Shredding Paper, San Francisco, Fall 2002

KRISTIAN HOFFMAN: "Kristian Hoffman &…" (Eggbert Records CD)

The musical world of Kristian Hoffman has always been an eccentric juncture of parallel universes. It is a place where Algonquin café society habitues and Brill Building lifers meet nightly on a corner of Carnaby Street, before embarking on evenings of manic-panic thrills and sensory derangement at Max’s and the Whisky. Hoffman’s prime directive - that of a songwriter who doesn’t regard a literate sensibility and a rocking backbeat as incompatible - is one steadily maintained since his days as co-founder (with the late Lance Loud) of 70’s New Wave pioneers The Mumps. Add to this periodic detours into the experimental - his No Wave dalliances with Lydia Lunch, for ex. - and you have a talent too willful to be confined by commercial marketplace dealings. As a result, his is a body of work enjoyed only by a lucky few. This, his latest, might change all that. It’s sort of a self-tribute LP similar to Stephin Merritt’s 6ths albums, yet it’s everything Hyacinths and Thistles should have been. In contrast to that album’s deadpan salon atmosphere, the imaginative arrangements on K.H. & are Technicolor affairs that present Hoffman’s diverse stable of collaborators in the brightest light possible.

And what a cast it is: early heroes like Van Dyke Parks and Russell Mael from Sparks rub shoulders with NYC mavericks like Lydia Lunch and Ann Magnuson, on up through an A-list of L.A. alterna-pop mainstays and upstarts, including The Negro Problem’s Stew, El Vez, Michael (Three O’ Clock) Quercio, Anna (that dog) Waronker, and a surprisingly effective and affecting turn from Rufus Wainwright. K.H. & is a fine and dandy portal into Kristian Hoffman’s tunefully askew musical realm; one can do worse than to take the scenic route and enjoy the journey.

- Michael Layne Heath

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