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AUGUST 7, 2000: 

*1/2 Sneakster PSEUDO-NOUVEAU (Bella Union)

Quique, the debut full-length by the British noise-guitar band Seefeel, provided an aural glimpse of what My Bloody Valentine's long-awaited next album might sound like: waves of voluptuous six-string drone atop incantatory rhythms and mystic whispers. But having updated blisspop for the nascent techno era, Seefeel guru Mark Clifford then withdrew the band into a minimal-electronica territory of dislocated beats and disembodied vocals. Now, after pursuing his arrhythmic isolationism under the alias Disjecta, he makes an awkward return to the pop landscape with Sneakster.

Like Seefeel, Sneakster boast female vocals that bear considerable resemblance to the Cocteau Twins template -- and indeed, Pseudo-Nouveau is released on Bella Union, the label managed by Twin instrumentalists Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde. But those who were entranced by Clifford's once-innovative guitarrorism will be disappointed to discover that Sneakster are practically ax free. The music is largely fizzled beats, sultry vocals, and keyboard meanderings; "Static" is powered by a loop of a synthetic flute. The real irony is that Pseudo Nouveau sounds like a pale imitation of the edgier techno-pop of Scala, the outfit formed by Clifford's ex-Seefeel compadres. -- Patrick Bryant


***1/2 Ignite A PLACE CALLED HOME (TVT)

"I care about hardcore/But I hate the scene," sings Ignite frontman Zoli Teglas on "Who Sold Out Now?", the petulant first song off the Orange County band's first full-length album since 1995. Sick of being judged by kids who aren't in it for the long haul -- in the song, his teenage antagonist ends up leaving the scene to get "freaked out on X at some rave or techno" -- Teglas is echoing the sentiments of many a veteran punk. Ignite have committed the ultimate punk crime by leaving esteemed SoCal indie label Revelation for TVT, but A Place Called Home is the rare hardcore album that's catchy and thoughtful enough to have a shot at reaching a larger audience.

With its tight vocal harmonies and angry lyrics about domestic violence, "Run" is emblematic of the band's Bad Religion-inspired approach. They end up sounding more like the Scorpions on slower tunes like the title track, a long-distance love song that thumps along on guitarist Brian Balchack's near-metal riffs. Ignite play hardcore with kid-friendly tempos, grown-up themes, and, in the operatic Teglas, a commanding vocal presence that bridges the generation gap. -- Sean Richardson


**1/2 Busta Rhymes ANARCHY (Elektra)

Soft-drink shucking movie star and former Leader of the New School, Busta Rhymes is still a man possessed as he delivers his chaotic hooks and tongue-flipping rhymes in a weed-riddled baritone. Yet his newest joint doesn't exude the fire of "Woo-Hah!" and earlier power hitters. And with crews crawling out of every hip-hop crevice, Busta needs to push himself more than he did on his last solo effort or on the debut by his Flipmode Squad cohort (though "Cha Cha Cha" was some feel-good shit).

Still, there are plenty of bright spots on the long-winded Anarchy. Busta and new Flipmode soldier Roc Marciano keep up with Raekwon and Ghostface Killah on "The Heist," an exercise in classic Cuban Linx-era criminology that's worth the 15 bucks alone. Current kings of the game Jay-Z and DMX bring nothing new to "Why We Die," which is tailor-made for heavy TRL rotation. But all is forgiven when M.O.P jump in on "Ready for War," and "Here We Go Again" could easily be yet another Busta classic. -- Chris Conti


*** Issi Rozen HOMELAND BLUES (Brownstone)

First there's guitarist Rozen's limpid tone, which seems at one with his articulation: the way he gets from note to note. Then there's the kind of self-generating improvised lines that have been the hallmark of all superb jazz players, from Armstrong and Reinhardt to Rollins and Metheny. Rozen's material, and his band, are with him every step of the way. That's why a Coltrane-inspired standard like Hammerstein & Romberg's "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" is as fresh as a daisy, chock full of rhythmic excitement.

On this, his second Brownstone CD, Tel Aviv-Brookline transplant Rozen moves more in the direction of combining musical elements from home with "world" jazz forms. Traditional melodies like "Shir Hanoded" get American jazz's harmonic reach. Rozen creates similarly inventive fusions in originals like "Mediterranean Samba" and "Late Night Waltz," and in the rhythmic complexities of the title track, where drummer Harvey Wirht's triplets drive the theme. It's a good deal: Rozen and fellow Israeli pianist Gilad Barkan indulge their nostalgia, and everybody in the band, including Wirht and bassist Dave Smallwood has, as Steve Lacy calls jazz pieces, "something to dig on." -- Jon Garelick


*** Green Velvet S/T (F-111)

Sporting a day-glo yellow-feather mohawk and a chest-baring Blade Runner-esque fashion sense, Green Velvet (the alter ego of Chicago producer Curtis A. Jones) brings some much needed personality and star power to the world of knob twiddlers and vinyl jockeys. But it's not only Green Velvet's sartorial style that sets him apart, it's his bizarre music. In a series of dry-voiced monologues, Velvet spins sordid tales of nightclub hedonism, alien abduction, and illicit behavior, backed by trippy and spastic robo-funk that is all analog squelch and acid phreak. Dredging us through a series of disturbed mental states -- paranoia, isolation, and depression -- Green Velvet would be an unbearable listen if it weren't so damn funny. Schadenfreude powers the humor of "Answering Machine," where voice-mail messages inform Velvet that "the baby isn't yours," "you're being evicted," and "your life is over!" "Flash" is a candy-raver's nightmare, as Velvet leads a camera-toting PTA group on a tour of "Club Bad," uncovering joint smoking and nitrous inhaling as they go. The emotional effect is similar to the confessional description of alien probing on Alien Abduction: "It wasn't like it was painful or pleasurable, it was like the two of them." -- Michael Endelman


*** Knife in the Water RED RIVER (Overcoat)

Knife in the Water may be named for an early Roman Polanski film, but Red River sounds more like the soundtrack to a Texas film noir than anything to do with the Howard Hawks classic. Guitarist Aaron Blount and organist Laura Krause sing of treachery, loss, and reflection, with sultry washes of pedal steel guitar from Bill McCullough framing the bleak emotions of these alterna-country gems. The stories range from "Rene," the tale of a hardboiled dame, to the acoustic rocker "Young Blood in the River," which sketches a transvestite prostitute's grim end. There's a distinct irony in the beauty that envelops the speed-addled characters and scorched scenery, and the graceful and steady pull of the music belies the down-and-out details that gather on the surface of each track. KITW have made huge strides in songwriting since their first (and hard to locate) self-released CD; Red River confirms them as knowing interpreters of the waltzy brand of country music that flourishes in Texas. -- Lois Maffeo


*** Snake River Conspiracy SONIC JIHAD (Kinetic/Reprise)

Snake River Conspiracy invite all kinds of comparisons -- Atari Teenage Riot crossed with Bis, Gwen Stefani singing early Nine Inch Nails, Garbage produced by Tool's Maynard James Keenan. But nothing quite hits the mark. Frontwoman Tobey Torres and former Third Eye Blinder Jason Slater have found the formula for bubblegum industrial that's as catchy as it is harsh. An unfortunate Smiths cover ("How Soon Is Now?") is balanced by the Cure's "Love Song," which SRC infuse with cute ambulance sirens and heart-monitor bleeps. The single "Vulcan" is the logical answer to "Love Song," with its illogical anger ("Fuck you! You fucking faggot!") and searing synths worthy of Asian Dub Foundation (not to mention the sampled Star-Trek-by-way-of-KRS-One "bling"). Gossipy types should note that "Somebody Hates You" is an anti-ode to Third Eye Blind singer Stephan Jenkins, with what Slater has deemed a "fruity" bridge that actually just sounds creepy as it bobs in the crushing keyboards and Torres's wails. Although Slater concocts the lyrics, Torres spews them like Alanis Morissette singing about blow jobs. But Morissette (or Trent Reznor, for that matter) has never spewed quite like this. -- Nick Catucci


*** Arab Strap A PLACE CALLED HOME (Jetset)
**1/2 Arab Strap MAD FOR SADNESS (Jetset)

That shimmer on Elephant Shoe is the sound of singer Aidan Moffatt finding love. The good news is, he doesn't know what to do with it, so confusion and ambiguity continue to reign in his heart, providing ample inspiration for his melancholy muse. With help from fellow troubadour and guitarist Malcolm Middleton, members of Mogwai and Belle & Sebastian, and a drum machine, Moffatt celebrates romantic sulking -- beautifully so on "Hello Daylight." Although the CD is more solidly textured and less bleak than previous Arab Strap albums, it's still a collection of dirges for love hangovers, commanding all the despondency of, say, the most melancholic Dirty Three or Tindersticks tracks, with Moffatt's labored mumble adding to the resignation.

The aptly titled Mad for Sadness is another field trip to the Scottish group's cemetery of botched opportunities and broken dreams. Recorded in London in 1998 as a limited-edition disc and considered a "classic" live set by Strap fans, it's finally available in the US. Despite the distraction of an out-of-tune guitar, the album's echoing melodies air out some of the DIY claustrophobia that choked these tracks on the band's first two albums. And Moffatt, executing elegant exercises in self-pity, proves he can find misery in just about any situation. -- Tristram Lozaw


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