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JULY 27, 1998: 

**1/2 The Humpers

EUPHORIA, CONFUSION, ANGER AND REMORSE

(Epitaph)

Mean as hell and proud torchbearers of a scorched-earth LA lineage that includes the unheralded (Lazy Cowgirls) and the influential (X), this Long Beach quintet's hedonistic bounce ain't changed much since 1992's Positively Sick on 4th Street. On their new 12-song travelogue through the four stages of drunkenness, frontman Scott Drake describes day-job fantasies ("Fucking Secretaries"), spouts urban philosophy ("Shortcut to Nowhere," "Steel-Toed Sneakers"), and narrates thematic variations on rock's liberating power. Whether he's crawling in the gutter ("Ten Inches Higher") or sympathizing with the Devil ("Devil's Magic Pants"), Drake's band have got him covered with fiery garage-punk riffs and rhythms that give the vocalist room to roam in a guise that occasionally recalls Circle Jerk Keith Morris. Augmenting the line-up with Claw Hammer contributor Andy Kaulkin (organ, piano) and a sax player provides Euphoria's most ambitious moments, as the Humpers revel in gutbucket R&B ("Peggy Sue Got Buried") and burly, MC5-ish glam ("No Escape"). They've fallen down so many times they can't get up, but the Humpers wouldn't have it any other way.

-- Mark Woodlief


*** Q-Burns Abstract Message

OEUVRE

(Astralwerks)

For the past few years beat-heavy labels like Mephisto, Sunburn, Om, and Ubiquity have fed on a steady diet of EPs and singles by Central Florida's Michael Donaldson, a/k/a Q-Burns, whose moniker is taken from the DJ term for wear on a record from cueing or scratching too much. Oeuvre brings together some of Q-Burns' singles and unreleased tracks, which blend the straight-ahead slap of techno with the rubbery bounce of hip-hop. The collection reaches as far back as 1995 (the moody, noirish "141 Revenge Street," Q-Burns' first track ever) to present the cream of Donaldson's craft. Sometimes laced with jazz, sometimes machine-gun fierce, the disc moves adeptly from block-rocking beats to hypnotic ambiance. All of which should go a long way toward whetting appetites for the new Q-Burns full-length that's due from Astralwerks this fall.

-- Bob Toevs


*** Plastikman

CONSUMED

(Novamute)

DJ Richie Hawtin's latest release as Plastikman, Consumed, marks the end of a four-year period of artistic digression during which he released a series of 12-inches under the names FUSE, Circuit Breaker, and Concept and developed other performers on his Plus 8 and Novamute labels. The CD packaging is simple: matte-black cardboard cut to reveal a subtle violet rectangle. Like Hawtin's music, it is inspired by the work of British minimalist sculptor Anish Kapoor and American painter Mark Rothko, both in its austerity and in its subtle allusion to the existence of a window inward. With its stoic synthetic bleeps and spare sequenced beats, Consumed is engineered with the headphone listener in mind. The tracks are repetitive, with changes signaled by slight variations in tones and textures. "Contain" and "Consume" match crisp, down-tempo beats with atmospheric loops. The BPMs begin to escalate on "Passage" and "Convulse," but even at its most manic, Consumed is a reaction against the chunky-beat complexity that has obsessed many of Hawtin's techno contemporaries.

-- Doug MacDonald


**1/2 Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz

MAKE IT REIGN

(Columbia)

The Bronx hip-hop duo Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz made a splash last year with the independent single "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)," a tribute to the ol' boogie-down built on a bouncy little sample from Steely Dan's "Black Cow." (For which they've paid dearly -- six figures plus sole writing credit to Steely Dan.) "Deja Vu" got picked up by Columbia, and appearances by Wyclef Jean and Busta Rhymes were promised for the album. Those never materialized; the biggest names to turn up in supporting roles here are Big Punisher and Kurupt. Meanwhile, Tariq and Gunz have already announced their intention to record solo albums.

Pop rap doesn't have too high a profile right now -- catchiness tends to be suspect in hip-hop, so rappers who indulge in hooks have to make up for it by being inhumanly hard. Exhibit A: Make It Reign. Once you get beyond its bombastic endorsements of thug life, the disc is a total pop-hook extravaganza, with blatantly catchy choruses on almost every track. "Party/All night/Fiesta/Forever" Tariz and Gunz chant on "Fiesta." And you get one guess as to which Michael Jackson song "Startin' Somethin' " samples at length. The combination of gunpowder on the outside and candy in the middle works nicely, even if it does wear a little thin over the album's hour-plus length.

-- Douglas Wolk


*** Junior Vasquez

2

(Pagoda)

and

JUNIOR WORKS

(Eightball)

DJ Junior Vasquez continues to craft, sublimely, his sumptuous, sweet-toned brand of deep house. In his mixes pulse, throb, and vocal cries serve as melody, rhythm, and lyric; every track shimmers with hooky tidbits of sound. Hard without being heavy, his music has slink and delicacy, always. He shifts from silence to sound effects and from chants to riffs as seamlessly as from diva cries to echo or percussion, always going for the lissome tone as he elasticizes the rhythm this way and that.

On 2, he tickles the dancer through spacy spice like Jestofunk's "Stellar Funk," Daniel Tenaglia's "Elements," and Future Primitive's "The Future." And he highlights the lovin'-yourself moments in Club 59's "Drama," Sandy B's "Ain't No Need To Hide," Lydia Rhodes's "Away" (don't miss this cut), and Ron Perkov's "Dance with Me," pushing the throb, pressing the music constantly to take things higher and higher. Junior Works, meanwhile, is the Vasquez style applied to a selection of Eightball releases -- several of them Vasquez's own productions and therefore easy to tailor to the master's style of glamor and gladness in search of the highest sky's-the-limit and the deepest pulse-the-box.

-- Michael Freedberg


**1/2 John Forté

POLY SCI

(Ruffhouse/Columbia)

A product of both the streets of Brooklyn and the halls of Phillips Exeter, John Forté just may be this year's model for hip-hop success. He's also the first new act to emerge from the Fugees' extended crew, having guested on The Score as well as Wyclef Jean's The Carnival. Indeed, at his best, Forté is very much at home under the Fugees' stylistic tent on Poly Sci, especially on the Wyclef-produced "Ninety Nine (Flash the Message)" and "They Got Me," with its nylon-string guitar hook. Intelligent and pop savvy, he has the good sense to temper heavy philosophy and dark minimalism with a sing-song backing melody on "God Is Love God Is War," the disc's most unconventional track. He still succumbs to a kind of token gangsterism, countering each literary reference ("reading Hawthorne") with a "mo'fucka," and following every shoutout to Dow Jones with a complaint about a "bitch." Then again, exploring the many contradictory impulses embodied in a single artist is just what an album with a title like Poly Sci ought to do.

-- Roni Sarig


***

AMP 2

(Astralwerks)

The first AMP compilation (Caroline) helped turn American audiences on to mostly instrumental tracks by a decidedly Anglocentric line-up. But the second companion to MTV's late-night electronica video showcase -- AMP 2 -- capitalizes on the real electronic revelation (and success) of the late '90s -- hip-hop. Rather than featuring lone electronic auteurs from across the Atlantic (i.e., Aphex Twin, Photek, and Orbital, who all had tracks on the first AMP installment), AMP 2 spotlights collaborations between big-name hip-hop MCs and an eclectic cast of beat junkies like Aphrodite, who deftly cross-cuts old-school electro-funk and slippery drum 'n' bass on a remix of the Jungle Brothers' "Jungle Brother."

Elsewhere, Prodigy bring their beastly blast to bear on an old Method Man single, "Release Yo' Self," and KRS One takes Goldie back to the boogie-down Bronx with the head-spinning groove of "Digital." Anyone already familiar with British electronica won't find anything particularly new about AMP 2's more straightforward cuts, like drum 'n' bass master Roni Size's "Brown Paper Bag," or Adam F's jazzy "Circles." And hip-hop itself has always been an electronic medium. But AMP 2 does introduce some true hip-hop flavor to the techno melting pot that is electronica.

-- Michael Endelman



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