William Orbit: Pieces in a Modern Style (Maverick) Ambient tech-pop whiz (and Madonna producer) Orbit gets serious with the old ”electronic interpretations of classical favorites“ routine, ’cept he‘s rather holy about the material. Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, the Pachelbel‘s Canon of the ’90s, is played straight — from the movies. These are ”can‘t miss“ classics with small ornamentations and a very thin string-synth sound for emphasis on the artificial. He does a nice job of turning Cage’s ”In a Landscape“ into a space-pop ditty; his Satie is all low-key burblings and floating clouds; there‘re many electronic bleeps over undeviating run-throughs of revered melodies and harmonies. All very bee-u-teeful, but I’d actually say Tomita did this shtick better, ‘cause he mucked about with the material and had all the critics’ bowels in an uproar. Likewise, if Rick Wakeman had put out this album, know-it-alls‘d laff their heads orff. You can understand Orbit’s need, and his current prerogatives.
Ovuca: Lactavent (Rephlex) Finnish weirdo. Fukdtup electronic beatsdistortioncrown of thorns. Because he can, and did. Dirtytrashy, sick synth needle-adornments, nastee noise and radio squawk. Hey, this isn‘t very ambient; on headphones, it hurts, actually. But that’s how drum ‘n’ bass can turn out, as roughly compressed fuzzball flies with knives at your bleeding orifices and rusty lemonade seeping out the tear ducts. No-compromise adrenaline is similar in effect to our own Electric Company, a virtual heart attack Ovuca has been saving up for years and now gets his turn. And as if he‘s made you work for it, No. 15 is an enchanting flickering-flame of orchestral snatch and plucked guitar.
Lee Hazlewood: 13 (Smells Like Records) Peculiar singersongwriter, respected sort in the ’60s, ‘70s, chronicled in zippy ’70s-style pop-funk charts, wry words and wily-uncle vocal delivery. You get tight studio drums, wah-wahs, cheesareeno horn sections, barroom bluesy piano and guitar, and some genuine fine Southern-soul kinda playing on ”Rosacoke Street.“ All this beefs up Lee‘s wanderin’ tales, loved & lostwho cares tunes and several drinkin‘ songs, so when he tells his loser stories, it’s not a drag. Lee lived in Sweden for a long spell, by the way, and he‘s a real American character, likes of which . . .
DJ Spooky vs. Scanner:The Quick and the Dead (Beggars Banquet) The American and the English sound theoristsbigmouths square off, letting their electronic gear do the arguing. Spooky lapses again into his skanky reflex, Scanner his borrowed vocal scraps, then they hash it out in a medley of (at its best) sci-fi-ish future terrorisms. It might be jungle-ish, plenty of wicked panning and wired death rattles, and the odd hackneyed bass line — somehow, dub-style comes into it, paying tribute to rhythm, internally, like a chromosome, and as it fissures it keeps plunging forward, on and on. Sit still long enough and witness gargantuan electronic glory: Nos. 4, 5 and 6 flow into each other for low-heat risings and fallings of multitones and campfire mood, and it all warrants some effort to soak in — although one could argue that new shapes are in order, not endless blobs of sound, that digital ease is producing more mere aural ectoplasm and is incapable of producing any real musical tension. Meanwhile, much of this sounds original, and, uh, ill.
Dirty Three: Whatever You Love, You Are (Touch and Go) Six epic songs, wistful, ”ballsy,“ beefy poetics by the Aussie instrumental three-piece (no dang bass). Violinist Warren Ellis layers his ax with guitars on ”Some Summers They Drop Like Flys,“ and it’s all swelling waves, cresting, crashing, slipping back into the blue. They‘re a saloon orchestra, always something manly-emotional ’bout tit. Terrific restraint shown on drums and guitar, and Ellis plays fiddle, not violin — rougher intonation — on these non-weepy laments. Most any tune here is seasick and starry-eyed, builds with knocking drums, anthemic guitar mess and ardent violin saws. They wear their hearts and hard-ons on their sleeves, and you feel sympathy.
Mouse on Mars: Niun Niggung (Thrill Jockey) German electronic duo collab it up with real live horns and other ”instruments,“ not quite warming the sound but that being irrelevant. You‘re taking a stroll through a digital garden, or minefield, and curious, gleeful and droll are on the menu: Treated shards and lines of melodytexture rest among ska-ish jazzy horns and electrobeats, all crumbled up texturally but propulsive and ”catchy.“ The arrangements come by way of random-access editing, for often comical though hardly capricious juxtapositions; every sound is tightly compressed, which accommodates fresh use of distortion — noise that’s physically satisfying. But if their electronically fabricated memories of soul music are full of surprises, it‘s all very busy joy-of-a-toy, and, lo, a sameness lurks, and its going-my-own-way neutrality begs the question of its commitment to anything but new technology.
June Tabor: A Quiet Eye (Green Linnet) This devastating album is a partnership between the English customarily folk singer and the Creative Jazz Orchestra of London. Tabor’s husky, seen-it-all voice fits wonderfully on several trad tunes plus contemporary numbers by Richard Thompson and Maggie Holland. In entangled-love songs, thwarted-love songs, an intelligent fire rages, a grave vocal prowess matched by trim, sympathetic band charts, stately piano. On Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain‘s 1938 ”I’ll Be Seeing You,“ she smolders economically as no American ever has, like she respects your intelligence. Thompson‘s ”Pharaoh“ is an anti-oppression song, fitting an ongoing theme of sorts. There are so many heartbreaking moments: When Tabor gets to her version of ”It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,“ no kidding, it‘s thrilling, and her a cappella ”The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face“ is the most deeply moving I’ve ever heard. Choosing substance over saccharine, in fact A Quiet Eye grows in dignified melancholy toward its conclusion. It holds out the smallest glimmer of hope for love, yet it feels victorious.
Luke VibertB.J. Cole: Stop the Panic (Astralwerks) The drum ‘n’ bass prodigy pairs up with the lap-steel chieftain and swings mightily, mostly, in curlicue funk and giddy flights on gossamer wings. As always, Vibert‘s cinematic, equally interested in tone color and complex rhythms, and while his beats are occasionally workaday, he’s hurtling further into his filmy fantasies. For his part, Cole comps with hep aplomb, and his favored whole-tone scales are smashing, and very unusual in this pop context. ”Fly Hawaii“ would make an excellent theme song for one of those big piece of crap Hollywood movies, so go ahead and steal that idea, industry snakes. Anyway, you get much aerified yet low-down stuff wherein Saipan beaches shimmer, Tahiti waterfalls slip-slide, etc. Some are more fully realized than others, and most go on too long, but it‘s jolly perverse fun for the whole family and offers a plethora of mysterious moods and fancies and sonic flora and fauna and . . . back to our sheep:
Enigma: The Screen Behind the Mirror (Virgin) ”Turn around, smell what you can’t see . . .“ I say just keep moving. Well, right off they incorporate Carmina Burana into the mix, then they repeat it a few more times, and . . . listen, that Hitler-approved work was based on the scribblings of drunken horny monks originally, and now it‘s supposed to illustrate the grandeur et majesty of good’s triumph over evil, everywhere you go. Enigma is a supercolossal big success the world over, selling quintillions of CDs of world-sample ethno-rock thump epic drama gloss superstructure. It‘s all about very expensive engineering technology and Lexus commercials. (”Live fast. Daihatsu.“) Terribly confused messages of empowerment abound in the cruddy lyrics and on the ornate sleeve (but it ”sounds good“). It’s ”us“ against ”them,“ don‘t you see, and cliches run riot: ”Read between the lines“; ”The time has come“; ”Don’t think twice, listen to your heart.“ Bah, don‘t have to. These are simple pop songs fellated up widescreen, more sequenced drum sounds, bells, whining guitars, ethnic voices and all that sort of foolishness. It’s about ”the balance“ between earth and sky, they quote Toccata and Fugue, the singer howls like Phil Collins, and this moment of softness has been brought to you by the makers of Zee toilet tissue.
Crib: Forward Back (WIN) L.A.‘s all-bass boy and WIN honcho Devin Sarno presents a slew of his best rumbles. These are minimal, spacious and elusive pieces — no riffing, not funky — whose charms include a massage from your toes on up to the top of your head. Sarno demonstrates the way constant low frequencies will cause the body to adapt and adjust; he’ll detune and treat the tones, or Petra Haden adds sleets of violin for suspension. There is a pleasurably prehistoric and alien sensation to all this, and its dual physicalintellectual capacities reward repeated listening.
Milton Cardona: Cambucha (American Clave) A choice collection of the darker, sterner Afro-Latin art forms from conguero Cardona, former rhythm-section leader in Willie Colon‘s band. He’s an inventor of his own polyrhythms, but he roots things in son and rumba, and he just does what he feels, including two doo-wop tunes soaked in multipercussion. It pays respect to ritual, and you hear rare bare-bones Latin hard stuff with loads of attitude, though Michael Brecker‘s nonslick tenor sax rounds it off a bit. Cardona’s rhythms are fresh because they‘re entirely intuitive, personal pulses like a pulsating organism fed by a higher power.
Del the Funky Homosapien: Both Sides of the Brain (Hiero Imperium) He’s a new breeda MC — erratic, brainy, sarcastic — and he‘s mad as hell, but you gotta care a lot about how all the other rappers are a buncha phonies who can’t hold a candle to his righteous realness. On the other hand, he does tend to prove it. There‘s a hefty amount o’ old-skool partay sounds embedded in Del, but his new-egghead style is itchy and scratchy and nervous. When he casts aspersions on his Oaktown competitors, in cut after ugly-ass cut, you might say, sorry, but who except him and his homies should give a shit, yet he gets very specific about the problems (he can be wickedly funny about it, and horrifying), and you can extrapolate. Even considering his enjoyably sardonic profesh-DJ voice, this album is a difficult listen — it has that Oakland gray pall over it — with odes to getting ‘faced, nightmarish drunk-driving scenarios, crack tales. He keeps it real by freaking it out, and you’re invited to listen in and keep your lip zipped.
Ultra-Red: Structural Adjustments (Mille Plateaux) Agit-pop from local duo, an ”audio intervention“ culled from field recordings documenting the civil actions surrounding the demolition of low-cost housing in East L.A. Builds an electro-acoustic and electronic ”pop“ ambience in its stand against electronic music‘s current fetishizing of architecture; they argue that a new electronic art ought to derive from pressing matters such as this. That’s a tricky one. How does electronically editing and enhancing the recorded testimony of displaced people aid their cause? How will it enlighten? Well, here I am writing about it.
Go seek thyself:
Non: Receive the Flame (Mute)
Terry Callier: LifeTime (Blue Thumb)
Suba: Sao Paulo Confessions (Six Degrees)
Flying Saucer Attack: Mirror (Drag City)
Russell MillsUndark: Pearl + Umbra (Instinct)
Arling & Cameron: Music for Imaginary Films
The Mad Capsule Markets: OSC-DIS (Speedstar)
Kid Koala: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (Ninja Tune)
Mentorhawk: Motel 7 (HMF)
Kreidler: Weekend (Mute)
Antipop Consortium: Tragic Epilogue (75Ark)
Briggan Krauss: Descending to End
Tribes of Neurot: Grace (Neurot Recordings)
Lektrogirl: I Love My Computer (Rephlex)
Atau: Biorhythms (Caipirinha)
High on Fire: The Art of Self Defense
Mr. Oizo: Analog Worms Attack (Mute)
Various Artists: At Home With the Groovebox
Toog: Toog (Le Grand Magistery)
Various Artists: Tektonics (Om)
Two Dollar Guitar: Weak Beats and Lame Ass
Rhymes (Smells Like Records)