Pop: ...And Other Album Releases

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The Independent Culture



THIS DEBUT from the south London house duo Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe has already been tipped as the dance album of the year, and with good reason. Forged in the heat of frantic basement parties (hence their name), they effectively take, in Remedy, the past 10 or 15 years of dance music and mash them into one glorious, non-stop romp. It's a fantastic, eclectic journey - one moment you're being pummelled by a Daft Punk-style loping vocoder groove, the next you're powerless to resist a techno-ragga strut lacerated with high-pitched synth slashes and pumped along by a definitively phat bassline. Then, in quick succession, there's a slap-bass'n' bleep house anthem, a trancey diva-soul outing, and - pausing only for DJ Sneak to announce himself as "The Mad Skunk-Burner" - a freakish, military-ragga- funk-stomp groove that's the musical equivalent of a Mir canvas, with a multitude of tiny little sounds hanging in perfect equilibrium. And we haven't even reached the bluebeat-samba track yet... Stuffed with potential hits, Remedy is a brash testament to the rude health of the British house scene, with the accent firmly on rude.


The Soft Bulletin


IF YOU didn't know that Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue used to be in The Flaming Lips, the merest acquaintance with The Soft Bulletin would tell you as much. Like Deserter's Songs, this charming, eccentric album finds one of America's more left-field bands moving towards the mainstream with a mixture of fragile, whiney vocals and euphoric, string-drenched arrangements. As with most recent decent US pop - the Rev, Beck, Smog, Olivia Tremor Control - their music perches on the cusp of naivete and sophistication, with leading Lip Wayne Coyne's whimsical songs about insects, Superman and scientific discovery positively glowing with new-pioneer wonder. "The light shining all around you," he sings at one point, "is it chemically derived?" The answer, of course, is: quite probably - as on previous albums, the feel is trippy and surreal. The only drawback is the obstreperous nature of Steven Drozd's drumming, more suited to heavy rock than wispy psychedelia; but in "Feeling Yourself Disintegrating" and the elegiac instrumentals "The Observer" and "Sleeping on the Roof", they've produced music as beautiful as any this year.


Sister & Brother


MELKY AND Sedeck are sister and brother respectively of The Fugees' Wyclef Jean, and it's no surprise to find this debut album offering a similar blend of lightly swaggering breakbeat grooves, distinctive vocals, the occasional rap, and a selection of well-turned samples. It's to their credit, however, that the latter are less familiar than the brazen soul classics favoured by their big brother's band: the violin filigree in "Mi Amor", for instance, whisks the track to a classically-attuned region of the music spectrum more in keeping with Sedeck's training. This is one of the group's main points of interest, although his concert-pianist exhibitionism does spoil a few tracks, particularly "Raw" - a song concerned, ironically enough, with attempting to cut through distractions to the raw experience. The same song provides the best showcase for the group's other element of interest, Melky's vocals, which are soul-diva powerful but mercifully light on the pointless embellishment that habitually afflicts that style: her emotionally-charged cover of "To Sir With Love" manages to evoke schoolgirl infatuation without clambering unnecessarily up and down the scale for each syllable.




SWING IS the sound-track to Lisa Stansfield's movie debut, an allegedly "heart-warming, triumphant story" of lovable Scousers surmounting obstacles in their quest to form a swing band. A cross between The Commitments and Little Voice, then, except that, unlike Jane Horrocks, Stansfield isn't imitating specific vocalists so much as a generic style of music. You'd think that would allow her to put her own distinctive spin on the material, but her versions of standards such as "Ain't What You Do" and "Mack the Knife" seem oddly characterless - the kind of thing you might expect from a docu-soap singing "discovery", but barely adequate as a professional outing.

In several cases, the vocal seems so understated that it wilts in the forceful presence of the arrangements - the band do their best to approximate the ribald jocularity of Louis Jordan on "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens", for instance, but Stansfield hardly raises a chuckle with her delivery.

She fares a little better on her own material, but Georgie Fame's assured performance on a couple of cuts suggests that this type of music is more native for some singers than for others.