Album Reviews: What’s Cookin’ with Atmosphere, Koop, and the Wrens?

Omar Sommereyns and Michael John Hancock

Waltz for Koop- Alternative Takes
Most true jazz buffs will vouch for this: the organic substance of the genre is difficultly reproduced in electronic form. That weeds out the legitimacy of groups like Jazzanova and King Britt, although they produce an electro sound that is very much their own. Same goes for Swedish musicians KOOP, who orchestrate acid jazz on their U.S. debut, Waltz for Koop, while still remaining within electronica’s confines.

Alternative Takes is their newest release with remixes of Waltz tracks by different notable producers, including Germany’s enfant terrible Richard Dorfmeister and Brazil’s DJ Patife. Even so, besides some solos (markedly a vibraphone jam on “Relaxin at Club Fuckin”), a few multipart arrangements and some softcore drum ‘n’ bass beats, this sounds too much like any dance record you might hear at Mynt on a Friday night (gag).

Word is that KOOP is an 8-piece band on a live set (while they also do DJ tours) with Oscar Simonsson and Magnus Zingmark at the forefront, both originally from Sweden’s main university town Uppsala and now living in Stockholm. I’m not sure what these guys are trying to do with this record, besides devising an ambient atmosphere for a back-to-mine session, but ignore the cherry-flavored bubbling of the opening track, “Baby,” and focus on the three (out of nine) highlights of this album: Italy’s Nicola Conte lends his vocals on “Tonight,” followed by fervid piano and sax solos that may please the likes of Cedar Walton and ‘Trane. Also, London’s 2 Banks of 4 broken beat version of “Modal Mile” and Patife’s eerie drum ‘n’ bass rendition of “Waltz for Koop” both hit the spot nicely.

KOOP’s press release states that the group’s idea of jazz isn’t fusion-inspired and they don’t perceive it to be “merely improvisation,” but rhythm and form instead. What? Man, these guys are trippin’ and Waltz lacks most of the complex discourse of instruments that jazz should have. No doubt, this is a cool record to chill out to, but it isn’t what you want to get for your (much-needed) jazz fix.

-Omar Sommereyns


The Meadowlands
As a musical entity, you don’t have to do anything drastically new that hasn’t been done before and you’ll still get by without sounding decayed. Much like the Band (not because of sound but because of approach), this is something a group like the Wrens adhere to and thus come out on top of the heap in the long run. The Meadowlands is a rich collection of songs recorded over the past four years in the band’s living room, which makes for a production quality that fits the music perfectly.

From the soft stir of “The House That Guilt Built” and its unnoticeable transition into “Happy” to the beautiful strum-along “Thirteen,” the band is best when maintaining the tightness and space that they’ve likely developed since the late ’80s, avoiding the clutter of hurried hooks.

The sputtering guitars and xylophone that usher in “Everyone Chooses Sides” immediately alerts the listener to the bands’ choice of a single.

The crunch of that song permeates many of the other tracks and perhaps the best thing to say of this release is that it’s genuinely cohesive. Thus it warrants listen after listen, not because of any hidden stereo-panned trickery, but because it exists as a solid chunk of songs, each of which deserves enough individual attention before the whole package can be heard as a cycle. If you like this disc, you’d probably like the Walkmen as well, who are coming to MIA next month.

-Michael John Hancock


Seven’s Travels
White rappers forever have to endure that they can never enjoy the same street credibility as the other 99 percent of rappers, namely those descendants of transposed Africans whose history provides them with enough material to be angry on wax for at least the next few decades.

The result of being part of the minority in the rap game (isn’t it about time for someone to come up with a better term than that?) is that you have to talk about other shit than the trials of ‘hood living and how many inches wide your rims are.

Slug (Atmospere’s emcee), aside from trying to distance himself from other honkies by claiming Native American pride, chooses to talk about how much he wants to hump every girl he sees (not new subject matter) and drinking before and after shows (also pretty stale), but strings it all together with a sad reminiscence and enough pained delivery to make the tracks sound legit on this 4th LP, although he sometimes comes up sounding a little like Everlast (yipes!). Ant, the production portion of the trio, teams up with the widely recognized Mr. Dibbs to craft some solid beats throughout, with a little corniness on “Apples,” annoying crap on “Suicidegirls” and some grimy style that you either love or hate on “Cats Van Bags”-only 3 flops on a 20-track album.

So there are some bangers poking out of the mash that tend to rely on the charm of a sped-up sampled voice from an old 45, which adds to a nice boom bap. There is also something a little bizarre about this LP: it’s on Epitaph, a label that up to this point has relied on the talents of NOFX, Bad Religion and Rancid amongst other lesser known screeching punkers. What does this startling revelation mean? I don’t care, but Slug probably does -more distribution, son! Big up the Sioux Nation, HOW!

-Sven Barth