Short Cuts

Number One Cup
People People Why Are We Fighting?
(Flydaddy Records)

Chicago's Number One Cup is emphatically indie. Its latest CD -- People People Why Are We Fighting? -- is replete with the discordant guitars, nonchalant vocals, and quirky noises that have become indie rock's standard currency. It's hard not to notice the traces of other bands, especially Pavement, the accepted masters of the genre, and art-punk bands from the late '70s such as Television. But nonetheless Number One Cup plays exceptionally well, cobbling together the techniques of Sebadoh, Archers of Loaf, and their indie brethren.

Many of the songs on People People are fashionably despondent. Some songs (like "High Diver") feature the pained voice of guitarist Michael Lenzi whining away like Robert Smith at his frailest moments. But others are less affected ("Ice Melts Around My Battery") and demonstrate the band's ability to play at a fast, grating clip.

Number One Cup also has a knack for pop. "What Does It Mean?" has a soft, harmonious chorus that's catchy and upbeat, with pillowy vocals not unlike those of My Bloody Valentine circa 1991. The intro in "3 Stars" would give the Posies a run for their money, and "Canada Disappears" is pure fun, with gurgling synthesizers and bright "doo-doo-doo" background vocals.

Number One Cup formed in Chicago in 1993 after the band's frontman, Seth Cohen, was seized by inspiration at a Stereolab show and decided to start his own band. The band recorded its first album in 1995, called Possum Trot Plan; the single "Divebomb" from that album is what propelled Number One Cup into the labyrinthine channels of alternative radio. The band also released an EP, Kim Chee Is Cabbage, and a second LP in 1997, Wrecked by Lions.

While the songs on People People are noticeably derivative, they are played deftly enough to compensate. Number One Cup captures the indie stylings of countless '90s college bands, borrowing as freely as every good rock band does.

-- Daniel Lovering

Lo-Fidelity Allstars
How to Operate With a Blown Mind
(Skint/Columbia)

Lo-Fidelity Allstars is yet another super-extra-overhyped band from Great Britain, where accolades like "destined for an impact that matches Primal Scream or the Stone Roses" mean something. What the Allstars have done to inspire such hyperbole for their debut record is fuse the unintelligible singing of recently departed singer the Wrekked Train, Big Beat drums, '70s funk bass, and a DJ's sensibility for mixing and matching disparate sample sources. Like Skint labelmate Fatboy Slim, the Allstars sport the aggression of a rock band but are more interested in bringing people to the dance floor.

Because the band members are products of the British rave scene (where hallucinogenic drugs make even boring music seem interesting) that made electronic music acceptable to rock fans, they start with the foundations of rock 'n' roll and apply it to dance music. "Blisters on My Brain," which features a sped-up disco beat and the obligatory echoing, squiggly keyboard, finds the Train ranting about a "disco machine gun" like a blissed-out Johnny Rotten. Then, just as the song is getting frenzied, everything is dropped except the almost-'70s-prog-rock-sounding analog keyboard that slowly sends the track swelling again. This attention to dynamics comes from the rock 'n' roll technique of tension and release -- build it up and take it away -- which the band does at the coda.

But when the Allstars blur the lines of rock and dance on the trip-hoppy, monster low-end bass of the title track, they prove themselves worthy of the ink spilled over them. The bluesy female vocals sampled in the background give the track depth as sci-fi noises in the foreground provide an in-your-face edge -- twinkling and twittering, demanding attention. The fuzzed guitars, chugging bass, and clipped horn sample in between the two are the real meat of the song. And an unexpected string-section ending makes it truly grandiose. With "How to Operate With a Blown Mind," the Allstars aim for the complexity of DJ Shadow and Massive Attack, and nail it.

Elsewhere Blown suffers from attempts to be too varied, leading to an inconsistency in quality and style. Are they a dance band ("Kool Roc Bass"), a remix crew ("Battle Flag"), a progressive electronica group ("Warming Up the Brain Farm"), a funky, Daft Punk-style electronica group ("Lazer Sheep Dip Funk"), or a swinging piano combo ("I Used to Fall in Love")? Also, the song structures are frequently the same: build up, drop off, and build up again, as if a child (or Teletubby) were demanding that the Allstars play each song "again, again" after the first pass.

-- David Simutis

 
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