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MUSIC REVIEW

State of the Airwaves

Salad, Smith, and Stefani

By Dan Katz

staff writer

Okay, the winter concert drought is officially over -- just look at all the action in town this week. Tonight it’s the Angry Salad downstairs at the Middle East, headlining a packed roster presented by WFNX. The Airwaves Show of the Week strikes at the Avalon Saturday and Sunday, a two-night stand by a man who contributed significantly to making the eighties depressing: Morrissey. Sunday, Christian neo-metal stars (is that allowed?) P.O.D. hit the Paradise Rock Club, while the more laid-back California Guitar Trio showcases form over flair at Johnny D’s on Wednesday. And Thursday at the Avalon, it’s an evening with the enchanting music of former Oscar nominee Elliott Smith. These, in addition to shows next week with Fiona Apple, Lit, Smash Mouth, They Might Be Giants (again?), and The Sheila Devine, mean that I can stop complaining.

And speaking of Oscar nominees (can I craft a segue or what?), nominations came out Tuesday morning. Obviously this doesn’t fall under my jurisdiction as much as the Grammys do, but I do have one award to look at: Best Original Song. Thumbs up to the inclusion of Aimee Mann’s “Save Me” (Magnolia) and Trey Parker’s “Blame Canada” (which, even after you remove the desire to see South Park win an Oscar, really does deserve the award), but lots of sympathy to REM’s “The Great Beyond,” which was swept up in the Oscar-wide snub of Man On The Moon. It’s a great and very voter-accessible rock song, and it would have been nice to see it at least in the running.

Ugh. Clearly Gwen Stefani’s pissed off at somebody. “Ex-Girlfriend,” the first release to come from No Doubt’s upcoming disc, Return To Saturn (named for the amount of downtime since the band’s last album, which is apparently the same length as Saturn’s orbital period) is dripping with Alanis Morrissette bitterness and Meredith Brooks cynicism. (Note to the musicians of the world: don’t be formulaic and your name won’t become an adjective.) Musically, however, the song is some of the most intriguing work the band’s ever done, with a slow-to-frantic pace shift reminiscent of “New,” interesting drumlines, and an overall dark feel.

So when “Sexx Laws,” the first single from Beck’s Midnight Vultures, came out a few months ago, I suppose I liked it ... but I was hoping for a little something more from the god of funk and synthesizers. I’ve gotten it since; the Even Thinner White Duke’s new single, “Mixed Bizness” is a relentlessly catchy fusion of saxophones, funk guitars, and strategic sampling that feels as retro as “Sexx Laws” but with a more futuristic tone wrapped around it. The climax sounds like the solo section of a jazz band number circa 2050. These are the kind of weird analogies I expect Beck to evoke in me. I’m much happier now.

Quick note on Angie Aparo ... I mentioned last week that while “Spaceship” is the radio single, “Alone” is the track I got to hear. Since then, I’ve gotten a copy of “Spaceship” as well, and I have to tell you, not only is it another great song, but listening to both of them really shows off his songwriting range. They’re both available on the official website <http://www.angieaparo.com>, and I suggest you check it out.

An excerpt from a letter I received this week: “Just a word of support from a vegetarian who can’t stand The Essential Vegetarian. Good God, what do we have to do to get a real restaurant critic around here? I don’t think that chick knows food from plaster-of-paris.”

Well, that could be viewed as a little harsh, but I’m glad to know some people on “the dark side” have seen the light. Maybe I’ll start doing restaurant reviews: “There’s a cozy little hideaway in Central Square called McDonald’s. French fries delicious, Chicken McNuggets highly recommended if you don’t ask what’s in them. Get in soon before the public discovers it.”

I’m buried in homework and booking responsibilities and employment and my personal life ... and yet I still manage to bring you State of the Airwaves every week. So write to me and tell me how much you appreciate it, or how much I’m wasting my time. I’m at <airwaves@the-tech.mit.edu> waiting for your e-mail with a big friendly smile on my face. Until next week rolls around, keep expanding your horizons.