LOST TRACKS : Good CDs We Overlooked in 2005

LOST TRACKS : Good CDs We Overlooked in 2005

(Secretly Canadian - Secretly Canadian)
Wednesday, January 4, 2006

ENTER THE CHICKEN

Buckethead & Friends

When you refuse to leave the house without a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket adorning your head, credibility would appear to be a nagging issue. Yet, as this album's credit affirms, the mysterious guitarist Buckethead does have friends.

He's collaborated with adventurous heavies in rock, jazz and experimental music. He's contributed to major movie soundtracks. He's even been in Guns N' Roses.

And with "Enter the Chicken" -- an entertaining disc that dabbles in genres ranging from romantic pop to extreme metal -- the shredder/space alien proves there's more behind the mask than just a quick pick and a side of slaw.

Melodramatic vocalist Serj Tankian produced these 11 tracks, singing and co-writing three. All are standouts: "We Are One," which is concisely spastic, metallic and reminiscent of Tankian's Armenian-influenced headbanger band, System of a Down; "Coma," a haunting, gorgeous collaboration with world-music chanteuse Azam Ali; and "Waiting Hare," a light-rocking duet with singer Shana Halligan.

In the past, Buckethead's ax technique has resembled the fast-food franchise advertised on his dome: fast, efficient but lacking any true personal touch.

Not here. He settles into a song's passenger seat, and the compositions and guitar styles are as varied as the vocalists. Street poet Saul Williams confidently counterbalances Hendrixian distortion on "Three Fingers." Death by Stereo shrieker Efrem Schulz adds aggression to the lickety-split riffing and soloing on "Botnus."

Just to ensure that fretboard freaks get their fill of "Chicken," Buckethead unleashes the instrumental-rock finale "Nottingham Lace."

It's a funky, futuristic journey executed with the dazzle and fluidity of a guitar enigma with years of drumstick grease lubricating his nimble fingers.

-- Michael Deeds

I AM A BIRD NOW

Antony and the Johnsons

The band Antony and the Johnsons won the U.K.'s fabled Mercury Prize last year despite being only nominally British (lead singer Antony Hegarty was born in England but hails from New York, and his idiosyncrasies are distinctly American) and despite, or perhaps because of, being up against Coldplay.

Even before their upset victory, Antony and the Johnsons were hyped on both sides of the Atlantic, and with good cause.

Their superlative second outing, "I Am a Bird Now," is a weirdly fetching conflation of gospel, soul and cabaret essayed with deadly earnestness by Hegarty, a gender-bending diva who sings tales of woe and sexual confusion in a quavery, unearthly falsetto.

Antony doesn't sing like he wishes he were Nina Simone, he sings like he thinks he is Nina Simone, a crucial distinction that keeps his album, even in its hammiest moments, from devolving into camp.

"Bird" is bolstered by a series of attention-getting guest appearances by Hegarty's patron, Lou Reed (yes, Lou Reed), as well as brothers-under-the-skin Rufus Wainwright and Boy George.

Antony doesn't need any help holding listeners' attention, but he could use a co-writer, since "Bird" suggests a rather limited sonic palette: Antony sings about bad love affairs and his muddled gender ("One day I'll grow up/I'll know a womb within me," goes the disc's most compelling verse, "For today I am a child/For today I am a boy") and not much else.

In the future, Hegarty might want to consider other topics, like knitting or the Middle East, but "Bird" is pretty terrific regardless. It's the year's strangest and most gratifying success story.

-- Allison Stewart


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