Ian Brown, Ass Ponys, and Console.

IAN BROWN, Golden Greats (Interscope) In the late '80s, the Stone Roses mixed acid-house rhythms with rock riffs to create a new kind of dance pop. The band and its fellow Mancusians, Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets, incited "Madchester" mania. The Roses had a disappointing career, however, fraught with internecine acrimony and a record company lawsuit. It took them five years to release a follow-up to their earth-shattering debut, and by then, the E-fueled Summer of Love was long over; other techno-savvy pop bands like the Verve and Super Furry Animals came along to pick up the slack. Now Roses frontman Ian Brown has resurfaced in America with an astoundingly good second album, Golden Greats. (His forgettable solo debut, 1998's Unfinished Monkey Business, never found a label in the States.) The new record's title suggests a collection of nostalgic chart-toppers, but these 10 songs shine like freshly minted coins, polished by the mainstream pop sensibilities of engineer Tim Willis (Boyzone) and programmer Dave McCracken (Seal). Brown lays out his blueprint with the first track, a heady brew of Nipponese strings, Zeppelinesque guitar bombast, and massive, boot-stomping beats. The next 50 minutes unspool effortlessly in an update of the Roses' hazy dancefloor rock. Brown specializes in attention-grabbing intros: the off-kilter synth line on "Set My Baby Free," a '60s-style folk-rock ramble anchoring the hypnotic "Golden Gaze." "Free My Way" begins with limpid, lush guitars, then veers into a menacing cello and (in an inspired move) a pure electro beat. Brown's lyrics don't say much. But the man's mission isn't to inspire deep thought; that would only compete with the voluptuous, addictive, all-enveloping sound.—Jackie McCarthy

ASS PONYS, Some Stupid with a Flare Gun (Checkered Past) Remember the kid who stopped nervously to tie his shoe and dropped behind his classmates, afraid that he wouldn't catch up? He soon found himself pleasantly surprised when he didn't care if he never saw any of them again. Little things like that happen often enough, and years later you know a man who is perfectly left of center. Odd. Serious, but funny. Hard to classify. He's got a drummer that he's marching to, a very different drummer indeed. In "Casper's Coming Home," Ass Ponys songwriter/frontman Chuck Cleaver sings over bent, blue guitar notes and perfectly abutted fuzzy solos, "This is disappointment and here's what you can do with it/Punch it in the stomach and blacken both its eyes." In "Your Amazing Life," the words fall quietly next to minor chords and jangly guitar lines: "You've never had a rhyme or reason/A notion or a clue/A duck insisting it's rabbit season/If days are numbered this one's two." In the truly rockin' "X-tra Nipple," Cleaver sings in the loud and strained voice of a lunatic imitating Neil Young, "I'm so fascinated by these special people." If you want to label it alt-country, you'd have to call it No Fucking Depression. If you can't ignore the raw, punk polarization, maybe you will settle on Pretty Punk. Then there's the old fashioned twang derived from Southwestern Ohio, the band's home. . . . Maybe we should just say Countrified Roots Punk and call it a day. No matter how you classify their sound, the Ponys are like the most interesting and independent folks in your life—odd, serious but funny, hard to classify, and perfectly left of center.—Laura Learmonth

CONSOLE, Rocket in the Pocket (Matador) As a member of the Notwist, Germany's finest group of rock-minded futurists, keyboardist/programmer Martin Gretschmann plays the same role as Eno in Roxy Music. He's the rhythm tech-titian, digital theoretician, and general intangible affecting the band's overall sonic appearance—its metallic indie-art-punk. But as Console, adrift on a sea of solo electronics, Gretschmann is all about flimsy and funky electro-minded pop, embracing the second golden age of synth-created bubblegum (the early '80s) as warmly as he accepts the laptop programs that help him shape hooks out of reach for standard instruments. Those hooks are the honeyed narcotics that should have all circuitry-accepting pop fiends swarming toward Rocket in the Pocket like strung-out bees looking for a fix, and have Vince Clark and Bernard Sumner anoint Gretschmann as their natural heir. But this being the age of electronica (read: difficult music), Console's song-candy colors are also framed by highbrow abstracts. Careening claustrophobic beats ingratiate the opening "My Dog Eats Beats" as much as the competing melancholy "chorus" melodies do. The bleeding overload of digitalia and the grimy machine-rhythms of "Gulls Galore," "Delay Dackel," and other tracks contrast with the keyboards' consistent aspiration to catchy, melodic freedoms. And on the electro-pop standout "14 Zero Zero," the album's only vocal track (vocoderized for your protection from German-accented English), Gretschmann emotes a love song from a computer to its user, uniting form and function in what, by all that's right in the world of pop charts and radio playlists, should be the left field hit of the summer.—Peter Orlov

 
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