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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Black Box Recorder vocalizes Britain

October 27, 2003|Natalie Nichols | Special to The Times

"Destroy your record collection, it's for your own protection," talk-sang Black Box Recorder vocalist Sarah Nixey at the Knitting Factory on Saturday, as her bandmates crooned the poppy chorus of "The School Song," the English trio's wry, self-referential manifesto for would-be songwriters.

Flanked by guitarist and black box manipulator Luke Haines of the Auteurs and guitarist John Moore, along with a drummer, Nixey and her breathy-yet-powerful voice led the way through a 50-minute set drawn from BBR's "Passionoia" and two earlier collections. Often danceable and universally fun, their eccentric organic/electronic tunes shifted from the joyously obsessive torch number "These Are the Things" to the "The School Song," with its Pretenders-esque rhythm.

Instantly attention-grabbing, the songs fixated passionately to disdainfully on such notions as the English motorway being beautiful and strange, people who whine about their childhoods and numbing-yet-extraordinary British lives.

Moore's guitar, tricked out to sound like a synthesizer, and various prerecorded licks gave the music an icy New Wave feeling. Yet it was humanized by soul undercurrents, acoustic guitar and Nixey's stellar crooning.

"Straight Life" deliberately recalled Roxy Music's "Country Life," while other selections less directly evoked Garbage, the Velvet Underground, Berlin and more. Yet BBR remained distinctive, and its effortless blend of irony, wit and caustic observations avoided pretension at all costs.

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