VARIOUS ARTISTS Suck It and See (Palm Pictures/Pussyfoot Records CD, video, DVD)
This double CD is "a musical tribute to pornography" as interpreted by the U.K.-based Pussyfoot label's stable of producers/DJs/remixers. American translation: "Let's shoot a load of '70s skinflick-soundtrack clichés (watery electric piano, vaguely sitar-ical guitar F/X, heavy breathing, etc.) over some contemporary drum programming, roll over and have a cigarette."
Actually, each of these 18 artists takes an individual approach to this whole tongue-and-groove thang, ranging from the ambient-lounge of Love TKO's ultrasuede "Love Thong" to the aggro-electronix of Howie B.'s thorny "Only If It Hurts." Double-edged Parental Advisory Warning: Although most of the S-E-X here is really just good ol'-fashioned "sin-uendo" -- for example, Chari Chari's "Favourite Final Geisha Show" is an inspired deconstruction of a familiar strip-joint anthem -- you could count the number of the tracks that feature actual XXX-rated dialogue on the fingers of your other hand.
As far as the latter goes, while Tiff McGinnis with Three Wheels Out splatters a blackly humorous monologue over a minimalist funk pattern on "Live From the Clermont Lounge," Naked Funk sets a series of loops furiously chasing each other backward, forward, up and down, before it all goes a bit sticky when the track trails off into a too-long recording of the artist's own phone-sex call (!). The rest is all fairly solid stuff, with Deadly Avenger's shape-shifting "In Pursuit of the Pimp Mobile," Hyper Crad's chicken-pickin'-guitar-driven "3 (Back Door Mix)" and Inevidence's cop-show funk workout on "Cum Dancing" providing the stiffest musical competition.
Seven of the CD's tracks can also be heard as the background music to the 32-minute home-video version of Suck It and See that's set for early fall release. Written and directed by Jacob Pander -- whose credits include the award-winning experimental short The Operation -- the video can be seen as an homage to such glossy '70s porn classics as Emmanuelle and the collected works of Radley Metzger. All the sex, all the clichés, all the wink-wink, nudge-nudge humor. Though each track could be excerpted as a single video, the seven set pieces flow together to tell a complete, nearly dialogue-free story, and the music underscores the onscreen action perfectly. Meanwhile, the DVD version of Suck It and See -- also set for early fall release -- contains everything that's on the home video, plus a fetish-photo gallery, behind-the-scenes photos, a scene-by-scene breakdown, multiple Web links and more. Slurp.
THE DONNAS Get Skintight (Lookout!)
Sexy and snarling, the post-high-school incarnation of the Donnas passed A.P. Ditching, Cheeba Studies and Slacking Off 2 with flying colors, graduating with honors. They were immediately courted by Lookout! Records rather than Ivy League colleges, which they might have destroyed. Their impressive thesis, American Teenage Rock 'n' Roll Machine, earned them a lot of fans, among them many creepy guys with cameras. Now their early I-like-boys phase is well behind them, though those records are masterpieces in their own right. Not that the new songs aren't also about boys, but there's more attitude in singer Donna A's voice and more crunch in Donna R's guitar.
On their latest would-be smash, Get Skintight, the Donnas have written some of their best songs yet, and their primary aspirations -- partying all weekend long and stirring up trouble -- remain unchanged. There are a couple of lovely, dejected, Ramones-style ballads about getting dissed by guys, and they ring true, complete with awkward, diarylike lyrics. But most of the songs are of the hanging-your-head-out-the-car-window-and-screaming sort, like "Get You Alone," a backseat-type number about making some boy happy; "Hot Boxin'," the Donnas' millionth ode to getting stoned; and the band's rip-roaring cover of Motley Crue's "Too Fast for Love," where Donna R nails every one of Mick Mars' seedy riffs. Though every number on Get Skintight will have you doing doughnuts on your neighbor's lawn, "Zero," a song about some poor schmuck the Donnas don't like, is among the cleverest, with lyrics like "You're a zero on my rockometer/If you wanna get hot, go turn on a heater."
No doubt the Donnas are blowing off boys left and right nowadays as they make their slow but inevitable ascent to rock stardom. Deserving of the palace and all its riches, these girls are silly, naughty and magnificent. (Adam Bregman)
ORBITAL The Middle of Nowhere (FFRR/London)
Critical rhetoric dictates that every year in electronica is year zero, that it really begins whenever a young new DJ headlines the Glastonbury Festival, or when wide-eyed U.S. labels start waving their checkbooks around. Hence there's no history. But longevity is not such a questionable thing among the hierarchy of dance acts that can trace their roots back to Brian Eno and Kraftwerk just as easily as Cream tipped their hats to Robert Johnson. More than once, Orbital's 30-ish Hartnoll brothers have proved themselves at Glastonbury and other rave-culture gatherings that usually pass the 50,000 count. Ten years and five albums down the road, the duo's The Middle of Nowhere puts Phil and Paul exactly where they want to be.
Orbital is more about static riffs, loops and bleeps than sucker-punching listeners with aggressive beats and earth-quaking bass, the nerve centers of almost every techno song. They've gone from the dance-floor-driven, head-bobbing sound of the tight-knit indie community that made them, into elegant aural emanations no less intricate or demonic. The ingenious "The Box" three years ago was an honorary ambient anthem of almost orchestral proportions, with beautiful, endless layers of harpsichord and haunting piano. Their latest outing tries to be everything musically and technically, but functions more like a film soundtrack or a long, uninterrupted DJ set rather than a collection of distinguishable singles.
Trademark dissonant chords, perky keyboards and female moaning that wafts in and out make for eight tracks more reflective, relaxed and upbeat than the dark paranoia of In Sides and Snivilisation. The chiming and sensual trumpet sounds of "Way Out" effortlessly meld into the swirling keyboards of "Spare Parts Express." The album's first single, "Style," is an appealing remix of bagpipes courtesy of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. All that lightness and lucidity, however, is brilliantly broken in "Know Where To Run"'s grinding, fuzzy guitar intro, and in "Nothing Left 1," an ultraworld of wacked chords like hideous laughter straight out of a mosque. (Siran Babayan)
Sorry Is a Five-Letter Word
Abby Travis felt really bad the day she learned that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris -- the two Columbine High School killers responsible for the tragedy in Littleton, Colorado -- liked a song she co-wrote during her stint with KMFDM so much that they posted the lyrics on their Web site.
"Someone sent me an e-mail of an AP wire that had the lyrics to 'Waste' in it, and I just freaked out," she says about the day of the killings. "At first it was bizarre. It didn't really register. I called Sascha [Konietzko], who's the figurehead of KMFDM. He said it had been the worst day of his life. Then he said, 'This isn't really about us, it's about the people who were injured and killed.'"
Wanting to help, Abby has put one of her own songs, "Sunday Is the Day for Love," up on the Web in MP3 format. She's asking that all who download it send $5 to the United Way Healing Fund set up for teen counseling and early-childhood education, among other things. Currently, the song is available at www.abbytravis.com and Wiredplanet, with hopes to get big sites like UBL and Amazon as hosts. A sweet and uplifting number with a luscious vibes solo by DJ Bonebrake, it's about as far afield from the hellish "Waste" as you can get.
But that versatility is typical of Abby's musical trek thus far. An accomplished and in-demand bass player, she began as a 16-year-old in the Lovedolls, followed by the Rails and on to jobs with Beck, Elastica, Spinal Tap, Michael Penn, Peter Tork, El Vez and Mommy. Abby describes her current solo project as "goth, cabaret, Kurt Weill, dark and beautiful."
Her KMFDM stint came about in 1997. "Pigface had sent me the video in '92, and there was this one guy, there's no way I'm going to get along with him. Here I am, this nice Jewish girl from L.A., and he's 6-foot-4, bald, lantern-jawed, Teutonic, Doc Martens up to his knees," she says of KMFDM's En Esch. "Then I met him at the Whisky or someplace, and he's 6-4 and Teutonic, all right, but he's also wearing eye makeup and pearls! We wound up jamming and became friends. They called me to do that Symbols record. I did a lot of background vocals, played some bass."
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As for the lyric-writing process on "Waste," she says, "They have this affinity for five-letter words, like 'KMFDM.' The concept for the song was inspired by my friend Joe Cole, who was murdered about 10 years ago. He was this really funny guy who would always say, 'Oh, that's so wasty.' He'd use 'waste' as an adjective, verb or noun. So then I wrote these sort of existential lyrics.
"It's almost as if you design a hammer, and somebody takes that hammer and knocks someone over the head with it. You feel bad because they used your hammer. But you didn't intend for the hammer to be used as a weapon. That's the way I feel."
"Sunday Is the Day for Love" is available on MP3 at www.abbytravis.com; donations can be sent to The Healing Fund "Music Heals," c/o Mile High United Way, 2505 18th St., Denver, CO 80211.