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SEPTEMBER 13, 1999: 

***1/2 Super Furry Animals GUERRILLA (Flydaddy)

No one's carried Julian Cope's freak flag quite as well as the Welsh band Super Furry Animals. The group have a penchant for absurdly catchy pop songs wrapped around moments of high weirdness -- often so disarmingly that you forget you have no idea what they're singing about. Guerrilla hits these shores only months after Super Furry Animals' Radiator, which even after lingering on the UK charts for weeks was still too strange to attract a US major label. The new album takes off in a similar array of directions -- from the neo-calypso "Northern Lights" to the exploding krautrock of "Wherever I Lay My Phone (That's My Phone)" to the sing-along balladry of "Chewing Chewing Gum." Singer/guitarist Gruff Rhys's frothy tenor and the band's willingness to try anything once pass for unifying elements in the universe of Super Furry Animals.

-- Ben Auburn

*** Squarepusher BUDAKHAN MINDPHONE (Nothing)

Even as sleek, futuristic images and emotional detachment seem to rule much of electronica, Squarepusher architect Tom Jenkinson produces drum 'n' bass-inflected music with feeling that's expressed through meandering bass lines and halting, shuffled beats. Budakhan Mindphone, a half-hour "mini-album," is no trendy film soundtrack -- it's more of a personal exploration. The bass and drums, which Jenkinson plays live, are manipulated and augmented with electro embellishments and techno beats, and xylophone provides an unusual and appealing addition to the mix; but he still creates a kind of spare intimacy, and an organic roughness that most computer-generated music lacks. Beats fade out and reappear in a different form, the bass passes almost indifferently over notes, dense percussion buzzes and keyboards wail while sampled mini-riffs occupy the spaces between the harder edged sounds. The instrumentation is complex without being messy, liberated yet elegant. The disc falters only under the overpowering keyboard surge at the end of "The Tide"; drowning may be the point here, but it's the breathing room on the rest of the album that gives the musical elements their individual power and collective beauty.

-- Nick Catucci

*** Richard Thompson MOCK TUDOR (Capitol)

"Life is just as deadly as it looks," sings a decidedly grave Richard Thompson two tracks into his fourth album for Capitol. Nothing new there: scornful resignation has been part of this writer's world view ever since Fairport Convention cut his "Tale in Hard Time," in '68. But the combination of vehemence and eloquence that earned him his rep as one of our premier artistes is revitalized on this new studio date.

Mock Tudor is a cut above the guitarist's recent outings because it banks on fierceness. The "mock" of the title is a characteristic barb from the genial guy who frequently writes with a misanthropic cackle. These new tunes loosely deal with his old London stomping ground, but a Muswell Hillbillies nostalgia fest it ain't. In some spots you can see the venom coming a mile away. "Hard on Me" milks that ominous minor chord he uses to vent anger and create guitar pandemonium; "Two-Faced Love" addresses treachery as if it were a routine part of romance. When he explains how the deceitful, the shit-upon, and the willfully ignorant should have seen their fate coming, the singer has only Randy Newman as an equal. Mock Tudor reminds us of Thompson's authority as well-spoken cynic.

-- Jim Macnie

*** Rahsaan Roland Kirk LEFT HOOK, RIGHT CROSS (32 Jazz)

The albums Volunteered Slavery (1969) and Blacknuss (1971) were apparently the most commercially calculated of Kirk's career, but they were also the most radical. Packaged in a double-CD set in 32 Jazz's ongoing Kirk reissue series, they're shouting, exuberant messes. Kirk covers hits of the day (by Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye) alongside jazz standards and originals. The gospel backing choruses, Isaac Hayes-style wah-wahing rhythm guitar, occasional string arrangements, and rattling tambourine underline the soul-music feel. Kirk plays his patented simultaneous one-man horn section (tenor, the soprano-like manzello, and the alto-like stritch) and occasional flute; you also get his attendant sputtering, vocalizing, grunting, and outer-space birdcalls.

All told, it's some of his unprettiest playing, and you could argue that the arrangements are dated and tasteless. He introduces "I Say a Little Prayer" over gospel piano chords, saying, "They shot him down," then launches into the most slamming, "militant" uptempo arrangement of this Bacharach/David confection you're likely to hear. Several tracks were recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival only months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King (and weeks after Robert Kennedy), so you'll know why you're being sucked in despite yourself. On these albums, Kirk is an artist completely immersed in the currents of his time, bursting at the seams with emotion, a mixture of pain and joy that's nothing less than cathartic.

-- Jon Garelick

*** Rachel's SELENOGRAPHY (Quarterstick)

The loveliest albums are often the saddest. Such is the case with Selenography, the fourth full-length from a unusual ensemble of indie-rock types who have chosen to embrace classical chamber music and explore gorgeous plateaux where pop music rarely wanders. "Selenography" is defined as the study of the moon's physical features, and that proves to be an accurate metaphor for the way Rachel's explore musical crags and dark crevices. Their austere music is steeped in a passionate, well-shaped melancholy that would have done Astor Piazzolla proud.

Formed around the core group of pianist Rachel Grimes, guitarist Jason Noble, and violinist Christian Frederickson, Rachel's are this time abetted by members of Shellac, Coctails, Hula Hoop, and two classical orchestras. Although "The Last Light" and "Old Road 60" tear like a stake through the heart, the CD is never hopelessly sullen or monotonous. "Kentucky Nocturne" is buoyed by the lilting sway of Edward Grimes's soft, shifting backbeats; furious harpsichord arpeggios brighten the corners of "Honeysuckle Suite (Sugar Maple -- Elm -- Sweetgum)"; and there are surges of hope when the rest of the ensemble join in behind Rachel Grimes's muted piano on "A French Galleasse."

-- Tristram Lozaw

***1/2 Me'Shell Ndegéocello BITTER (Maverick)

Comparing Me'Shell Ndegéocello to a jazz diva like Cassandra Wilson wouldn't have made much sense a few years ago. But Ndegéocello's latest is a soothing, restrained effort that casts the bassist/singer/songwriter in an entirely different light. The mainstays of her first two albums -- the righteous funk bass, freaky wah-wah guitars, and biting racial commentator -- have disappeared in favor of string arrangements, acoustic guitar, and a hushed romantic mood. And Craig Street, who's produced Cassandra Wilson, handles the duties here; his touches include soaring pedal steel, plush drum tones, and shimmering guitar, and he gives the album a sense of grace that eases Ndegéocello's transformation from avant-funkstress to Adult Alternative. Song titles like "Beautiful," "Loyalty," and "Satisfy" tell you that the tone will be soft and the arrangements spacious and luxurious. As for the album title, it's a misnomer -- even the moody "Wasted Time" (a spellbinding duet with Joe Henry) leaves you with a sweet taste.

-- Michael Endelman

*1/2 Josh Wink PROFOUND SOUNDS VOL. 1 (Ovum/Ruffhouse)

From Jamie Myerson's unlistenable jungle to Sylk 130's acid-jazz whatsis to Wink's own did-anyone-hear HEREHEAR, Ovum is following Breaking and Fundamental onto the heap of lame vanity labels. This mix CD lays yet another ovum. Now that Wink has become a bedroom name (and a label exec), he sings the praises of artist royalties in the liner notes -- which probably has something to do with why his style of mix 'n' match comes across more like a hardened divide 'n' conquer. Not one of the 14 tracks he's unearthed here (including his own untitled exclusive as bait) reproduces the digital orgasms of his great early singles -- "Don't Laugh" or "Higher State of Consciousness." Instead, he gives you the kind of trancy repetition that you shouldn't be ingesting if you're operating heavy machinery. Certain moments (the buzz on Stacey Pullen's "Sweat," or the vocal on Wink's untitled cut) prick up your ears. And Merio's Dubwork-Meets-Kathie-Lee "K-Mart Shopping" certainly benefits from its sample of Shampale Cartier's "I Got a Man" -- one of the finest (and funniest) singles of 1998. But those thrills are so minor that it'd be most unprofound of me to recommend you purchase this CD. Vol. 1, eh?

-- Kevin John

** Arsonists AS THE WORLD BURNS (Matador)

Judiciously resequenced on a weekend college-radio hip-hop show I picked up driving from Rhode Island to Boston, the Arsonists' As the World Burns became dizzy and downright dope. Two lunchroom lyricists taking their mystery-meat heartburn out on each other (while pounding out a beat by hand on plastic trays) gave way to a weird waltz-time throwdown with an intro that played Wu-Tang Clan Orientalism as Jim Carrey slapstick.

But without a DJ providing the editorial slant, this New York crew mostly blow smoke. Their full-length debut brims with enough redundant raps about cutthroats and fakers to fill a week of soap-opera sick days when the Soap Opera Digest version would have sufficed. The equally dispensable "Underground Vandal" squanders the disc's best beat on a track that name-drops every indie rapper in New York in the guest-list tradition of Black Star's "B Boys Will B Boys," Genius's "Labels," and Mary Lou Lord's "His Indie World." The disc has its boy-wonderish moments, as when "Session" sends shifty jazz bass down a dark hallway and discovers a taekwon-flowing MC behind every door. And any time rhyme animal D-Stroy gets near a mike, chest-beating realness yields to pure nutcracking monkey-house lunacy. Wish the crew's cannons got loose like that more often.

-- Alex Pappademas

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