Short Cuts

Ani DiFranco
Up Up Up Up Up Up
(Righteous Babe)

After nearly a decade and an even dozen releases, Ani DiFranco is not about to start sucking up to the recording industry for approval or legitimacy. By the same token, she's not prone to begin pandering to her fans by remaking her last album on her next album ad nauseum. To her casual fans, that may be the most maddening of her musical traits. To her diehard coterie, the ones who delight in her ability to shed skins and reinvent herself with each successive release, that may be her most endearing quality.

After the relatively arranged and produced delight of last year's highly successful Little Plastic Castles, DiFranco has opted for a more spartan approach on her latest, Up Up Up Up Up Up. There is also a discernible jazziness to much of the new material, with DiFranco's long-time rhythm section of bassist Jason Mercer and drummer Andy Stochansky providing a quietly funky foundation while keyboardist Julie Wolf offers organ fills that sound like updated Groove Holmes riffs. With very few exceptions, this is the lineup on nearly every song on Up Up Up Up Up Up, which lends the album a consistency even as DiFranco experiments with her accepted and expected sound.

The jazzy counterpoints will likely confound DiFranco's less patient fans. Although the basic angry-folk underpinnings remain, any number of tracks challenge the notion of DiFranco as a strictly folk artist. "Angel Food" and "Trickle Down" are DiFranco's sonic core samples of Tom Waits' entire career, while "Angry Anymore" and "Everest" hew a little closer to her established oeuvre, albeit with a deliberate and welcome twist.

DiFranco's one area of constancy is her acid-washed lyrics, which dish up equal helpings of bile and balm. On the album's opener, the quietly stunning "'Tis of Thee," DiFranco notes in a near whisper, "My country 'tis of thee, to take swings at each other on the talk show TV/Why don't you just go ahead and turn off the sun/'Cuz we'll never live long enough/To undo everything they've done to you." With "Angry Anymore," she documents coming to terms with a childhood marred by divorce: "She taught me how to wage a cold war/With quiet charm/But I just want to walk/Through my life unarmed/To accept and just get by/ Like my father learned to do." And on the title track, she offers the spiritual observation, "Up up up up up up points the/Spires of the steeple/But God's work isn't done by God/It's done by people."

All these differences and similarities add up to an album that is a considerably more difficult listen than some of DiFranco's previous releases. Although Up Up Up Up Up Up is a sonic departure for Ani DiFranco on a number of levels, her core qualities remain intact and ensure that this latest epistle will fit well within the context of her whole body of work and perhaps even raise the bar just a notch.

-- Brian Baker

Various Artists
Jawbreaker: Music From the Motion Picture
(London Records)

Despite the lack of a singular bombshell artist on this mostly girl-band collection (a track from Sleater-Kinney, or perhaps the recently re-formed Bratmobile, would raise the album's street cred considerably), the producers of the Jawbreaker soundtrack have succeeded in assembling a thrilling cast of tracks, spanning from hyperactive pop-punk to trip-hop to sugary pop.

Imperial Teen (a 50/50 gender-split group founded by Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum) contributes two tracks: the awesome, sex-soaked opener "Yoo Hoo," filled with gasps, exhalations, and sneering soul, a la the Rolling Stones on transgender hormone therapy; and the slightly less exciting "Water Boy," a spasmic, riff-heavy rock attack.

The most exhilarating presence on the album is Britain's stellar girl-duo Shampoo, which also kicks in two tracks. "Don't Call Me Babe" is a pounding metallic rocker with tinges of shimmery new wave and a wet-lipped "your little girl is not your little girl no more" bridge that calls to mind a '90s Pat Benatar. At the close of the album, Shampoo's "Trouble," with its hip-hop beat and anthemic rapping (substituting shrieks and gasps for beat-boxing), cranks the record's bad-girl sex quotient to ten, matching the libidinous watermark of the opening "Yoo Hoo."

Elsewhere the overhyped but still quite precious Donnas offer up their usual lo-fi, Ramones-inflected panache on "Rock 'n' Roll Machine." Alongside is the similarly retro Prissteens track, the '50s-ish "Beat You Up," which sounds like an updated "It's My Party (and I'll Cry if I Want To)" but with "He's my baby/Gonna beat you up" lyrics instead.

The rock 'n' roll tracks are countered with songs like Transister's ethereal "Flow," and Grand Mal's "Stay in Bed," a trip-hoppy, ambient tune that morphs into Crackeresque guitar-pop filled with dismal philosophizing that settles on the choral "Let's get drunk on cheap wine/Let's stay in bed" solution. Also slightly off kilter is the Howie Beno/Cruella DeVille Big Beat interpretation of Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop," sporting maniacal breakbeats and megafuzzed guitar riffs overlaid with DeVille's Siouxsie-esque vocals.

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