Previewing new albums from Korn, David Bowie, They Might Be Giants, Ralph Stanley, and more.'Touch' And Go
"We wanted this record to literally feel like it was going to explode as it played," says Korn frontman Jonathan Davis of "Untouchables" (Immortal/Epic), the California-based hard rock act's first album since 1999's "Issues." This time around, everything is bigger and heavier and more dramatic. The quintet still spikes its ornery, hard-rock odes to angst and anger with hip-hop-inflected beats -- though far less than on previous efforts. This time, tunes like the white-knuckled single "Here to Stay," with its dark, grumbling bassline and razor-sharp guitars, are more emotionally intense.
The musical landscape of "Untouchables" -- produced by Michael Beinhorn and mixed by Andy Wallace -- is enhanced by Davis' desire to also cover broader, richer lyrical ground. "It was time to get out of my own head for a while," he says. "Not that I'm not still working through my own s*** in these songs. I am, big-time. But I also felt compelled to look at the rest of the world around us. What a crazy, f***ed-up place it can be sometimes."
While other bands are rethinking their direction and tone amid the world's current state of political unrest, Davis says Korn is committed to being "the exact same hard-driving band that it's always been. Our fans would be pissed if we went soft on them. We're a band built on the idea of being honest and real and all that we're feeling right now. We're also the kind of band that just blasts the fuck off. We want kids to come to our concerts and leave exhausted." A summer tour with Puddle Of Mudd and Deadsy begins June 20 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
When it was time for David Bowie to choose a new home for his music -- not to mention his fledgling ISO imprint -- he went with the label that didn't strive to render him a hit machine. He chose Columbia Records, because they offered to simply let him be. "Absolutely no attempt was made on their part to guide me into making a chart-oriented record," Bowie says. "What I brought them is what they took -- and with great enthusiasm."
What he brought the label was "Heathen," a 12-song epic for which the legendary artist reunited with famed producer Tony Visconti for the first time in 20 years. There are guest appearances by Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl and Pete Townshend, who adds his signature guitar work to the first radio single, "Slow Burn." Also contributing to the set are Moby and Air, who provide appropriately atmospheric mixes of the cuts "Sunday" and "A Better Future," respectively.
Overall, it's a collection that Bowie accurately describes as "supportive structure over experiment. Tony and I wanted to give each song its own identity and character without getting lost in a hailstorm of musical 'ideas.'" Bowie will also be on the road throughout much of the summer, joining up with such artists as Moby and Busta Rhymes for the Area2 tour, which kicks off July 28 in Bristow, Va. Beforehand, he will curate and perform at the Meltdown festival in London, which will also feature performances by Coldplay, Suede, Supergrass, and Mercury Rev.
'No' Means Yes
They Might Be Giants' eccentric music, which the New York-based duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell has been making for two decades, has long attracted grade-school-aged kids alongside the pair's adult target audience. Now, TMBG has taken the logical step of releasing its first album specifically tailored to kids: "No!," due this week via Idlewild/Rounder Kids. The 17-track recording, produced by Flansburgh and Linnell, is an enhanced CD that enables users to manipulate the animated visuals accompanying each song.
Making an album for children "would have appealed to us from the very beginning," Flansburgh says (who is not a parent himself, though Linnell has a 3-year-old son), "if we hadn't been afraid that people would completely misconstrue where the band was heading. We have a really viable rock career -- 100 shows a year in rock venues, and we play rock festivals; we're a rock band.
The selections on "No!" are lyrically fanciful and musically diverse, reflecting Flansburgh and Linnell's wide-ranging fascination with the arcane ("The Edison Museum"), the surreal ("I Am Not Your Broom"), and the fantastic ("Four of Two"). There's even a cover version of a '60s public-service announcement urging kids to cross streets at their proper corners, called "In the Middle, In the Middle, In the Middle" (sung by Flansburgh's wife, Robin Goldwasser.) "As far as we know, it's the only song whose publishing is controlled by the New York Department of Transportation," Flansburgh says.
Just Plain 'Ralph'
At an age when most professional musicians are ready to back off both road and studio activity, acoustic legend Ralph Stanley has hit a remarkably productive streak and is showing no signs of settling down. Stanley, 75, has released eight albums since 2000, and he maintains a busy touring schedule. Yet another release -- an eponymous project for DMZ/Columbia -- arrives this week. The album is the pilot project of the DMZ/Columbia partnership, the former being a startup imprint of T-Bone Burnett and film producers Joel and Ethan Coen.
Stanley says Burnett suggested the bulk of the material on Ralph Stanley, which largely consists of new arrangements on traditional, if rarely-heard, chestnuts. "We went way back to some older songs I heard when I was just a boy," Stanley says. "Some of 'em I'd never even heard before." The artist also laid down his banjo while recording the album, opting to offer up vocals only: "I told 'em I didn't want to play on this record. I can put so much more into my singin' when I don't have to study about playin'."
Stanley's voice remains a note-bending marvel, instantly recognizable and often goosebump-inducing, particularly on such a capella readings as "Twelve Gates to the City" and "I'll Remember You Love in My Prayers." Stanley says, "Well, I should have [my own style] by now. I guess there ain't no other sound like it, good or bad. I can do things now with my voice that I couldn't before."
Additional titles hitting stores this week include:
-- "The Osbourne Family Album" (Epic), a soundtrack of sorts to the hit MTV reality series "The Osbournes."
-- R&B vocalist Raphael Saadiq's "Instant Vintage" (Pookie/Universal), with guest appearances from D'Angelo, TLC's T-Boz, and Angie Stone.
-- Veteran country act Saywer Brown's "Can You Hear Me Now" (Curb).
-- The soundtrack to the film "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" (Milan), featuring music by Queens Of The Stone Age principals Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri and Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk.
-- Canadian modern rock outfit the Tragically Hip's "In Violet Light" (Rounder).
-- A concert set from Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson, "Pet Sounds Live" (Sanctuary).
-- New Motown albums from AZ ("Aziatic") and Lathun ("Fortunate").
-- RCA's "Mr. Deeds" soundtrack, with songs by Dave Matthews Band and David Bowie.
-- Guitarist Bill Frisell's "The Willies" (Nonesuch).
-- Electronica act Starecase's "First Floor" (Kinetic).
-- A home video release from singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco, "Render: Spanning Time With Ani DiFranco" (Righteous Babe).
-- Singer/songwriter Howie Day's "Australia" (Epic).
-- Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna principal Jorma Kaukonen's "Blue Country Heart" (Columbia).
-- Kentucky-based dance/electronica outfit VHS Or Beta's "Le Funk" (On).
-- Veteran jam band Widespread Panic's "Live in the Classic City" (Sanctuary), recorded in Atlanta.
-- A two-CD, 35-song Who compilation, "The Ultimate Collection" (UTV).