Odds and Ends

A roundup of unusual sounds

So many records, so little time--for you and me both. That's why this semi-regular feature will attempt to ferret out worthwhile new albums that we wouldn't necessarily get to otherwise. Enjoy. We did.

No points for guessing where a band named for a highlight of Public Image Ltd.'s Second Edition is coming from musically. On Gotham (Gern Blandsten), New York quartet Radio 4 run through every trick in the post-punk bag: Gang of Four guitar splinters ("Our Town"), conga-led punk-funk ("Struggle"), and spiky dub ("Pipe Bombs"), all with politically tinged lyrics. Impressive they are at it, too, though they're less convincing trying to get us up, into it, involved: "The new recruits will be around forever," boast vocalists Anthony Roman and Tommy Williams on "Calling All Enthusiasts." Maybe, guys--we shall see.

Even less believable is hearing singer Sir Adamsmasher promise on Heatstroke (Six Degrees), the new album by Hawke, that "Party people are gonna change the world!" Oh no they're not. But they'll have some fun trying. Hawke is the alias of head-feeding beatmaster Gavin Hardkiss, and he delivers San Francisco treats with the eerie buzzing vocals of "Sticky Trumpets" and the gym whistle-turned-tripped-out disco call on the truthfully advertised "Pacificodelic." Hardkiss isn't much good at picking vocalists (hello, Joe B...and goodbye), but as the title indicates, his arrangements are generally dizzying enough to compensate. And he's got a droll side: The dry Mexicali horns of "Le Le Lengwe" add sardonic flavor to its paint-by-numbers tribal-house arrangement.

Such sonic adventure wouldn't make the composers of Indian film music blink. Churning out songs for the hundreds of musicals that appear every year, these music teams run through more styles per minute than even the headiest mixmaster can countenance. So you might want to sample The Very Best Bollywood Songs II (Outcaste) and The Rough Guide to Bollywood (World Music Network) selectively. This stuff can make even jaded eardrums do backflips. Very Best, whose selections range from 1949 to the present, is wilder than the other collection, with bushy-tailed beats and wigged-out strings springing from every crevice. On "Zindagi Ek Safar," baritone Kishore Kumar even yodels. The Rough Guide is neater both sonically (fewer violin sections) and organizationally (it begins in the Seventies and is chronologically ordered). It's also more tuneful: You'd likely find yourself walking around all day humming, say, Asha Bhonsle and Rahul Dev Burman's "Piya Tu Ab To Aaja" if it weren't followed by Kumar's equally catchy "Pyar Diwana Hota Hai." Both discs peak with the same song, "Yeh Dosti Hum Nahin." This theme from 1975's Sholay is a sound clash between corn-fed Oklahoma! strings, Ma and Pa Kettle banjo plucking, and vocals by Mohammed Rafi (he of "Jaan Pehechaan Ho" fame, a.k.a. "that song from the Ghost World soundtrack"). Two testaments to crass commercialization at its most delicious.

Then there's the fun to be had in limiting your options just to see what happens. That's the concept behind Jel's 10 Seconds (Mush), the undie-hop beat maestro's tribute to the SP1200 sampler, whose storage capacity is...well, guess. Armed only with that instrument, Jel creates a likeably blue-lit atmosphere around simple, hypnotic elements: the chime loops on "12. Multi Level"; the zinging, vaguely Eastern guitar and tuned drums on "...Ears"; the handbells and feedback on "Subsong." Best in show is "17. Channel Assign," whose windswept percussion is simultaneously relaxed and headlong. Listening is like watching the trees whip by in the window of a steady-rolling Eurail car.

The anonymous members of Detroit electro duo Drexciya aren't so landlocked, taking their name and preoccupations with aquatic life from an Afrocentric twist on Atlantean mythology. (Drexciyans are said to be the descendants of pregnant women thrown overboard from slave ships; they were birthed underwater and live on liquid oxygen.) Harnessed the Storm (Tresor) extends their saga, with the sonar blips and fathoms-deep sub-bass of "Soul of the Sea" and the cresting, alternately ringing and muted keyboards of "Song of the Green Whale" contributing to the effect. The textures don't ripple as tidally as on Neptune's Lair, nor do the beats dunk as hard. You could say they drown in their own pretension. But, for these Afronauts, that's a compliment.

 
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