Strangely Arranged: Volume 1

Various Artists
Strangely Arranged: Volume 1

IN HER "CULTURE Zone" column in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, notorious library diva Michiko Kakutani delivers her long-awaited analysis of techno, which she tells us "relies on computers, synthesizers, drum machines and samplers to purvey a cold, distinctly antihumanistic agenda," and is made by "key punchers, not guitar players; deejays and computer geeks, not musicians." Now, since Miss Thang isn't likely to make it down to First Avenue's Jet 77 with a tab on her tongue anytime soon, I think someone should send her a copy of Strangely Arranged: Volume 1 right away. It may help relieve the gas that's kept her awake watching those scary videos on MTV's Amp, and perhaps even strike a welcome chord in her beat-starved soul.

This two-CD compilation of 12-inch moments from Woody McBride's Communique-label family is a surprisingly varied set that should erase their reputation as single-minded hardcore purists. Listen to the salsa-house strains that open the disc on "Theme From Blue Cucaracha," a track credited to the Innocent and Midwest techno-house innovator Derrick Carter, in which the tumbling mutant congas and distorted piano chords jostle electro-bursts in a remarkably warm-sounding dystopia. Disc one accelerates slowly through mid-tempo tracks that show a similar warmth and taste for "natural" sounds--like the way ex-high school basketball hero DJ ESP (a.k.a. McBride) evokes the familiar down-court rubber-on-lacquer bounce on "Sick and Tired" and "Dr. J." There's a surprising amount of humor, too: Mystic Bill's "Is This The Life For Me?" for example, underscores a vocal loop of a stoned soul-searcher with goose-stepping old-school beats and a house-of-horrors organ tone so satiric you feel kinda embarrassed for the track's dancefloor existentialist.

Disc two features more of the singles that have made Communique famous among the local rave hard corps, and admittedly, they don't all work well off the floor. But again, what's remarkable is the warmth of the components. I especially dig the way the Nimbus Quartet mixes a breathy Ben Webster-ish sax phrase and a shower of guitar sparkles over a bumpy 808 track on "Hold On To It," and Chris Sattinger's snappy mix of electro-clatter and what sounds like a Jon Hassel trumpet shard on "Power Spot." By the time the disc begins its wrap-up with the blasting acid trad of "End Game," you've covered so much sonic landscape that even this bit of electro-primitivism sounds nuanced and worthy of close inspection. In sum, it's the best local techno collection to date, and reason to look forward to Volume 2.

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