Record Roundup

Freakwater also bypass mainstream country's lyrical tripe. Freed from obsessions with sin, family duty, and working class authenticity, these women can raise their voices to express undistilled emotions without excess baggage. The first line of the album announces that these sad stories are not going to be sad in any of the clichéd ways: "I wasn't drinking to forget/I was drinking to remember/How I once might have looked through the eyes of a stranger." Where country sung by women typically revolves around their hopeless wishes for a faithful man or a stable family life, Freakwater's songs give the women involved full agency; their longing, their sadness, their bitter humor, their waitress work, is theirs, beholden to no one.

But the pleasures of this music don't come from feminist politics; they come from the singing. Whether it's in the swelling harmony on "Gone to Stay," the ethereal call and response to "Smoking Daddy," or lovely, understated covers of Woody Guthrie and Dorsey Burnette, these women do celebrate tradition. When they sing "There's nothing so pure as the kindness of an atheist" they aren't being provocative. They're trying to say that the joy and kindness and sorrow in the world can be celebrated for their own sakes, not because those things serve any higher power. (Stephen Tignor)

various artists

Funkmaster Flex Presents the Mix Tape Volume 1: 60 Minutes of Funk

Loud/RCA

MIX TAPE DJs are to rappers as curators are to painters. That is, while rappers create original works (their songs), DJs decide which works to present, where, and how (on their tapes). There's an art to the mix tape, both conceptual and technical. DJs craft their tapes into a cohesive and unified whole, where scratches, dubs, and overlays link the best moments of the best songs in the best order to make a nonstop hip-hop odyssey. A great mix tape will be three things at once: A greatest hits compilation of the finest new and old hip-hop, a rarities bootleg with unreleased tracks from top artists, and a live album that captures the spirit of a hopping house party.

Until now, mix tapes were sold on the streets for about $10 a pop--a bargain considering most rap records run at least $15 and contain mostly filler. With 60 Minutes of Funk, the first-ever major-label mix tape, RCA plays "if you can't beat 'em join 'em" and capitalizes on superior distribution to offer the joys of mix tapes to people outside the inner cities. The "tape" (available on CD), done in one continuous take by popular New York DJ Funkmaster Flex, weaves together classic tracks (LL Cool J's "Rock the Bells," A Tribe Called Quest's "Award Tour") with in-studio freestyles (Fugees, Method Man, Keith Murray) and other hip-hop miscellany (DJ Kool's "20 Minute Workout," KRS-One's "Speech"), and ties it all together with Flex's own cut-ups and shout-outs. By including only the most relentless beats and craziest rhymes, Flex makes hip-hop that's all about having a party, the way it's rarely heard these days, but the way it was always meant to be. (Sarig)

Mekons/Kathy Acker

Pussy, King of the Pirates

Quarterstick/Touch & Go

A MATCH MADE in avant-pop heaven: Kathy Acker, lesbian punk heiress to William Burroughs's edge-of-humanity literature, together with the Mekons, eclectic punk survivors and underground music gods/goddesses. In a musical/literary pairing that easily beats the Burroughs/Cobain collab a few years back, Acker and the Mekons meet to produce what must be the first-ever soundtrack to a novel. Pussy, King of the Pirates is an aural companion to Acker's latest written work of the same name, a typically brutal journey into a wonderland of oblivion where the real and imagined intermingle freely, and horror and obscenity live side by side with childhood fantasy and adventure.

Though the record might make a bit more sense after reading the book, the Mekons do an exceptional job conjuring musically what Acker attempts in words. Acker reads book excerpts to introduce each of Pussy's seven songs, which echo the writer's disjointed and cacophonous collage style by mixing samples from pirate radio ("Ange's Song As She Crawled Through London"), dub reggae ("The Song of the Dogs"), lesbian pirate shanties ("Ostracism's Song to Pussycat"), industrial noise ("Intro the Strange"), and disco synth pop ("Antigone Speaking of Herself"). Acker brings out the Mekons' savage female side--with vocalist Jon Langford taking a back seat to Sally Timms's singing and Susie Honeyman's shrill fiddle--while the Mekons bring Acker's lyrics into a new sensual realm without compromising the power of her naked words. (Sarig)

Local ShotsBalloon Guy

The West Coast Shakes

Warner Bros./Generator

"YOU NEVER EXPECTED this from a welterweight!" cries Matt Olson in the very first moment of The West Coast Shakes, after which Balloon Guy erupts into a stop-start barrage of jagged, controlled noise. Olson's right--you probably don't expect this 14-song tour de force from a 3-year-old band that is still best known for the hyped major-label race to sign them. But Balloon Guy has spent its existence as the closet-intellectual, shut-in ironicists of local rock. They'll fuck with your mind by hinting at more secrets than they actually reveal, which is half the pleasure of dissecting the band. Peel the layers away from BG's stream-of-consciousness white noise, and the potential for interpretation--and misinterpretation--is staggering. And guess what: That's the point.

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