening depiction of a woman's mental dissolution; one of her best songs ever.

Producers: Lisa Loeb, Peter Collins, Randy Scruggs, Dweezil Zappa. Tracking Engineers: Michael C. Ross, Dweezil Zappa, David Reitzas, Gary Burr. Mixing: Bob Clearmountain, Jack Joseph Puig, Mike Shipley. Studios: The Village, Royaltone, Ocean Way, Conway, Bitch Stevenson Sound, Extasy, Record One (all in the L.A. area). Mastering: Ted Jensen/Sterling Sound
Blair Jackson

Tosca: The Different Tastes of Honey (!K7 Records)

Richard Dorfmeister has spent years crafting and mixing manic, progressive house anthems as half of the internationally renowned Kruder & Dorfmeister. Back in '96, Dorfmeister teamed up with longtime friend Rupert Huber, and the two put out a pair of albums (Opera in '96 and Suzuki in '99) as Tosca. Where Kruder & Dorfmeister were very much the life of the party, turning out the kind of frenzied grooves that often send the “chemically enhanced” to the ER, Tosca, with their mellowed tempos, bottom-octave bass grooves and sly arrangements, have always provided the perfect soundtrack for that morning-after hangover or that uneasy 7 a.m. make-out session with a stranger. Slick, sleazy and catchy, Tosca's third full-length album, The Different Tastes of Honey, feels like equal parts Urban Cowboy and Sex Lies & Video Tape, set to strip-club-tempo break beat. The album still has that mesmerizing and intangibly lush feel of deep, hard, no apologies trance, while adhering to a purposely cynical and matured aesthetic. The only weakness is that Tosca is only as good as the context that it's played in; if, by the third track, you're not frantically searching your abode for a stiff drink and a warm body, something is wrong.

Produced, engineered and mastered by Tosca in their own studio.
Robert Hanson

Gravity Kills: Superstarved (Sanctuary Records)

It starts with a sonic assault that sounds like Nine Inch Nails fused with Marilyn Manson. Yes, it's another example of the current trend of melding hard rock with industrial and synths. But wait — there's more! Jeff Scheel's vocals drip with a morbid disdain for, well, life in general, as he takes on a moody tone reminiscent of Stabbing Westward. The guitars add to this flavor, with pounding guitar lines that twist and turn imaginatively, never truly revealing where the next chord will appear. The structure of each track is found in the simplicity of screaming vocals, rockin' guitar licks and a background wash of computer-based noise. But it works. And there is even a stellar cover of Depeche Mode's “Personal Jesus.” Just off a superb tour with Pigface and Godhead (with plans for a tour with Sevendust underway) and a slot on the Mortal Kombat soundtrack, Gravity Kills are on their way to finding themselves going head-to-head with the big guns of this movement: Ministry, Damage Manual and Murder Inc. Sounds like they're up to the challenge.

Produced by Martin Atkins and Gravity Kills. Studios: Mattress Factory and ASI (Chicago), and Mr.Blood (St.Louis). Mixing: Chris Greene and Martin Atkins at ASI (Chicago). Mastering: Collin Jordan/ASI (Chicago).
Sarah Benzuly

Ozzie Kotani: To Honor a Queen (Dancing Cat)

Anyone who has been exposed to much traditional Hawaiian music has probably heard songs by Queen Lili'uokalani, the musically prolific ruler of the Islands in the late 19th century. Her songs — and there are more than 150 of them — have been covered by countless Hawaiian musicians and singers through the years and form a sort of backbone for the traditional repertoire. To my knowledge, though, this is the first CD devoted entirely to her compositions as interpreted on solo slack key guitar. Playing both steel-string and nylon-string guitars, Ozzie Katani brings out the beauty, joy and sadness in the Queen's songs. His playing positively glistens and shimmers as he moves gracefully from piece to piece. Sometimes his picking etches the melody; other times it sounds like the melody is rising like a vapor from the overtones of the notes he plays — it's a gorgeous, full sound. Two of Lili'uokalani's best-known songs are my favorites here: “He 'Ai Na Kalani” and the venerable “Aloha 'Oe,” but every song on the CD is infused with a lovely mystery. The sound on this release, engineered by Dancing Cat veteran Howard Johnston, is stunning, as always.

Producer: George Winston. Engineer: Howard Johnston. Studios: Audio Resource (Honolulu), Different Fur (San Francisco).
Blair Jackson

Puddle of Mudd: Come Clean (Interscope)

Alright, I'll admit it. I bought the album for the song “Control.” With lyrics like “I love the way you look at me/I love the way you smack my ass/I love the dirty things you do/I have control of you,” how can you go wrong? But a happy surprise, the rest of the release is great — obscenely loud, intricate guitar grooves and a dynamic vocalist, and I won't hold it against them that they are signed to Fred Durst's Flawless Records. While the tracks contain the anger of Korn and Rage Against the Machine, vocalist Wesley Reid Scantlin sounds eerily like the late-Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. But the album also hints at traditional hard rock, with tracks like “Drift & Die” and “Bring Me Down.” The album also brings out a little punk with “She F — in' Hates Me,” a fun little ditty. An all-around good time.

Produced and engineered by John Kurzweg, except for three tracks produced by Fred Durst. Assistant engineers: Steve Mixdorf and Scott Francisco. Pro Tools editing by Bobby Selvaggio. Mixing: Andy Wallace at Sound Track Studios (NYC). Assistant mixing engineer: Scott Cisco. Studios: Third Stone Recording and NRG Studios (both North Hollywood). Mastering: Vlado Meller at Sony Music Studios (NYC).
Sarah Benzuly