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APRIL 10, 2000: 

*** The Gunga Din YOUR GLITTER NEVER DULLS (Jetset)

With their greasy-haired, take-it-or-loathe it aesthetic, this group of NYC downtown maestros walk a thin line between the tragically hip and the smartly tragic. On their '98 debut, Introducing the Gunga Din, the quartet played sparse, dramatic songs like "Deadbeat Daddy" and "The Hanging Orchestra," perching on that line and refusing to budge. Now comes a follow-up that doesn't quite blossom but does refine their dusky overview. Displaying a knowledge of both cabaret and no wave, the Gunga Din expand their sound, wringing the glam inference out of the title and leaving a matte-black residue. It all springs from a two-colored palette, however: Siobhan Duffy sings like a teacher who's in a hurry to get to an after-school S&M session (particularly on the ominous "Let's Play a Game") while Maria Zastrow's carnivalesque Farfisa organ surges and fades.

Adding to the marvelous textures and dirty, dirty sound is Bill Bronson's squawking guitar, which grounds the Brechtian swagger of "Under the Sun" and the elastic melodies of the peppy "Paradoxia." Bronson's duets with Duffy threaten to unravel all the Gunga Din's hard work, especially when unwelcome echoes of X become apparent. But a willfully weird rhythm section and a strength of song reign, keeping the sound sharp and knowing. -- Richard Martin

**** Pedro the Lion WINNERS NEVER QUIT (Jade Tree)

David Bazan is an exotic, reclusive presence in indie rock -- born of Seattle hardcore (he shared a band with Damien Jurado), he has quietly toured his band Pedro the Lion to both secular all-ages punk crowds and the burgeoning Christian youth circuit. Bazan is clearly a man of complicated faith -- too complicated for dogmatic consumption, as becomes apparent on his second album, Winners Never Quit. "A good person," reads the prologue in the liner notes, "is some one [sic] who hasn't been caught."

The disc begins with a drowsy hymn, Bazan's voice blurry and heavy-lidded, as if trying to shake off sleep. On "Slow and Steady Wins the Race," as in Robert Frost, two paths diverge in a wood; here, though, the well-traveled one leads to a warm safe place and eventually to Heaven, the other to snakebites, poison oak, and certain doom. But what begins as a graceful affirmation of the righteous path soon darkens into a grim parable of compromised redemption. By the fourth song one murder has taken place -- tastefully off stage, though easily inferred -- and another appears inevitable. There's a touch of wry humor in the perversely upbeat "Never Leave a Job Half Done," one of a handful of songs on which Bazan shifts gears into an infectious mid-tempo gait. And the album's haunting final verses likely guarantee that Bazan will never get another church gig. But Winners Never Quit goes beyond a repudiation of any specific faith. Bazan unmasks an insidious poetry of the violence, shame, and self-loathing that lurk at the heart of the American dream -- a pervasive and suffocating high holy terror born of the compulsion to succeed. -- Carly Carioli

*** Mamadou Diabate TUNGA (Alula)

This debut from a young Malian now living in the US puts all kora players on notice with its vitality, scope, and shimmering musicianship. Diabaté is a cousin of Toumani Diabaté, perhaps the best living kora player, and they share the distinguished pedigree of griots, praise musicians, and cultural guardians. Mamadou pays homage to his famous cousin's lyricism and technical virtuosity, but he also stakes out ground of his own.

The opening "Dagna" is a funky instrumental romp enriched by prickly melodies from the banjo-like ngoni, played by another young Malian ex-patriot Fuseini Kouyaté, as well as by djembe drum and rock-solid acoustic bass from American jazzman Ira Coleman. Instrumental music is the focus, most of it ensemble work, though the powerful "Soutoukou" is a solo track in the restless, racing style of the Gambia. Malian kora tends to be more serene, and Diabaté exploits that in his version of the classic "Djanjo" and on the promising original composition "Tunga." He touches on the heralded Malian connection with the blues, marrying the Manding standard "Massane Cisse" with a Chicago vamp. Better still is his foray into pentatonic Bambara music, which is not usually the province of the kora. Two tracks include soaring griot vocals from Abdoulaye Diabaté, another young Malian to watch. -- Banning Eyre

*** Giant Sand CHORE OF ENCHANTMENT (Thrill Jockey)

Giant Sand's hypnotic, enchanting, and sinisterly ethereal 15th album was produced by PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, Memphis legend Jim Dickinson, and guitarist Kevin Salem in three different locations -- which gives the album a fractured, fragile undertow. Yet Chore of Enchantment still works as a cohesive, atmospheric set dominated, as always, by Howe Gelb's whispery baritone. With expansive, gentle-handed rhythm men Joey Burns and John Convertino behind him, and a lengthy line-up of empathetic guest players (including a rare peep out of Lemonheads' Evan Dando that's found only on the vinyl format's extra track), the intimacy of Gelb's poetic, tangential, mantra-like voice is never breached. Original Sand man the late Rainer Ptacek turns up with a warm, slab of earthy slide guitar in the short instrumental "Shrine." Elsewhere the jazzbo voodoo of "Wolfy" is a funky strut on the wildest side. And the chunky cowboy core of "(well) Dusted (for the millennium)" is the closest Giant Sand's rootsy, folky, jazzy, hi-lonesome sound ever comes to earthbound nuance. -- Linda Laban

*** Dimitri from Paris A NIGHT AT THE PLAYBOY MANSION (Astralwerks)

Before the likes of Stardust and Cassius populated the pages of American music mags, the most visible face from the French electronic-dance scene was Dimitri from Paris, whose breakthrough 1998 album, Sacrebleu, was actually downtempo lounge fodder, not hands-in-the-air material. His latest disc, A Night at the Playboy Mansion, is a CD mix that's more representative of his status as an international club-hopping DJ -- it leaves behind chilled-out beats for the four-on-the-floor grooves of deep house. The album does keep Dimitri's retro-fetish going, except that he's exchanged Sacrebleu's Rat Pack-isms for a sexy '70s disco-house feel, complete with stamp of approval from the swingers at Playboy. Only four of the album's 14 tracks are actually late-'70s disco numbers; the rest of the late-'90s material is updated via the sweeping strings, R&B vocals, and wah-wah guitars of that classic sound plus some dub tweaks and tasty drum programming and the currently in-vogue Brazilian influences. Delicately mixed by Dimitri, it's 76 minutes of smooth and delicious dance music that macks like Hugh Hefner and grooves like Studio 54. -- Michael Endelman

*** Danny Tenaglia BACK TO MINE (Ultra)

Those who investigate DJ Danny Tenaglia's new disc expecting the deep, hard, ecstatic house music that made his reputation will be surprised indeed by its avoidance of any sound identifiably his. Instead, Tenaglia pulls together a variety of songs -- some fairly well known, some really obscure -- that can only be his personal listening pleasures: old disco (Roy Ayers's "Running Away," Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66's "One Note Samba"/"Spanish Flea"), semi-successful divas (CeCe Peniston's "Keep On Walkin'," Oleta Adams's "Rhythm of Life"), Kraftwerk-influenced European electronica (Yello's "To the Sea" and Isolee's "Beau mon plage"), and a variety of dreamlike hoverings. Included therein are Crescendo's "Cairo," one of those Arabic Eurobeats that regale only the most intoxicated of late-night club kids, and Bang the Party's "Bang Bang You're Mine," which is funky and goofy in the wigged-out manner of Paris-styled house music. Plus Tenaglia's own "Loft in Paradise," a garage-like house jam whose title pretty well sums up the impression the entire session seeks to create. -- Michael Freedberg

***1/2 Caetano Veloso ORFEU (Nonesuch)

The work of Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso and a handful of others for Brazilian director Carlos Diegues's retelling of the Orpheus & Eurydice myth brings together haunting new versions of songs from the 1959 film Black Orpheus (based on the same Brazilian play as Diegues's contemporary movie) and flares of hard-edged Rio hip-hop and electronica, as well as some of Veloso's most beautiful recent writing. In particular his love song "Sou Vocè," sung in a Veloso-like whisper by the film's star, Toni Garrido, sustains all the romantic humanism that made Ceatano a leader in the invention of tropicalismo in the late '60s. The instrumentals occasionally dive into string-driven schmaltz, but there are plenty of antidotes in spirited interludes of acoustic guitar and creepy turns like the melodramatic percussion piece "A Policía Sobe o Morro" (which would work on The X-Files) and Veloso's primal trip-hop sound collage "Batuque Final." -- Ted Drozdowski

** Bloodhound Gang HOORAY FOR BOOBIES (Geffen)

In the two-plus years since the release of their last album, the hilarious One Fierce Beer Coaster, Philly's Bloodhound Gang have watched their style of Licensed to Ill-derived white rap become ubiquitous. On Hooray for Boobies, Gang svengali Jimmy Pop Ali proves he's still hammier and more irreverent than Eminem and Kid Rock put together. And with "The Bad Touch," a blatant New Order ripoff about doing it "like they do on the Discovery Channel," he shows he's got what it takes to compete with the competition in the hit-singles sweepstakes -- at least in theory.

Ali also scores with "Mope," where Pac Man shows up high on crack and dueling samples of prime-era Metallica and Wham! mesh into a chorus of sublime absurdity. He does kitsch at the highest level, but he mistakes misogyny for humor a little too often, especially on the not-quite-parodic rape fantasy "A Lap Dance Is So Much Better When the Stripper Is Crying." His shtick is designed to be as resistant to criticism as that of his friend and role model Howard Stern. And if he keeps on shocking just for the sake of it, he risks following Stern's career path from feisty little brat to bitter old bore. -- Sean Richardson

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