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MAY 1, 2000: 

** The Flys OUTTA MY WAY (Trauma)

In Britain they refer to the majority of American modern rock as "sports metal" -- and though that's not as reductionist a term as Brit-pop, it does shortchange us a little. But Hollywood yuksters the Flys make music that can hardly be described any other way. There's a sumo wrestler on the cover of their new disc, singer Adam Paskowitz was a professional surfer before he started the band, and the Flys specialize in the same kind of blockheaded jock rock that made their Hollywood homies Red Hot Chili Peppers famous.

Paskowitz's charisma is overcome by stupidity too often on Outta My Way. Losers, poseurs, and "All you granola eaters/Who don't eat hamburgers" are just a few of the people he wants out of his way on the thrashy title track, but it's all too obnoxious to be any fun. He's better off singing about girls, the way he did on the hit "Got You (Where I Want You)," from the last Flys disc, Holiday Man. Although his Chris Cornell howl sounds fine on "Losin' It," the mellow love songs "Damn!" and "Ain't No Stoppin U" are the standouts here. Next time, Paskowitz might wanna lay off the waves a little and focus more on the ladies on the beach. -- Sean Richardson

*** She Mob CANCEL THE WEDDING (Spinister Playtime)

This San Francisco quartet tack on some dub ("Smoke Ring Day") at the end of Cancel the Wedding, their very Slits-like debut disc. And there are echoes of the Raincoats in the sound of Diane Wallis's sawed violin. But it's the savvy yet humble tone of Wallis's singing (not to mention Sue Hutchinson's growl) that marks She Mob as great inheritors of the Rough Trade grrrl-punk spirit of the late '70s. As with the she mobs of old, that tone in the voices of the songs' subjects -- a friend from the Midwest (who gulps "Prozac"), "Emily" (who never ventures into town), "Mrs. Idey" (who drives off too far outside it) -- leaves you wondering whether they're being praised as rebels or ridiculed as hopeless cases. Perhaps because these grrrls are already in their 30s, they sing from a moral center that bespeaks corny old experience. Sometimes their perspective yields surreal refrains, like the understated observation "There has been a big mistake" in the song where a puppy morphs into a man. And sometimes She Mob sound downright revolutionary, as in the remarkable "Teacher," which reveals that students aren't the only ones who long for the day school's out forever. -- Kevin John

*** Peter Case FLYING SAUCER BLUES (Vanguard)

If anything, the title of Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Peter Case's seventh solo album refers to a time in American music when blues was nuthin' but a hick attitude with a guitar (homemade, usually) and anyone deprived of power could sing it. Just like country, blues moved to the city, where it became rock and roll, and that's where Case comes in. He echoes that point in rock history with jug-band melees like "Cool Drink o' Water," which eventually works in horns to become more of an R&B number, and "Two Heroes," where Case thumps out a rootsy rumble filled with wailing harmonica. He does much the same with the twangy pop of "Blue Distance," which features slide guitar by Greg Liesz -- and having fronted the '80s outfit the Plimsouls, Case does know or thing or two about pop. The jazz-pop stroll "Lost in Your Eyes" reverses the process, taking pop back to its folk-blues roots, which is something Case has spent the second half of his career doing. -- Linda Laban

*** Khaled KENZA (Ark 21/Mondo Melodia)

On Kenza, the king of Algeria's rai music moves ahead in both of the directions he's best known for. Khaled continues with the muscular, high-angst funk that made him so popular during the '80s Afropop explosion, as well as the gushy pop balladry that won him a mainstream French audience during the '90s. He always throws a few curves, and this time it's a collaboration with Hindi film star Amar. "El Harba Wine" melds the quirky exuberance of Hindi pop with Khaled gravitas. Khaled's bid to participate in Latin-music fever, "Goulouha-Dji," also works well, perhaps since Latin and Arabic rhythms are kissing cousins from centuries back.

Three tracks boast a full Egyptian string section headed by Hossam Ramzy, who helped Page and Plant with their Arab-music flirtation. Dark orchestral themes, pop hooks, a pumping backbeat, and Khaled's smooth, husky tenor come together on "Aâlach Tloumouni" and "Melha." "Raba-Raba" digs deeper still into traditional Arabic music, with tumbling percussion and soaring strings providing a foil for Khaled's dry-eyed vocal passion. The syrupy "Leili (C'est la vie)" may make the French pop charts like its stylistic predecessor "Aicha"; on the other hand, hardcore rai fans may find it a blight of sentimentality on an otherwise solid album. In top creative form, and still keen for adventure, Khaled maintains his title as rai music's standard bearer. -- Banning Eyre

*** John Brown's Body THIS DAY (Shanachie)

Finding contemporary reggae releases that satisfy roots-reggae fans is a tricky business. Many classic '70s acts followed the digital revolution down the road to cheesy keyboards and tinny drum pads; and few stateside revival acts have the vocal delivery to pull off the all-important Rasta couplets. Armed with analog keyboards, a tight horn section, and the powerful pipes of lead singer Kevin Kinsella, the Boston-based septet John Brown's Body sidestep both of those musical traps on their second Shanachie release. Although they travel a well-worn path, the band avoid being a mere tribute act by recording strictly original material. And their production technique, which is decisively digital, embraces a crystalline dub aesthetic that filters their vocal harmonies, funky clavinet vamps, and uptempo skanks through a shimmering and ever-shifting dub lens. The lyrics are fairly typical righteous Rasta-isms, but the band's absolute mastery of the deceptively simple reggae groove is far from that. -- Michael Endelman

*** Dave Stuckey and the Rhythm Gang GET A LOAD OF THIS (HMG/Hightone)

Although the franchise is still pretty much owned by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, there are plenty of young players who've rekindled the pleasures -- high spirits, gritty guitars, fast fiddles, and tempestuous tempos -- of Western swing. The music combines furious swing and bop improvisations, plaintive or silly Western lyrical motifs, and straight-ahead rhythms for dancing. Singer Dave Stuckey, the Dave from Southern California's defunct but delightful rockabilly outfit Dave & Deke, has surrounded himself with some of the finest in the field, including the killer guitars of LeRoy Biller and Jeremy Wakefield and members of the Hot Club of Cowtown. Stuckey's lucid and earnest vocals lead the way on oldies including "Coyote Blues," which was penned by Bob's brother Johnnie Lee Wills, and other tunes with lyrics that straddle the border between witty and hopelessly hoky. The band tear it up on Benny Goodman's "Pick a Rib" and generally put some tasty meat on the bones of '30s and '40s material and new songs written in the old ways, with the likes of Wills and Tex Williams in mind. -- Bill Kisliuk


Head Apple Robert Schneider once told me that his dream was to create universal pop music for kids -- and their parents. If he could write songs that reached everybody -- mothers, sons, grandparents, the old lady down the street -- he'd know he had hit upon a kind of inclusive, musical truth, that he'd made art that would transcend trend and fashion. As the mastermind producer behind his Elephant 6 pals in Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control, Schneider knows a thing or three about rock dreams, and the Apples are no slouches when it comes to erecting fun(house)-filled pop dioramas of their own. They're the only E6 band signed -- however briefly -- to a major label (Sire), and indeed the Apples' sunny disposition and creamy, Brian Wilson-esque melodies (Schneider's studio isn't called "Pet Sounds" for nothing) have always held the most promise for a mainstream breakthrough.

The band's third disc won't give it to them, of course, but did you really expect the Apples to be duking it out in the "units moved" competition with Christina Aguilera and Blink-182? What you can expect on Moone is another batch of charming tunes whose arrangements worship at the altar of the Beatles and the Beach Boys (and maybe the Turtles, too) by way of contemporaries like Papas Fritas; lots of woolly guitars married to mellotrons; a crystalline mix that sounds custom-made for headphones; and fanciful, marvelously crafted songs about desire and escape with titles like "Submarine Dream" and "The Rainbow" (the band's worldview is summed up in the opening "Go": "Let's blow this ugly, ugly, ugly little world"). Schneider's well-meaning but thin voice still falls well outside the range of his idols and doesn't always have the personality to hold a listener, but the band evince a newfound rhythmic crunch and a louder sense of purpose that hasn't always been evident. -- Jonathan Perry

*** Adrian Belew COMING ATTRACTIONS (Thirsty Ear)

Here's a fresh idea: put out a compilation of your work from various projects before they're released. That's the premise of guitarist/singer Adrian Belew's latest, a zippy sampler from albums and a boxed set in progress. Of course, you'd have to be as prolific as Belew to pull this off.

Novelty aside, Coming Attractions is a delightful disc in its own right. The rocker "Inner Man" and the stomping wildebeest instrumental "Predator Feast," from his next solo album, ignite the CD; they're followed by a blast of pure pop from his band the Bears. Next it's a few live acoustic tracks and a quirky blues arranged around a radio monologue by indie rock's favorite evangelist, the bizarre Prophet Omega. A demo of Belew's King Crimson tune "People" sounds more James Browned than Fripped out. Elsewhere, guitar weirdness is balanced against Burroughs-style lyrics ("Bird in a Box") or the pure beauty of his goal (a demo of his romantic "Man in the Moon"). For Belew, this CD amounts to an artistic manifesto. Possessed of a haunting and haunted tenor voice as naturally elegant as wind blowing through high-country pines, the designer of one of the widest sonic palettes in pop, he claims the right to do it all -- and do it all just right. -- Ted Drozdowski

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