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AUGUST 14, 2000: 

* Jimi Tenor OUT OF NOWHERE (Matador)

Tenor, a Finnish composer and clothing designer, makes grandiose music that aspires to be filed under "orchestral pop" or "cinematic soundscapes." But the 10 tracks on Out of Nowhere sound more like Doc Severinsen covering Earth Wind & Fire. With a full 55-piece orchestra on board, Tenor scatters trite soundtrack allusions and new-agey whale sounds throughout his compositions as if there were a B-movie ready to accompany the busy bombast. Bereft of visual cues, we're left to wonder what aesthetic imperative makes Tenor cool and John Tesh stupid? The answer's not as easy to come by as it should be. But as the funky flutes of "Hypnotic Drugstore" segue into a wave of wallowing synthscapes, you can catch "I can hear it, but it's a horrible tune." Tenor, it seems, may be his own best critic. -- Lois Maffeo

*** Alice Deejay WHO NEEDS GUITARS ANYWAY? (Republic/Universal)

The transatlantic kitsch-house crossover express has been working overtime this past year, making giddy stops in Spain (Vengaboys) and Italy (Eiffel 65); now it hits the Netherlands with Alice Deejay. Alice is the name of the group, not the girl singing their international smash "Better Off Alone" -- and though there's a crazy-looking naked chick on the CD cover and a gorgeous club kid on the inset, the liner notes don't exactly elaborate on the identity of this "ever expanding collective." Whatever: the icy vocals and cool one-fingered Casio beeps (lifted from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack?) on "Better Off Alone" are enough to earn the disc its prestigious spot on the rack between Alice Cooper and Alice in Chains. On "Back in My Life," the beat drops out in the middle to make way for a nifty little synth breakdown and a solemn recitation that recalls British hitmakers Faithless.

Alice Deejay keep the words to a minimum and the sentiments happy throughout, throwing a melancholy piano line into the instrumental title track and getting euphoric on the not-quite-triple-entendre of "Everything Begins with an E" (the word and the night, maybe, but not the song -- it begins with a C). They needn't have bothered with the contentious album title; their case for Eurohaus would have been convincing enough without it. -- Sean Richardson

*** Bonfire Madigan SADDLE THE BRIDGE (Kill Rock Stars)

Bonfire Madigan are not your average indie-rock band -- instead of guitars and kick drums, we get cellos, contrabass, and percussion. Add atmospheric samples and you've got a recipe that's almost avant-garde. But Saddle the Bridge remains accessible, with its verse/chorus structures, its hooks, its melodies, and a captivating frontwoman in singer/cellist Madigan Shive. Every inhalation, every tap of the bow on strings, underlines the fragility of these minimalist songs -- most of all on the closer, "Downtrodden Up." Whispering with wide-eyed intensity, à la PJ Harvey, "I stole all my city's sirens/I buried them in the dirt," Shive evokes the loneliness of the only person on this frontier of understanding.

That could be the theme of the album -- "I'm a deep sea diver and I'll go to outer space," she sings. The mood ranges from familiar and comfortable ("Mad Skywriting") to weird ("Rachel's Song," recorded outdoors in downtown LA complete with police sirens). The best song here, "Running," flows from verse to verse, Shive gently pushing along the fluid crescendos of mourning strings. "She is the mouth of the Mississippi/She is the deadliest undertow," she cries at the climax, opening her clenched teeth to sing out in misty-eyed proclamation of natural beauty. -- Matt Parish

*** Jon Jarvis Trio HEAR NO EVIL (TVT)

Jarvis is one of the hidden treasures of the Boston scene -- session man, sideman, cocktail-lounge pianist. On this, his second TVT CD, he continues to show the kind of chops he's been honing in town and on the road for a couple of decades. Working with guitarist Anthony Weller and bassist Bob Nieske, he mixes up styles and attacks with a good choice of standards ("Love Me or Leave Me," "I Could Write a Book," "Lazy River," and more) and originals that sound like standards ("I Don't Know," with its golly-gee melody and terrific up-and-down unison bridge from Jarvis and Weller, begs for lyrics -- it could be a long-lost Frank Loesser show tune).

Jarvis has bebop reach in his harmonies -- there's a wealth of great music in just his opening, slightly off-center block chords on "Shiny Stockings." But the playing here -- and the instrumentation -- reaches back to the pre-bop swing of the Nat King Cole Trio, Teddy Wilson, and Art Tatum. There's certainly plenty of Tatum in those million-note runs. In the end, though, Jarvis is a pan-stylist whose showiness is always musical -- whether his hands are pumping out complex independent lines or, in his own "Pop's Blues," ranging all over the keyboard in an unbroken string of ideas, from laughing top-of-the-the-register asides to deep-end boogie-woogie. The equally capable Weller gets a couple of his own solo spots as well. It's a CD where even a superfluous jazz take on the Lennon/McCartney "Michelle" can be forgiven. -- Jon Garelick

*** Big L THE BIG PICTURE (Rawkus)

On this posthumous sophomore release, rapper Big L "Corleone" breathes life into the mike, spitting enough fire and personalized street poetry to keep B-boys and backpackers alike from catching their breath. L, who didn't make it to 25, was a Harlem hip-hop superhero whose 1996 track "Ebonics" is revered as an underground classic and is one of the 16 offerings (no bullshit skits) on The Big Picture. Big L drops razor-sharp rhymes on "Holdin It Down" -- "It's L, the Harlem pimp baby/For real, I got more dimes than the Sprint lady" he boasts over a bowl of Pete Rock flute loops. The Harlem globetrotter also holds court with heavyweights like G Rap (new album due this fall on Rawkus), a rejuvenated Big Daddy Kane (on the Premier cut "Platinum Plus"), and various DITC partners. And there's an eerie (and unexpected) match-up with Tupac on the outstanding "Deadly Combination." Comparing The Big Picture with L's inspired debut, Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous (which featured a young Jay-Z attempting to keep pace on "Da Graveyard"), isn't quite fair -- Lifestylez joins discs by Nas, Group Home, Mobb Deep, GZA, and Raekwon in the untouchable-hip-hop-debut department. But The Big Picture doesn't disappoint. -- Chris Conti

***1/2 Rancid RANCID (Hellcat/Epitaph)

For a while there, it seemed a foregone conclusion -- whether or not they'd set out to inherit the guttersnipe-punk legacy of the Clash, the East Bay believers in Rancid had become the next best thing to the real deal and the closest thing alienated mohawked kids in the '90s were going to get to a riot of their own. Clash-o-mania. The Sha Na Na of punk. Or just a kick-ass band who knew a good thing when they heard it. On their last CD, 1998's London Calling-length Life Won't Wait (Epitaph), Tim, Matt, Lars, and Brett even moved on from the occasional ska tune ("Rudy Can't Fail") to indulge in a little laid-back reggae and dub. Shades of "Armageddon Time" or maybe even the Lee Perry sessions. Black Market Rancid. But something happened on the way to Sandinista. A homonymous album five discs into their recording career? It's back to the drawing board for Rancid in 2000. Back to the one-two punch of primal hardcore punk, like Discharge or the Exploited or, maybe at their most tuneful, early, early Social D. These bands all came after the Clash, but times were tough and they were reaching back to something harder, faster, louder, and less complicated even than "Clash City Rockers."

And that's where Rancid find themselves now, bashing out no fewer than 22 songs in exactly 38:22 -- which averages out to 1:45 per song. They've shifted gears into maximum overdrive: Tim and Lars can hardly catch their breath before Brett slaps down the next backbeat, and in "It's Quite Alright" Tim doesn't even try to keep up -- you'll want to reach in and give his ragged voice a little nudge forward by the time he gets to the second verse. Rancid is a meaner, denser, angrier, more explosive album than anyone had any reason to expect, though it isn't without the occasional oasis of melody, like "Let Me Go," an echo-laden anthem with a nice little rusty hook poking through the fuzztone guitars. Oh, and "Radio Havana" is pure Clash City rawk in the "Capital Radio" vein. If George W. really is on his way to Washington, then Rancid couldn't have come along at a better time. -- Matt Ashare

*** Various Artists THE BEAT OF AMERICA VOL. I (Logic)

In this two-CD set, DJs Denny Tsettos and Christian B. (newcomers to the first rank of house DJs) remix a full plate of freestyle, Euro, and house-music hits and should-be-hits just the way you like them. Which means that the beat gyrates willfully. From the light touches of traxx style (house music with a salsa undertone) to the plush of deep house to the dreaminess of Eurodisco and back again, the music doesn't just program: it jumps, quick-cuts, moves where it wants to. Tsettos has his own take on romantic ecstasy (LaBouche's "Fallin' in Love" and Alison Limerick's "Where Love Lives"), romantic tension (Veronica's "Let Me Go" and Todd-Terry-presents-Shannon's "It's Over, Love"), and pure party (N-Joi's "The New Anthem" and Martha Wash & Jocelyn Brown's "Keep On Jumpin'") -- and because so many of his selections are hits, his mixes ambush the dancer all the more.

Christian B's music flows more gently, and his selections exude a pop polish worlds away from Tsettos's deep and sultry flamboyance. But his beats snap and stop, and the riffs buzz and sigh. It's hard to dis a set featuring disco high points like Le Click's "Tonight Is the Night," Love Inc.'s "You're a Superstar," and Blondie's "Maria." -- Michael Freedberg

*** Tegan and Sara THIS BUSINESS OF ART (Vapor)

Identical twins from Canada who impressed someone in Neil Young's camp enough to score a deal with his Vapor label, Tegan and Sara harmonize about girl power, boyfriends, and the choices in between on their funky folk debut. Although clearly the musical offspring of Lilith, inspired by if not quite as politicized as Ani Difranco and Indigo Girls, they stop short of toeing Lilith's floral folkie line, opting instead to borrow some hip-pop groove from the Luscious Jackson songbook.

The production -- spare and at times almost lo-fi -- emphasizes the twins' complementary voices, one low and raspy, the other sweeter and higher, as well as their rough-and-tumble guitar strumming. Drums, bass, and a modest array of loops and samples flesh things out without detracting from the buskerish voice-and-guitar feel. A harmonica adds earthy charm to "Freedom"; a piano brings some texture to the laid-back anthem "My Number." But it's the natural interplay between the sisterly voices that's the main attraction here. -- Linda Laban

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