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MAY 24, 1999: 

*** Prolapse, GHOSTS OF DEAD AEROPLANES (Jetset)

Like their former Scottish labelmates Mogwai, England's Prolapse have a penchant for strange, sublime trips to sonic realms unknown -- which means all their confounding chatter about TV eyes (no, it's not the Iggy tune), bent-back spoons, and being "accosted by angels at an early age" on songs with stilted titles like "Cylinders V12 Beats Cylinders 8" and "Planned Obsolescence" is really beside the point. Although the Leicester-based band's third album finds them reining in their otherworldly aspirations somewhat, Ghosts' shimmering ambient instrumental textures remain thrilling, startling, and yet weirdly soothing -- much in the same way that the blissed-out noise of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless or the rippling guitar terrorism of Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation could be soothing under the right circumstances and time of day (or night). Equal parts ethereal (thanks to singer Linda Steelyard's Stereolab-ish cooing) and earthbound (thanks to speaker Mick Derrick's running commentary about, well, damned if I know), Prolapse make beautifully fractured panoramic noise that begs not to be analyzed but to be felt and absorbed.

-- Jonathan Perry

**1/2 Chic LIVE AT THE BUDOKAN (Sumthing)

If the Rolling Stones can slouch across the world's stages 25 to 35 years after it really mattered, why not Chic? Thus comes this live CD of the number-one disco band's 1996 appearance in Tokyo, memorable for having been the last time that Nile Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards, the Chic rhythm kings, played together -- Edwards died that very night in his hotel room.

The Budokan show was Chic's first in eight years. Minus original drummer Tony Thompson and silky singers Diva Grey and Alfa Anderson, a new Chic crew resurrected a lot of the old dreamy dance magic on hits like "Dance Dance Dance," "Le Freak," "I Want Your Love," and, with Sister Sledge joining in, "He's the Greatest Dancer" and "We Are Family." Surprise guest guitarist Slash was there too, playing a wild lead on "Le Freak." Still, the band's rustiness shows on this recording. Songs that once whispered and shimmered now walk thickly and sound dark. The Rolling Stones would love it.

-- Michael Freedberg

*** Boy Sets Fire IN CHRYSALIS (Initial Records)

Amid the speed riffing, tempo changes, all-out screaming, and scene-directed isolationism that are hallmarks of hardcore, the Delaware-born quintet Boy Sets Fire are downright expansive, taking emotional and musical risks. Vocalist Nathan Gray tends to break out into sung choruses in a pleasant bray that recalls Mission of Burma, but the band also set themselves apart with their political consciousness. Whereas other hardcore outfits plead at most for scene unity, BSF aren't afraid to address their political concerns to the world at large and to speechify to their peers about the inevitability of that world's impinging on the security of local-bred scenes. "They don't even have to kick down our doors/We let them in with a smile and a thank-you," barks Gray. They accompany each printed song lyric with their own commentary, and they end this tasty five-song EP with the Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia" ("We are sick and tired of the stupid separation of hardcore/punk," the band note). It doesn't hurt that the drums and guitars kick.

-- Carrie Baris

*** Danielle Howle CATALOG (Kill Rock Stars)

When Danielle Howle sings, "It was such a gift to rock," at this album's outset, it doesn't mean what you probably think. She's just relating fond memories of a treetop chair. And the song's chorus, "I just like to watch," is absolutely not a double entendre. It's a fitting start for a mostly-solo acoustic disc of front-porch music with a rural Southern tinge.

Although she's fronted two electric bands (Lay Quiet Awhile and the Tantrums), Howle is probably better known for the charming and rambling spoken monologues she does between songs on stage (these were captured a few years back on an live album for Amy Ray's Daemon label). To her credit, she doesn't take the easy path and push her eccentric side forward: the mood here is mostly somber, with a dozen songs covering farewells to friends, lovers, and deceased relatives. She has the same conversational delivery that Vic Chesnutt's perfected, and she can work similar wonders with subtle shifts of tone. The one thing she needs is an editor: "Still in Love with You" is a lovely countryish tune, but it's crammed a bit tight with words. And the five-minute "Ode to the Group Boys" says a lot of bittersweet goodbyes without much in the way of explanation. Mostly, though, Howle's songs have more than enough depth. She just needs to slow down and write another catchy chorus or two.

-- Brett Milano

*** Lilys THE 3-WAY (Sire)

Although the gold mine of '60s pop may seem long-emptied, Kurt Heasley's Lilys continue to dig deeper than most of their peers, and they turn out newer, stranger alloys. Neither as traditionalist as Apples in Stereo nor as psychedelia-obsessed as Olivia Tremor Control, Heasley and his ever-changing line-up avoid traditional song structures as often as they embrace them.

The 3-Way is a sophisticated follow-up to '96's Better Can't Make Your Life Better and the '97 EP Services for the Soon To Be Departed. Crammed full of catchy tunes and fuzzbox guitar riffs, the album seethes with hooks. Heasley's songs go off on tangents that most songwriters couldn't get back from, which is what keeps the Lilys from being just another Kinks tribute band. At more than seven minutes apiece, "Socs Hip" and "Leo Ryan (Our Pharaoh's Slave)" are cut-up epics, with passages and themes cropping up in orchestrated frenzies. Heasley's obsession with the sounds of the '60s will likely keep his Lilys a marginal act in the states, yet The 3-Way earns him a spot alongside XTC's Andy Partridge as a skewed yet accessible popsmith.

-- Ben Auburn

*** PONGA (Loosegroove)

Drum 'n' bass has given several improvisers an extended creative canvas, and it's little surprise that jazz-associated style scramblers Wayne Horvitz and Bobby Previte have taken the challenge -- both are fond of investigating unholy linkages. With this new quartet -- Tuatara reed player Skerik and freelance pianist Dave Palmer join the keybster and drummer -- each indulges his yen for jam-band abstractions and prog-rock merriment. If Horvitz's the President were about melody, and his Zony Mash were a trigonometry-tinged homage to the Meters, then the wily Ponga is Sun Ra's Magic City as dreamed up by the Orb. Known respectively for their expertise in ambiance and fascination with polyrhythms, Horvitz and Previte wax utterly musical in this sprawling technosphere. Computer beats are extraneous when you have a drummer as smitten with embellishment as Previte. His hi-hat/snare clatter on "Pick Up the Pieces of Saturn" makes this above-average white band something to respect. Although long touted as crucibles of progressivism, improv freakouts can be as trite as a low-grade folkie's whimper. Here, on a program where noise battles groove for marquee status, they're full of wonder, long on dynamics and dedicated to deviation.

-- Jim Macnie


What can you say about this superb 14-track best-of that would better Robert Forster's own liner notes, the most painfully honest career summation since the LA punk/funk band God and the State brutally critiqued themselves on the cover of their album Ruins: The Complete Works. Forster, who shares the singer/songwriter duties with Grant McLennan in the recently reunited Australia chamber-pop outfit, admits it's not really a greatest hits 'cause the Go-Betweens "didn't have any hits"; didn't have a label that promoted them worth a damn; didn't have "foot-stomping, air-punching standout things"; and were utterly out of step with the "greedy, money-making excess" of the '80s.

Ten years after the fact, they finally hooked up with a label that revels in their refusal to equate young with loud and snotty. Beggars even hired a calligrapher to design an elegant new Go-Betweens logo for a six-album reissue series in 1996. This compilation provides a handy distillation of that series; it also preserves the fine Go-Betweens tradition of including two l's (as in Bellavista) in the title. Sure, it's quibble-worthy (where's the ebullient '87 love song "Right Here"?). But they were nice enough to include "Bye Bye Pride" -- the greatest song ever to mention my birthday (May 24 -- buy presents).

-- Kevin John

*** The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars FRESH OUT THE PAST (Shanachie)

Although it looks awkward on paper, fusing Old World klezmer with the traditional music of New Orleans is not such a stretch -- both have an affinity for ripping clarinet solos, serious brass riffing, and rollicking dance grooves. The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, a sextet, nailed the uptempo second-line freilach on their Shanachie debut, but their latest, an album of all original compositions, proves they're more than a cross-cultural gimmick. Although the tunes are eclectic and broad in scope, the most memorable ones focus on simple themes -- whether it's the Moroccan-tinged call-and-response of "Dr. Lizard" or the stripped-down accordion/handclap interplay of "Hartman Pick Up Your Accordion and Play." Less pretentious than the NYC downtown klezmer crew and more irreverent than any strict traditionalists, NOKAS make a good argument for the survival of roots music into the 21st century, though not without a little mutation along the way.

-- Michael Endelman

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