Fiona Apple, Camper Van Chadbourne, and more.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Tropicalia Essentials (Hip-O) A radical imbalance exists between the amount of press given Brazil's late-'60s Tropicalia movement of late and the amount of this music readily available for the casual record-buyer. Aside from last spring's superb Os Mutantes reissues, most of that Bahia-based avant-garde art and music movement's records are easiest to find as part of Polygram Brazil's Tropicalia, an import-only five-CD box set—hardly the most inviting of options for non-record geeks interested in some of the lushest psychedelic pop ever made. So at the very least, this simple, 48-minute highlight reel serves a righteous function. What's more important is that Tropicalia Essentials is also an unceasing delight. Forget about historical significance—the reason people venerate this stuff is that it sounds so good. You don't need to place the likes of Gilberto Gil's traditional northern Brazilian music send-up "Bat Macumba" or Caetano Veloso/Os Mutantes' anticensorship rant "E Prohibido Prohibir" in any context whatsoever to go around humming them for days. And you needn't know jack about either the avant-garde or the Portuguese language to be slayed by Gal Costa's "Nao Identificado." What compilations are for. —Michaelangelo Matos

CAMPER VAN CHADBOURNE, Used Record Pile/Revenge of . . . (Knitting Factory) The last time avant-garde folk-rock weirdo Eugene Chadbourne toured through the Northwest, he pissed all over my friend Jay's bathroom in Portland, and this after Jay had offered the wayward artist a place to sleep. Telling me about it the next day, Jay still seemed charmed by Chadbourne. I could relate; my first experience with the banjo-pickin', off-key singin' troubadour came when I heard his collaboration with my then-favorite band, Camper Van Beethoven, which at first struck me as something far more caustic than urine. Yet the songs grew on me: the blustery duet with Camper Van's David Lowery on a non-prog rock version of King Crimson's "I Talk to the Wind," the hillbilly klezmer of "Boy with the Coins." Years later, I'd moved a dozen times, and I must have lost the Camper Van Chadbourne record somewhere near Atlanta, and yet to this day the warbling melody to the anti-redneck ballad "Fayettenam" will sneak into my head at inopportune moments. Fortunately, a new collection of the makeshift band's 1987-1991 recordings, Used Record Pile, includes this and other twisted tunes. And a subsequent release, Revenge of Camper Van Chadbourne, captures the two-night stand that Chadbourne and two ex-Camper Vanners, violinist Jonathan Segel and bassist Victor Krummenacher, played at the Knitting Factory in May 1999. Mostly acoustic, it's less abrasive even at its most atonal. The ultrasarcastic humor still prevails, as on the anti-armed forces rant "Optical Illusion," the first, and hopefully only, song to rhyme "NATO" with "tomato."—Richard A. Martin

FIONA APPLE, When the Pawn . . . (Epic) Fiona Apple has always been too skinny, successful, and altogether bratty to make her mournful lover act believable. But on her debut, Apple's voice of old blues and warm honey allowed her to stand out from similarly inclined "angry woman" rock divas. Now 21, Apple gives her second album a 90-word title from her poetry—just the kind of pretension that could erase the gains made after her auspicious entry. When the Pawn . . . starts off like Tidal, with its swelling piano, drawn-out lyrics, and self-pitying stance. But then it breaks from convention with neck-cracking speed. While the songs haven't really deviated from her favorite topics—love and herself—she changes tempo and style with ease. From the spaced-out "Mistake" to the pumped-and-pissed "Get Gone," Apple deftly veers between poetry slam and seedy piano lounge. Beats and words mesh with careful precision, even when she reverts to the pouty ingenue on "Limp": "You make me sick/You want to lick my . . . wounds, don't you baby?" —Rachel Larris

 
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