There was once a band called The Smashing Pumpkins, and Billy Corgan was an integral part of that glittery and ultra-cool entity. Their work framed the romantic but terrified ennui of Generation X better than The Smiths or Nirvana. Along with Jimmy Chamberlin, D’arcy Wretzky and James Iha, Corgan fashioned relevantly rocking, late-20th century tunes. Their farewell concert in 2000 symbolized the onset of middle age for Xers. While his comrades drifted here and there, Corgan was determined to keep the spirit of the Pumpkins alive. First he recorded some okay music with Chamberlin. When the drummer left, he soldiered on, still calling the produce The Smashing Pumpkins. Corgan’s latest Monuments to an Elegy is decent. What does it sound like? Who cares? It’s not The Smashing Pumpkins. And Tommy Lee is the drummer now. Serio. Talk about melancholy and the infinite sadness.
Contrariwise, some modern music ensembles don’t require a particular lineup to establish and perpetuate their credibility. Case in point: Wu-Tang Clan, whose catalog clearly demonstrates that a rotating ebb and flow of members of a committed collective can sustain and elucidate a musical vision over a period of many years. Their new joint A Better Tomorrow rests solidly on the shoulders of RZA, but the contributions by all Clan members involved in this latest iteration—especially those of Ghostface Killah—are generally damn good. Specifically tracks like opener “Ruckus in B Minor” and “Mistaken Identity” serve to reestablish the profound Kung Fu power wielded by Wu-Tang Clan. A plaintive ballad on the record called “Miracle” acts as the set for Ghostface to explore his personal history amidst the group’s collective one. It’s all alluded to in the surrounding tracks, and it’s absolutely smashing.
Horse Thief’s third album ETHNIC/CLEANSING is a three-track, 92-minute cassette discourse that begins with the sounds of faraway crowds, jet noise and explosions. Slowly this sonic admonition builds with the addition of electronic effects that suggest something apocalyptic. “Destroy-Environment” establishes the raison d'être for a recording exploring the darker functions of human enterprise. Like the starless gloaming surrounding our own existence, it’s an ambient narrative. Life’s cacophony is background noise to some, but its persistence is unnerving, as this opening track demonstrates. An elusive, atmospheric sense of impending disaster creeps on in “Destroy-Spiritualism, Part I” and reaches cataclysmic climax on “Destroy-Spiritualism, Part II” with a seamless, sinister synthesis of themes explored in the first two tracks. Farmington, N.M.-based A. Augustine, the brains behind Horse Thief, never stoops pedantically to conquer, instead revealing—layer by noisy layer—forces that may portend a bitter end.