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JANUARY 24, 2000: 

*** The Baby Namboos ANCOATS 2 ZAMBIA (Durban Poison/Palm Pictures)

Even though this loose crew of British beatheads punctuate their first full-length with seemingly random guffaws and giggles, no one would file this gloomy disc in the comedy racks. No, this dub-heavy debut definitely belongs in the trip-hop bin, with its shifting roster of heavily accented MCs, appearances by Tricky, a remix by Portishead mastermind Geoff Barrow, and idiosyncratic singing by the oddly named chanteuse Aurora Borealis. Aurora wisely sidesteps both the icy stylings of Portishead diva Beth Gibbons and the quirky fits-and-starts of Björk -- instead, her hair-raising voice approaches each phrase with so much pent-up emotion that it's always on the verge of cracking, croaking, or crying. This is a mesmerizing technique -- coupled with her gothic subject matter of depression, ouija boards, and drug addiction -- that demands full attention. Not that she has much competition. The general atmosphere (especially her rhyming running mates) is so blunted that when "Trials and Tribulations" kicks into drum 'n' bass-approved hyperdrive, it's sweet relief.

-- Michael Endelman


*** Strato Brado FERTILIZER SOUND FOR PLANET EARS (Irma)

For those who still haven't heard Italian house music, there's this collection of trance-tempo'd, flirtatious rhythms, orchestral dreaminess, and sleepytime vocals. All 10 tracks are produced by the three guys who perform as Jestofunk, Italy's best-known funk and disco group. Strato Brado, however, is no repeat of the soulfully vocal Jestofunk style. Here, from the spaciness of "Move Around" and "Pulsar" to the soft shimmy of "Funky Rash in a Flash" to the (sometimes Kraftwerkish) tribal beat of "Hubble One Two" and "The Rain," instrumental arrangements and beat portraiture handle the heavy lifting. Voices, though present, merely peek in from the sides, ornamenting but not changing the music's shape or direction. Yes, people inhabit Strato Brado's lazy world of texture and illusion, but they never give it orders. Even the rhythm seems to go to sleep in jams as loose as a magic-carpet ride -- on someone else's carpet.

-- Michael Freedberg


*** Southpacific CONSTANCE (Turnbuckle)

It's a good thing this Toronto trio stopped looking for a singer. With so many beautifully sculpted soundscapes already speaking with such eloquence, there would have been no room -- or need -- for idle chatter. Besides, when there's so much terrain to explore, and you're already so blissfully lost, who wants a voice calling you home?

On their full-length debut (following the self-released, Canadian-issue-only EP 33), Southpacific weave a spectacular spell of trance-inducing instrumentals that sound not so much like songs as like epic lullabies. At times, the band recall the oceanic guitar-driven undertow of old UK shoegazers like Ride or My Bloody Valentine; at others, they conjure the stealthy precision and noise-pop roar of their labelmates Bailter Space. But there are also moments of exquisite tenderness and delicacy here. On "Parallel Lines," a pulsing bass line and a ride cymbal are nimble partners moving the melody forward into a moody frontier marked by gently swirling guitars and oscillating loops. Elsewhere, the hovering majesty of "Analogue 9" builds and bleeds like a 4AD daydream into the pastel-fuzz flashback of "Round (Forget What You Feel)."

-- Jonathan Perry


*** Robbie Fulks THE VERY BEST OF (Bloodshot)

Robbie Fulks shot to alternative-country infamy with "She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died)" on his debut album, Country Love Songs (Bloodshot), and "Fuck This Town," an angry screed against Nashville's country-music business that appeared on South Mouth, his second album for Chicago's Bloodshot label. Fulks's underground popularity led to a deal with Geffen and last year's Let's Kill Saturday Night, a failed bid for mainstream acceptability. While we're waiting for the next album of new fulkin' tunes, we get to chew over the misleadingly titled The Very Best Of, which doesn't cull the "hits" from South Mouth and Country Love Songs but does give us rare tracks from Norwegian C&W labels, self-produced albums, and an obscure film soundtrack, including a duet with Kelly Willis ("Parallel Bars") and a tune that shows Fulks to be a credible bluegrass picker ("Hamilton County Breakdown"). The disc is crammed with blazing musicianship and Fulks's smart-assed humor, which rears its head most fittingly on "Roots Rock Weirdos," a scathing send-up of the alternative-country fans who support artists like Fulks that ends with a voice intoning, "I preferred your earlier work."

-- J. Poet


*** Porter Ricks/Techno Animal SYMBIOTICS (Force Inc./Mille Plateaux)

Experimental-music fans can double their pleasure with Symbiotics, an appetizing collaboration of sorts by two premier exponents of post-dub noise. Porter Ricks is the assumed name for ambient auteur Thomas Koner and compadre Andy Mellwig; the Techno Animal line-up comprises avant-rock veterans Justin Broadrick (Godflesh) and Kevin Martin (Ice, the Bug, God, and compiler of the Isolationism and Macro-Dub Infection series). Both acts specialize in post-millennial hydrogen disco -- sparse, sulfurous soundtracks for a depopulated dance floor. Porter Ricks, who originally recorded for the phenomenal post-dub techno label Channel Reaction, uses subtle chiaroscuro shading to craft subtle, implied dance music. The opening track, "Polytoxic 1," crafts rhythms out of speaker fuzz and what sounds like a sandblaster and the machinations of an oil rig; "Polytoxic 2" reverberates with an epileptic bass line, and "Phosphoric" is little more than a bare digital hum. "Ionic" ventures the closest of Symbiotics's eight cuts to conventional techno.

Techno Animal specialize in hybrid junkyard funk -- groove music created from industrial detritus. "Hydroxoid" is distinguished by a superb, funky bass line. "Anthrazite" gets post-industrial goodfoot with a JB-style groove and guitar dissonance. And "Bio-morphium" mixes jazz bass, metal machine feedback, and vinyl scratches into an unlikely jamboree.

-- Patrick Bryant


*** McCOY TYNER WITH STANLEY CLARKE AND AL FOSTER (Telarc)

A legendary figure on the jazz piano because of his years with the John Coltrane Quartet and his subsequent decades covering ground from avant-garde to big band, McCoy Tyner offers signatures with a thundering, echoing rhythmic pulse and the babbling-brook feel of his cascading improvisational lines. Joined here by an accomplished rhythm section, Tyner explores the possibilities of the trio setting for the umpteenth time. Foster is an unerring timekeeper who rises to the turn-arounds and crescendos without calling attention to himself; Clarke -- whose percussive approach to electric bass is immediately recognizable -- gets more solo space. Although Tyner puts his stamp on a couple of standards, most cuts are Tyner originals, everything from the forceful, seductive "Trane Like" to blues, gently tooled ballads, and a thumping calypso. One funky number appears twice, with Clarke first on electric and then on acoustic bass, and the differences between the two reveal a lot about what lies within a composition and what comes from the instrumentation. In this case, I'll take electric.

-- Bill Kisliuk


** Jucifer CALLING ALL CARS ON THE VEGAS STRIP (Capricorn)

To judge by this Athens (Georgia) duo's vaguely evil name, the cop-drama title of their debut album, and the shot of the gun-toting girl on the cover of Calling All Cars on the Vegas Strip, Jucifer have a thing for the transgressive punk-meets-white-trash-metal cartoon world of Frank Kozik poster art. But the songs here recall an even more familiar milieu: the grunge-punk underground of the early '90s, where grrrl-rockers like Hole, L7, and Babes in Toyland first made their mark. In fact, there's something almost quaint about the burly distorted guitars, ominous minor-key chordings, and thundering backbeats that anchor the opening "Code Escovedo," which finds singer/guitarist Amber Valentine sing-screaming "Going down just to get my fill in Hell." In fact, the clouds of dissonance that hover around the power chords help place the tune somewhere in the vicinity of Hole's debut CD, Pretty on the Inside, particularly when we find that Valentine's actually headed for a disco and not the underworld.

At its most generic, Calling All Cars (which was self-released before Capricorn remastered and re-released it this month) sounds like Courtney Love meeting up with L7 in a dark alley. And at their most misguided, Valentine and drummer Ed Livengood deploy some gratuitous hip-hop scratching. But they do make an impressive amount of noise for a duo, and "Hero Worship" -- with its softer, strummed guitars, skewed and sugary vocal melodies, alluring delivery, and repeated refrain "I wanna be like Tabitha Soren/Because I'm not happy with me" -- is a cool Breeders-esque novelty number that would probably get a lot more notice if it weren't stuck in the middle of all that grunge.

-- Matt Ashare


** Drunk TABLESIDE MANNERS (Jagjaguwar)

On the surface, Tableside Manners sounds as austere and chilly as its sleeve's wintry snowscape. Although the fourth full-length from this Richmond (Virginia) ensemble is also their most cohesive, these 11 songs are far from uniformly dreary. With just a slight increase in tempo ("Queen of Venice") or a sweetened cadence ("Upholstery"), the mood can remain cool yet turn refreshing -- it's like finding shelter from summer's swelter in a darkened basement. The overall pace is glacial, yet a sense of forward motion propels this outstanding 37-minute album. Singer Rick Alverson keeps his lyrics exceedingly simple (the aforementioned "Venice" is just seven lines long; "Mutual Friend" is only five), and his well-chosen words sketch vivid images. By elongating his delivery of key passages, à la Mark Hollis on late-period Talk Talk albums, Alverson transforms these phrases into expansive stages on which multiple interpretations may strut and fret (mostly the latter). Discreet touches of cello, saw, mandolin -- and particularly the vibraphone work of bassist Bill Russell -- illuminate the silvery sonic patina with vibrant, ear-catching tone colors. And whereas "Dorothea" invites comparisons to Lambchop, Drunk have shed most of their earlier Southern Gothic trappings.

-- Kurt B. Reighley


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