Culture To Go

LabCabinCalifornia

Capitol

Have you ever praised a band for going against the tough-guy grain and showing a love song-ish vulnerability, only to have a friend say, "you moron, he's singing about pot"? Well, before I give props to the Pharcyde, I'll tell you that while it's not lost on me that its members stay way up, their lyrics amble refreshingly down a variety of confessional and introspective paths.

Since their 1992 debut, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, these mellow audio-geeks have chosen to evade categorization à la De La Soul, circumscribing street realities and mining their weaknesses for all its wickedness. Like Posdenous, they are complicated, coming out of the L.A. dance scene with both urban foundations and brash suburban aspirations; they have custom-blended, textured tracks, as well as honest accounts of self-evolution and devout worship of the buddah (and I don't mean the fat guy). Accorded much respect among the Beasties crowd, they came last time round with an R&B overhang style that improved on laid-back west-coasting by replacing spare, snaking keyboard lines with jazz samples and multi-room atmospherics. On the new record, they score with cuts like "Runnin Away," a clever sermon on facing adversity delivered over one of the most satisfying instrumental lays of the year--hard-panned scratches over rich, percussive Latin piano and throb, woven through with smoky sax. Spice that with a '70s soul-style chorus and background vocals, and LabCabinCalifornia qualifies as a bizarre ride too. (Laura Sinagra)

Ann Magnuson

The Luv Show

Geffen

As someone who appeared with Richard Lewis and Jamie Lee Curtis in the benign world of sitcoms (on Anything But Love) and simultaneously fronted the artsy downtown NYC duo Bongwater (with Shimmy Disc producer/musician Kramer), Ann Magnuson has always been difficult to pinpoint artistically. But no matter if she's a mainstream Hollywood bit player, an off-Broadway star, an East Village monologist, or an alterna-rock diva, Magnuson is foremost a Performer (with a capital P). Not surprisingly, then, her major-label solo debut, The Luv Show, plays less like a pop album than an over-the-top Performance piece.

The album's song cycle is a modern-day odyssey in two acts that charts a familiar journey. Little Miss No Name heads west for fame and fortune, lands in the Hollywood inferno, mixes with the wrong crowd (and likes it), becomes the hot tart Miss Pussy Pants, star of her own TV show, gets lost in the So-Cal glaze, takes a career nosedive, and ends up with a lounge act on the Sunset Strip. Like a more polished and accessible take on Bongwater's pop-culture circus, The Luv Show shifts between grand psychedelia ("This Nothing Life"), surreal Latinesque ("Sex With the Devil"), bottom-heavy punk ("Miss Pussy Pants"), ghostly lullaby ("Live, You Vixen!"), and twisted torch song ("Some Kind of Swinger") with all the kitschy melodrama of a Valley of the Dolls musical done in a dinner theater. Funny, yet too smart to play solely for laughs, The Luv Show both toasts and roasts L.A. with all the speed, sex, and psychosis of a overdriven B-movie: It's good enough to make you think it's so bad it's good. (Roni Sarig)

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