Parts & Labor and R. Kelly Review

This week on Sound Opinions: our loudest, most rocking guests to date. Brooklyn trio Parts & Labor visit the show and blow Jim and Greg away with their unique experimental rock. Then stay tuned for a review of the new album by Chicago R&B king R. Kelly.

Parts & Labor
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Music News

First up in the news is's announcement that it will create a digital music store. What makes their service distinctive from iTunes is that its songs will be free of Digital Rights Management restrictions. The EMI record label has also agreed to offer iTunes DRM-free tracks; however the Apple store will offer them at a higher price. If Amazon's tracks are a more reasonable price, it's possible the online mega-store will be able to compete. But, just possible.

Double Up R. Kelly

Double Up

One man that is always in the news is music star R. Kelly. The self-proclaimed "Pied Piper of R&B" has a new album out called Double Up. The Chicago native has sold more than 40 million albums in his career, but that's not the only reason he's making headlines. As Jim and a team of his colleagues first reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, Kelly engaged in a number of sexual relationships with underage women (according to lawsuits those girls filed against him), and he is under indictment for making child pornography after allegedly videotaping one of these encounters. (He is still awaiting trial but has always maintained his innocence.) These charges have not affected Kelly's sales or his prolific rate of recording, and Jim notes that he finds it difficult to listen to the lyrics on Double Up while Kelly talks so cavalierly about sex and makes light of the criminal case. To Jim it's just not art -- it's a disturbing look into a troubled psyche. Greg agrees that it can be difficult to separate the man from the music, and this has been a challenge throughout pop music. Musically though, Double Up feels a little played out to Greg. He describes R. Kelly as a masterful producer, but doesn't think the sounds on this album are as strong as those on his earlier efforts. In terms of the lyrical content, a lot of Kelly's fans find humor in some of his freaky, over-the-top professions of lust. But, this time around, Greg hears much more of a mean spirit in his voice. He describes it as one of the worst R. Kelly records and gives it a Trash It.

Parts and Labor

This week Dan Friel, B.J. Warshaw and Chris Weingarten of Parts and Labor visit the show. The experimental indie rock band formed in 2002 after Dan and B.J. worked together at New York's famed Knitting Factory. All of the members bonded over their love of the noise-meets-melody formula perfected by bands like Mission of Burma, Hüsker Dü and The Boredoms. But, with a low-budget aesthetic that includes the use of toy keyboards, cheap foot pedals and distortion devices, the band has carved out a unique sound of their own that can be heard on their most recent album Mapmaker. Greg for one is already a fan of Mapmaker and says that if you like rock at all, you have to like Parts and Labor.

Parts and Labor are as striking visually as they are audibly. The band had a complicated setup of gizmos, toys and instruments -- none of which are more expensive than $200. The result is not a rinky-dink sound, though. The band is known for its anthemic songs, and their performance at Chicago Public Radio literally shook the station's walls. But, Jim and Greg note that if you strip the songs of their big effects, they could hold up as quiet, acoustic tracks. In fact, one of the band's original missions was to include politics in their songwriting. Now, with this third release, things are getting more personal.

Posthumous Releases

It's true that rock and roll can never die, and neither can its icons. Recently music fans have been treated to three major posthumous releases from Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake. Releasing music by a deceased artist is tricky business; you can run the risk of doing overkill or being tacky. Let's see how these three memorial efforts pan out:

From a Basement on the Hill Elliott Smith

New Moon

Elliott Smith passed away in 2003 due to an apparent suicide, though, that is still not official. Before his death he recorded five solo albums and performed with the band Heatmiser. He had an intense fan base that hasn't diminished in his death. In 2004 his family and friends released From a Basement on the Hill. Now they've released New Moon, a two-CD collection of songs Smith recorded for the Kill Rock Stars label between 1994 and 1997. Greg explains that this collection really helps you hear his growth as a songwriter. He doesn't agree with notions that these are lo-fi, basement recordings. Rather, the recording is well done and the songwriting top-notch. He gives it a Buy It. Jim agrees saying that Smith would've been proud to release everything on New Moon, and he likes it better than From a Basement. He also gives it a Buy It.

So Real: Songs From Jeff Buckley Jeff Buckley

So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley

Next up is So Real: Songs From Jeff Buckley. Before Jeff Buckley's death he only recorded one full length album and one EP, but in the decade following he grew as a cult figure and fans were treated to a flood of posthumous releases. This one is pretty generic to Jim and Greg. Jim describes So Real as nothing but sticking a hand into the pocket of a worshipful audience. Greg agrees, furthering that there should be a rule put into place forbidding anyone who has released one album from releasing a greatest hits album-whether they are dead or alive. Both critics give the Buckley album a Trash It.

Family Tree Nick Drake

Family Tree

Finally, comes Family Tree, a compilation album of home recordings by the late British singer/songwriter  Nick Drake. The songs were recorded before the release of Drake's first album Five Leaves Left, and Greg thinks there are a lot of gems here. He would not recommend new listeners start out with the album, but thinks that Drake fans will get a lot out of Family Tree. He gives it a Buy It. Jim agrees the album allows you to hear another side of Drake that is less depressed and morose and sample some interesting covers by people like Bert Jansch and Bob Dylan. But, as a major Nick Drake fan, Jim was disappointed and doesn't think this release holds up as a proper album that the musician himself would've released in his lifetime. He can only give it a Burn It.

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