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CD reviews

In Stookey’s hands, one man’s trash is a treasure

By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / September 6, 2010

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NATHANIEL STOOKEY: “Junkestra’’
Members of the San Francisco Youth Symphony; Benjamin Schwartz, conductor Innova

It’s true: San Francisco’s garbage company has an artist-in-residence program. That’s how composer Nathaniel Stookey came to write “Junkestra,’’ a bright, bumptious, 15-minute opus for a percussion orchestra fashioned solely from recycled trash. The piece, all interlocking grooves and clanging asides, is easygoing and loose-limbed, a kind of rose-colored industrial jam. The almost unavoidable timbral echoes of gamelan or Harry Partch’s DIY modernism are subsumed into a pop-art surface — an affinity made explicit on this EP release with an added “dance mix’’ that only blunts the original’s charm in its translation into four-bar phrases.

The best is the slow movement, with the inimitable sound of a musical saw (David Weiss) anchoring a keening, eerie landscape that’s equal parts ominous haze and retro, low-tech special effect. Stookey offers a diverting spin on throwaway culture.

LA SUPERBE
Benjamin Biolay, singer Naïve

French singer/composer/producer Benjamin Biolay is back in fine form on his double-length album “La Superbe,” which is to say that he is once again living up to all the comparisons to the legendary Serge Gainsbourg that seem to follow him wherever he goes. Like Gainsbourg, Biolay sings tales of doomed love with breathy insinuation; like Gainsbourg, he blurs the line between confession and romantic myth. With its narrative of a bittersweet affair, “La Superbe” also continues Biolay’s penchant for concept albums, an affinity that goes back to his 2001 debut “Rose Kennedy,” a deft and gorgeous rumination on Massachusetts’ most famous political family.

Biolay ranges freely and fluently across stylistic boundaries, switching genres from track to track: symphonic grandeur on the title track, an old-fashioned chanson for “Tu Es Mon Amour,” a Flaming-Lips-style rave on “L’Espoir Fait Vivre,” and dancefloor electronica on “Assez Parlé de Moi.” Tunes even switch from chorus to bridge, as on “Night Shop,” which slides from Piafesque melancholy to psychedelic music-hall and back again.

If the album has a drawback, it’s that the sheer variety eventually, and paradoxically, starts to blur songs together, like a surfeit of holiday photos. But the atmosphere is rich and consistent. Biolay keeps alive the essence of Gallic cool: self-possessed yet vulnerable, unfailingly stylish, indulgently brooding, and casually, dazzlingly lush.