Scottish pop from bis, gnarly noise from Bill Rieflin, and more . . .

Bis Social Dancing (Grand Royal/Capitol) No one ever expected this Pop Tar-fueled trio to be Scotland's second most noticed '90s export (see also: Trainspotting), much less to see them ride shotgun with the Beasties and boost glitter sales to Bowie-era heights. Manda Rin, Sci-Fi Steven, and John Disco appeared in Spin when they should have remained on 'zine covers. They danced up a storm when they should have been depressed about new zits. But where bis once squeaked out the benefits of its "Teen-C Power" doctrine (for once making it cool and mysterious to be under 21), this album finds the apple-cheeked threesome in its twilight years: the twenties. This means an obligatory string section ("Theme from Tokyo"); a mishmash of prickly synth-pop for people who think Sleater-Kinney's gotten too big ("I'm a Slut," "Shopaholic"); and actual singing from three kids who used to bark out lyrics like three Chihuahuas trained to speak by the Rentals. Thankfully, it's not mature by any stretch of the imagination. Bis seems to have a new obsession in the form of '80s dance tunes—odd, since the three were only about 10 years old in the era of Bananarama. In the club track "Eurodisco," Manda comes off like Toni Basil doing a Lush cover. It's not necessarily as fun as bis, uh, oldies like "Kill Yr Boyfriend," but these hipster feminists are still light-years ahead of their Play Station-obsessed peers.—Kristy Ojala

Bill Rieflin Birth of a Giant (FWD) Ministry's latest release, The Dark Side of the Spoon, hasn't exactly been flying off the shelves, due to both waning interest in the once-mighty industrial behemoths and an un-K-mart friendly series of cover photos depicting a hideously fat, entirely nude woman. It may sound harsh to say this, but the decline of Ministry is actually a good thing. The downtime has allowed drummer Bill Rieflin to slip under the radar and record a little indie project called Birth of a Giant. OK, so it's not a radical departure from the familiar dour thuds that we expect out of guys who make gnarly noise for a living, but it shows off more of a Depeche Mode influence than you'd expect. Rieflin's singing on "Open Mouth" is an eerie ringer for David Gahan; it's a sultry moan that encapsulates emotional breakdown and passive-aggressive moroseness in one fell swoop. Occasionally, it's even fun, as on the slinky Barry Adamson-like "Spy Thriller" and the instrumental dosage of "Secret Caf鮢 Among others helping out on the album are the prolific Chris Connelly (Revolting Cocks) and the even more prolific Robert Fripp (King Crimson). The latter contributes his time-tested question-mark guitar work and spreads it all over Rieflin's louder-than-ever drums. Forget the art rock that steeps itself in strings near the end of Giant, because it's all about the beat.—Jason Josephes

Various Artists Unknownwerks: Volume 01 (Astralwerks) As one of the only non-underground labels dedicated to electronic music, it's fitting that Astralwerks release a compilation that showcases up-and-coming artists. Unknownwerks: Volume 01 is the first foray into the new and unknown; but if you hear the future as Astralwerks does, it sounds a lot like 1995. Though the collection includes artists from different cities—the "new crop of American electronic artists from around the country," as the subtitle puts it—the sound is either pure West Coast breaks or southern Florida breakbeat, styles that saw their peak three or four years ago. The label has chosen artists modeled after the Crystal Method and Rabbit in the Moon, two bands who are considered the American equivalent to the Chemical Brothers, (a.k.a. Astralwerks' golden egg). That said, the music's not terrible, but neither is it groundbreaking. Straight from the lair of Queens, Beat Pharmacy offers up standard big beat. Costa Mesa crew SJP turns in a quality, if simple, funky breakbeat tune. The only drum and bass representative is Bionic, whose "Ultra Blue" owes more to LTJ Bukem than, say, DJ Krust. Two of the best tracks come from Metrodub and Atnarko Bear. Metrodub opens the CD with "Cut Up Music"—with dreamy synth washes, mid-tempo breaks, and smart samples. Atnarko Bear takes it a step further: Electro beats morph into an epic breakbeat record, with twisted samples, acid lines courtesy of the 303, and one of those monumental drum rolls. Can you guess which state these two breakbeat practitioners are from? Florida, of course.—Tricia Romano

Trailer Bride Whine de Lune (Bloodshot) Forget the frozen snails and puppydog tails. Give me the hard-bitten moxie of Polly Harvey and the slow-burning twang of Lucinda Williams, and three guys to stand up straight. That's Chapel Hill, North Carolina, foursome Trailer Bride, really the ultimate backwoods front for singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Melissa Swingle. With a hillbilly jitterbug voice that slurs as thick as molasses and an armory of stage toys, Swingle's status is elevated another notch still on this, Trailer Bride's third record (and second for Bloodshot). From the harmonica-driven opener "Work on the Railroad," Swingle takes us through banjo slow-waltzes ("Crazy Love"), mandolin-inspired Irish twists ("Too Many Snakes"), and a lovely title song that her saw-playing turns into a spooky Munsters-like number. Swingle can put on a poker face, writing about the after-hours dancer at the "Clermont Hotel" who's "trying to fight the blues," and uncovering the gem of a melody on "Sapphire Jewel," a simple pop song built around the important things in life. "A Song For Emily" is as good as (Johnny) Cash, and here's wishing Lightnin' Hopkins could come back just to cover "Left-Hand Cigarette Blues." Whine de Lune's cr譥 de la cr譥? "Dirt Nap," in which Swingle follows a clean guitar riff straight into the barrels of gospel, singing of her desire to "Take a dirt nap/'Til Jesus comes for me." But then Swingle gets up, dusts herself off, and proves again why she is Trailer Bride.—Scott Holter

 
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