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Now Hear This

Reviews of new releases by Beck, Tori Amos, Kaiser Chiefs, Six Organs of Admittance, The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers, and the DVD release "Legong: Dance of the Virgins."

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Tori Amos "The Beekeeper" (Sony)

A gospel choir, Afro-Cuban drums and a guest appearance by Irish alt-folk singer Damien Rice should have landed Tori Amos the most impressive album of her career. Instead, we get the safe and softer side of the piano queen. While cryptic allegories and Biblical archetypes remain typical Amos, her sound seems to have hit a plateau. Gone is the ferocity and the movement between quirky and serious found on albums "Little Earthquakes" and "Boys For Pele." Amos' voice, however, remains strong and pristine. The seductive and sauntering "Hoochie Woman" is the only track reminiscent of Amos' edgier past. There are moments of beauty on cuts like "Original Sinsuality" and "Ribbons Undone," but they flutter and soon fade. We are left with soft guitars and lackluster tempos that make many of the songs indistinguishable from the next. This time around, Amos floats melodically but doesn't sting like she used to. **1/2—Hilary Langford



Kaiser Chiefs "Employment" (Universal)

Britpop is over, but no one seems to have told the Kaiser Chiefs, as this English quintet has recorded a debut album straight from 1995. Nostalgic listeners will be transported back to the days of Oasis, Pulp and Blur, particularly the latter. Producer Stephen Street has reopened the box of tricks he used for Blur's "Parklife," and there seems to have been a conscious effort to recreate that seminal album. No prizes for originality then, but the Kaiser Chiefs have successfully distilled the more enjoyable aspects of Britpop into a single album. Every track has one of those addictive, sing-along choruses, and there's an infectious silliness to the lyrics — frontman Ricky Wilson promising to "come back stronger than a powered up Pac-Man." Unfortunately, there's nothing as explosive as lead single, "I Predict a Riot" (released in the United States in 2004), but the pleasant lack of pretension invites you to forgive the Kaiser Chiefs some of their shortcomings.*** — Daryl Grove



Six Organs of Admittance "School of the Flower" (Drag City Records)

Guitarist Ben Chasny gets his loud rock urges out with Comets on Fire, but it's his meditative folk with this solo side project that will either put you to sleep or send you on a vision quest to find your animal spirit in the forest.

"Flower" is a slowly unfolding album of moody psych-folk featuring lovely acoustic progressions commingling with harsh electric drone — like a new age guitar recital held beneath high-voltage power lines. Mellow finger-picking, quiet lyrical reflection and fragile vocals, and wonderful free percussion work from Chris Corsano, help impart a lingering sense of mystery and (at times) forebodingness to many of these quasi-mystical songs; breaking occasionally on free-spirited takes such as the obscure Garry Higgins folk cover, "Thicker than a Smokey," from 1971's "Red Hash."

This is Chasny's best solo effort yet, one whose hypnotic patterns and bouts with melodic vertigo tend to reveal more on repeated listening. ***1/2— Brent Baldwin



The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers "The Mother of Love Emulates the Shapes of Cynthia" (Buhanan Records)

The sophomore release from Chapel Hill's Prayers and Tears is a dark meditation on love set against the backdrop of the changing seasons. Taken together, the songs tell the story of an ill-fated marriage. The closer, "The Sad Lives of the Hollywood Lovers," is set not in L.A. but in Richmond, where songwriter/frontman Perry Write has his fictional wife succumb to an affair.

However, just as the band's name makes simultaneous reference to Derrida and "The Big Lebowski," these literate songs are peppered with bursts of passion and moments of levity. "Ammunition for a Bolt-Action Heart," the rocker of the batch, evokes the dark days of disco with a house beat and swelling strings.

Thankfully, this album lacks the multi-track vocals of its predecessor, leaving a more intimate, textured recording. Interludes of electronic fuzz and wailing choruses punctuate longer passages of acoustic guitar, violin and whispered vocals — a singer-songwriter's approach to post-Radiohead rock. *** — Nathan Lott





"Legong: Dance of the Virgins" The Milestone Collection

While it may be something of a tourist trap now (not to mention a target for Muslim extremists), Bali was at one time paradise on earth. Back in the 1930s, the rich and famous flocked to the island to experience its wondrous scenery and exotic cultural treasures, which drew film director Henry de la Falaise to make this clear-eyed, quasi-documentary in 1933.

Originally censored in America for its realistic portrayal of topless Balinese women, the film was panned upon release. It was buried until recently, when the good people at Milestone saw fit to release this uncut DVD version fully restored to glorious two-color Technicolor (red and green) by the UCLA film and television archive.

Boasting an all-native cast and artistically shot scenes of cultural authenticity, the work is important for its ethnographic value alone; but its tale of Hindu life on the South Seas is simply beautiful to watch. The hour-long film uses text screens instead of dialogue and follows the unrequited love story of a young maiden who performs a dance at a sacred temple, where she is tempted by the gaze of a young Balinese man. While the simple, almost mythic plot offers precise attention to the details of religious ceremonies and colorful dances, what makes this new disc truly superb is a stunning new musical score by Richard Marriott and I Made Subandi, performed by members of Gamelan Sekar Jaya and the Club Foot Orchestra, which compliments the work perfectly. Purists can choose to watch the original score, but the new music features elements of the original in combination with hypnotic new music inspired by the region, and it syncs uncannily well with the original performances. One of the last silent films ever released, "Legong" has its own beguiling charm and this definitive version offers a true feast for the senses. **** — B.B.



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