This week's album releases

M J COLE | Sincere UP, BUSTLE & OUT | Rebel Radio Master Sessions 1 MIRANDA SEX GARDEN | Carnival of Souls
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The Independent Culture

M J COLE | Sincere (Talkin' Loud)

M J COLE | Sincere (Talkin' Loud)

Now that Artful Dodger, Craig David et al have made it into the top 10, the term "underground garage" has become an oxymoron, and the scene has clearly branched out from its London roots. The UK garage scene will have to wait and see whether it can sustain the interest, whether singles sales can be translated into album sales, and whether it can be done without losing sight of its origins. Many people are expecting to find out on the release of the debut album by 26-year-old M J Cole. A classically-trained musician, Cole spent the first half of the 1990s as an engineer at drum'n'bass label SOUR. Perfectly placed, then, to witness the moment when the debut albums by Goldie and Reprazent took drum'n'bass (of which two step is essentially a slowed-down version) overground. In common with those two albums, Sincere fuses a variety of styles with the sound of the underground - in this case, there's funk, r'n'b, house, a string quartet and a variety of vocal styles. Rapper Danny Vicious adds the flavour of pirate radio and "does his t'ing" on "Bandelero Desperado" and "M J FM", but it's Elisabeth Troy who provides most of the vocals. She sings like a true diva on recent hit "Crazy Love", in a more reflective mood on the downbeat "I See", and, best of all, all sassy attitude on "Attitude" which, with its "Put your hand on your hips" refrain, tight percussion and staccato strings is a guaranteed dance floor hit. Sincere isn't going to please everyone all of the time, but it's eclectic, ideally suited to both the dance floor and the home, summery, fresh and, above all, highly musical. LP

UP, BUSTLE & OUT | Rebel Radio Master Sessions 1 (Ninja Tune)

In 1997, Bristol-based beatmakers Up, Bustle & Out released a single to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Che Guevara's death, donating the proceeds to Radio Rebelde, the radio station he founded. In return, they were invited to Cuba to make a record with Richard Egues (who's billed as Cuba's number one flautist) and his rhythm section. The result is this multimedia project - the CD includes a CD-Rom with three short films, and there's a book out too - of which the best bit by far is the music. Breakbeats and drum'n'bass mingle with Cuban rhythms while British sampling technology gets to grips with traditional instruments and fragments of rousing communist rhetoric. It's a credit to both parties that the fusion is not just successful, but fresh and fun too. LP

MIRANDA SEX GARDEN | Carnival of Souls (Sugar Daddy)

The one-time cult darlings have abandoned previous incarnations as trilling soprano threesome and weird goth-bondage outfit, and Carnival of Souls, their first album for four years, is the better for it. This is a far more coherent and accessible album than its predecessors. Lead singer Katharine Blake's voice has matured too, soaring soprano histrionics giving way to sexy jazz-influenced vocals, sometimes warm and lilting, at others cool to the point of iciness. Musically, the band's pounding rhythm section, ringing guitar, keening organ and demented violin are less frenzied, lusher, and Gothic rather than goth. Miranda's songwriting has improved too - all the tracks bar one are band compositions with lyrics by Blake. An excellent album - sophisticated and musically informed. AF

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