Cd Reviews

Cd Reviews


Counterfeit [superscript] 2 (Mute/Reprise)

Songs in the key of the universe

It doesn’t matter that Martin Gore wrote none of the songs on this, his first solo full-length in nearly 15 years (and thus titled as the follow-up to his Counterfeit EP, originally released in 1989). As guitarist, keyboardist and main songwriter for Brit synth-poppers Depeche Mode, the often-introspective Gore’s prodigious talents as a composer of dark, soul-searching and trenchant music have been well-documented.

What is not common knowledge is his ability to claim a cover song as his own, much in the way that Bryan Ferry (one of Gore’s many cited influences) did time and again on his own solo albums. The spirit of Roxy Music, in fact, looms large over the proceedings here – from the choice of Brian Eno’s creepy ballad “By This River” to the heavy psychedelic synth pads, backward guitars and stripped-down-but-always-interesting beat concoctions. Glam is still Gore’s primary muse – consider Nico’s “Das Lied” and David Essex’s plaintive ode “Stardust” as further proof – and he mines it to stunning effect. – Bill Murphy


Thee Underground … (Clashbackk)

Hedonistic transgenre blame game

There’s no doubt that Felix Stallings Jr. (da Housecat you know and love) can move your ass, no matter what incarnation he takes on. With Aphrohead, though, he presents a grittier, less-polished side with a little tribal, disco, trance and a mishmash of other tastes. Regardless of Stallings’ intent, you can’t help but feel that this is a musical record of naughty transgressions. “Liquid Kitty” is a dirty feline who makes that other filthy teen queen look positively pristine. The grating “Cry Baby” aside, Thee Underground might just make you do it. – Erin Hutton


Something … (Mantra/Beggars)

Mystic electronica meets Bollywood

On her sixth album, award-winning vocalist Natacha Atlas fuses electronic and ethnic sounds with contemporary guest vocals and her acclaimed Arabic-inflected crooning. Atlas is a chameleon throughout this sensuous travelogue of Bollywood and Rai pop, classical orchestration, R&B-Arabic soul and exotic percussion pound-outs. Atlas’ far-reaching vision is beyond the insular concerns of many electronic artists: Her music is inspired. Her grasp of world music is exceptional, and her voice, equally bold and girlish, is a magical ticket to another world. – Ken Micallef


Version (K)

For indie ears only

One of the greatest things about independent labels is the familial atmosphere that they foster, often cross-pollinating releases with the talents of various members of their rosters. College-rock fave K Records holds true to that ethos with this solo outing from Adam Forkner (Yume Bitsu, Surface of Eceon). Forkner, who also moonlights as K studio engineer, brings in members of label-mates Modest Mouse and The Microphones, as well as label chief Calvin Johnson, for this loopy, beat-friendly blend of lovely guitar washes, crunchy breaks, wistful vocals and fuzzy sequences. – Erin Hutton


Young Miss America (PIAS)

Quirky punk-hop with attitude

Punk-hop: What the hell is that? Let’s just say Gold Chains has it down, he of scathing lyrics, sharp lyrical delivery and seriously booty-shaking beats. The S.F.-based MC brings enough bass, disjointed vibes and eyebrow-raising rhymes to fill a steamy dancehall to the rafters. From party-ready (“Code Red”) to melodramatic (the synth-stabbed “Nada”), acidic (the Miami Bass – channeling “Let’s Get It On”) and even tender (the slightly awkward ballad “Break or Be Broken”), this album packs a serious punch loaded with street smarts and thoughtful social commentary. – Christine Hsieh


Bedrock Breaks: Fractured (Bedrock)

Moodily sexed-up breaks

Despite his playful moniker, Hyper (Guy Hatfield) lays down breaks for a mature audience. On his second Bedrock outing, he applies an erudite take on a genre prone to shallow pop. Here, Hyper goes deep into atmospheric house and electro-tinged breaks. CD 1 showcases spaced-out contributions by Momu, Uberzone, Rennie Pilgrem and Hyper’s own “Catnip.” When CD 2 hits, the mix gains momentum, flowing from Proper Filthy Naughty’s “Beautiful Day” to Silencer’s “Rollin’ and Controllin'” and hitting full speed with Fatliners’ appropriately titled “Flying.” – Stacia Monteith


S/T (Om)

Beat bouillabaisse

The dub style, as honed by Jamaican greats such as King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry, has always signified the absorption of outside influences. J. Boogie proves to be a worthy proponent, serving up an ethnic gumbo of dub, hip-hop, jazz, world and soul, with guests including Soulstice’s Gina Rene and Tony Moses lending tasty vocals. The spare but syncopated beats – along with Boogie’s great ear for live arranging – offer a level of funky sophistication that only a few DJs who’ve made the leap to producing can pull off with success. – Bill Murphy


Essential Selection (Trust the DJ)

Razor-sharp house cuts

Once upon a time, Pete Tong was just another radio jock. That was ages ago, it seems. For the bulk of electronic music’s existence, Tong has been a key tastemaker and trendsetter. His latest mix certainly bodes well for the future of dancefloor mayhem. There are no flash-in-the-pan effects here – just a lot of solid, groovy, futuristic house.

Several rousing tracks round out the disc, including gems from the likes of Hollway and Eastwick (their “No 1” tune is a lovely slice of distorted vocal house with space-age, minimal beats), the up-and-coming M-Factor (whose “Come Together” is a lovely, filtered disco-house confection a la early French house) and the dark strings-and-synths number “Hum” from Meat Katie and Lee Coombes. Also keep an ear open for a fab remix of Playgroup’s “Make It Happen” by Ewan Pearson, the man behind Maas and World of Apples. With such a consistently upbeat, rousing selection, Tong once again proves that he’s still got a finger firmly on the pulse of a new generation of dance music. – Christine Hsieh


Billion Dollar … (Breakbeat Science)

It’s all gravy here

The second album from London Elektricity sees the duo’s Tony Coleman going at it without Chris Goss. Intent on shedding light and funk into the sinister and purist sound of drum ‘n’ bass, Billion Dollar Gravy infuses the rigid structures of the genre with Jungle Drummer’s natural live drums and warm vocals courtesy of Robert Owens and Liane Carrol. These organic elements bring life to the album’s formulaic beats and predictable bass lines. With a progressive attitude toward pushing the limits, Billion Dollar Gravy’s upbeat mood will make you bounce. – Lily Moayeri


Radio Caroline (Emperor Norton)

Electro ingenue retracts her claws

On her first domestic mix release, Miss Kittin settles in for a noticeably lackluster ride. Though Radio Caroline is billed as a glimpse at her off-the-job tastes, the album comes off as a dull, soporific exploration of minimal techno and electro tunes by Autechre, Pan Sonic and Maus & Stolle. Kittin’s voice floats over the mix, but the gimmick wears increasingly thin and disrupts the flow of the music. The whole package lacks her brash, infectious spontaneity, though die-hard fans will surely appreciate this chance to take in her softer, subtler side. – Christine Hsieh


A Special Album (Emperor Norton)

Norwegian trio in comic nightclub

Playing glockenspiel, drums and keyboards, this Norwegian trio re-creates fluffy ’70s grooves and nourishes nightclub styles with good humor. Hammond B-3 organs suspend deep bass tones and cozy melodies, frothy drums kick frazzled beats, and synths spread a glacial ice (as on “Here Is Love”). The music is danceable but somehow nocturnal, like a sleepwalker juiced on big beats and NoDoz. Only Myerz knows where the live instruments end and programming begins with this infectious amalgam of kinetic riffs and sleepy sounds. – Ken Micallef


Extended Engagement (Effin)

2003 WMC buzz boy’s first outing

Nobody could go anywhere at this year’s Winter Music Conference without hearing about The Scumfrog, the nom de disque of Amsterdam native Jesse Houk. This debut double-CD set collects all of his production work to date. Although Houk rode into Miami on the buzz of his track “Music Revolution,” that’s not the strongest material here. Granted, the disco-house feel does verge on cliche, but from the pseudo-radio intro to Milk & Honey’s “You, Me & the Music” to his tres funky reworking of Bowie’s “Loving the Alien,” The Scumfrog pulls off the mega party vibe. – Joe Silva


Surrounded (Myutopia)

Atmospherics for the lilting mind

These days, everything seems to be going the way of 5.1. From the Moonshine Mixed Live series to the recent barrage of music DVDs, the surround-sound revolution is taking hold. Even the UK’s Tipper has shed his breaks cloak (if for only a moment) to offer his own downtempo 5.1 endeavor. With no fixed theme – owing its composition to iBook handiwork along a North American tour – Surrounded’s tracks incorporate loping beats and delicate effects with acoustic elements and even an ominous-sounding choir. Standouts include the careful “Over the Coals” and lovely “The Glass House.” – Erin Hutton


Big Beautiful Sky (MCA/Universal)

Lush and lyrical, stratospherical

Hailing from Nashville but channeling the sounds of ’80s Bristol and London (think the 4AD label), this trio delivers a combination of electronic power pop, old-school organic synth rock and even classical chamber music – all of which make tracks “Alice” and “Honey” surge with hypnotic yet groovacious abandon. Quirky lead vocalist Annette Strean never goes for too much, and her breathy restraint ironically suggests more emotion than when she does choose to belt out a verse. At times it feels a bit precious, but the beauty of this sky can’t be denied. – Bill Murphy

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