Pop music: Album round-up

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Brassic Beats Vol 3

(Skint BRASSIC6CD)

A fundamentalist loony lays it on the line to Skint supremo Damian Harris on the opening track of this third compilation from the Brighton- based big-beat groove outlet, "Devil In Sports Casual": "Damian, the omen, you're the devil," he splutters with scary conviction. "Your music, rock'n'roll, is a satanic music - you make the music go back, you hear Satan speaking". Not on my hi-fi, you don't. What you hear is a zonking great beat, a lumbering, gated bassline and a few squeaks of sampled noise, with the aforementioned fundamentalist ground up among the track's gears. Harris at one point runs the vocal backwards, and it doesn't sound like Satan at all, just a great rock'n'roll record.

Harris has done a squillion-dollar deal with Sony giving the corporation distribution rights over future Skint products, and it's easy to understand why. Brassic Beats Vol. 3 is liberally sprinkled with the likes of Bentley Rhythm Ace, Fatboy Slim, Dr Bone and the Lo-Fidelity Allstars, and it's as consistently entertaining and intriguing a collection of big-beat cuts as exists this side of a Chemical Brothers album. The formula is fairly standard throughout - a breakbeat, a few phrases of synthesiser, a guitar or organ sample, and a vocal sample, all poured into a sampler, whizzed around a few effects units, and poured out through a mixing desk - but it allows for an infinite range of possibilities. Virtually the only common denominator is the abundant good humour the tracks share.

DAWN OF THE

REPLICANTS One Head, Two Arms, Two Legs

(Eastwest 0630-19600-2)

With their imponderable nonsense lyrics and eclectic lo-fi sound, Dawn of the Replicants have already drawn comparisons with Super Furry Animals and the late, lamented Pixies, though the songs on this disc seem far less polished than either of those bands' outputs.

Indeed, the overall impression is of a band with more ideas than they know what to do with. The best tracks are those on which a little atmospheric polish is allowed to buff the basic idea to a pleasing pop lustre, such as the lovely "Candlefire" and "Mary Louise", which blossoms with a beautiful shimmer of Beach Boys harmonies that belie the studied lo-fi style.

PILLS Electrocaine

(Mercury 536 650-2)

Another French techno outfit, Pills would probably like to be the Prodigy. Anthony Sandor is the band's Liam Howlett, crafting sharp, punchy electro backdrops, but there's not an awful lot happening on the surface. The biggest difference between Pills and most British techno crews is the paucity of imagination: there's so little variation in Sandor's formula of tubular acid synth squelches and monotonously pounding drum tracks that it's impossible to tell most of these tracks apart.

Loose: New Sounds

of the Old West

(Vinyl Junkie/Rykodisc VJCD004)

That most conservative of collective bodies, the American record-buying public, doesn't seem to have realised it yet, but much of the best music currently emanating from the US falls into what could be loosely categorised as the "new country", or "sadcore" genre. Corralling several of the genre's ornery steers on to one CD, this compilation gives a good impression of the breadth and diversity of the style, despite not including such obvious candidates as Will "Palace" Oldham, Jim White or Bill "Smog" Callaghan, three of the genre's prime movers.

In their absence, Lambchop is probably the best-known act here: the band's oddly elegiac "The Petrified Florist" is indicative of the slightly warped approach of many new country artists, compared with the thoroughgoing traditionalism of the mainstream. You wouldn't find Garth Brooks, for instance, writing a song quite as nonsensical as Giant Sand's "Lester Lampshade" (about a lampshade called Lester - presumably an associate of Byron The Bulb in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow). Nor, for that matter, would too many big-hat acts try their hand at the weatherbeaten white blues of the Gourds, who bring "All the Labor" to vivid life with mandolin, accordion and hillbilly harmonies.

Not all of Loose is as good as these - there's a surfeit of the doped desultoriness - but between the funfair rock'n'roll of the Bonnevilles' "Tilt-A-Whirl" and the oddball ennui of the Handsome Family's "Moving Furniture Around", there's evidence aplenty of an upsurge of imagination in the American heartland. About time, too.

TERRY CALLIER

Timepeace

(Talkin Loud 539 249-2)

This comeback offering from Seventies soul-jazzer Terry Callier starts beautifully, with the weary fervour of "Ride Suite Ride", a subdued, organ- driven gospel-folk number that effortlessly conjures up memories of the Civil Rights "freedom riders", and "Lazarus Man", a dramatic recasting of the Lazarus myth set to Indian rain-stick percussion and gently rolling acoustic guitars. But ultimately, the album runs out of steam somewhere around the half-way point.

It's probably a matter of personal taste: for those first few songs, Callier operates in a kind of folk-soul style, vaguely reminiscent of Richie Havens, but with cleaner, more precise inflection; thereafter, jazz exerts a greater pull on the material, which slides inexorably in the direction of Radio Two.

The guitar and saxophone solos - even that of Pharoah Sanders on the title track - are neat, buttoned-down and utterly lacking in fire, and Callier's mild liberalism is entirely unsuited to the task of castigating gangstas on "Traitor to the Race". However much one may agree with his sentiments, it would be hard to devise a more accurate musical representation of social impotence.

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