Archers of Loaf, Deckard, and more.

ARCHERS OF LOAF, Seconds Before the Accident (Alias) This was a great band: tuneful, dissonant, rhythmically propulsive, their roaring anger as often as not roaringly funny and no less powerful for it. And live, they killed, with human spark plug Matt Gentling doing calisthenics over his bass, Eric Johnson's lead guitar spitting out what-was-that? noises, the power forward-sized frontman Eric Bachmann wryly bemoaning his fate and the world's in the middle of it all. But this dispiriting 16-song wrap-up isn't the place to find out. Recorded at their final show at the Cat's Cradle, in the Archers' hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at the end of a tour that they knew would be their last, they give it their all, but it's not quite enough. There's little of the playful fire that marked a good Loaf show, the tempos feel slightly sluggish, and the always bristly sounding Bachmann sounds completely shot: He's game, but the spirit that animated this band seems to have left them. Even classics like "Web in Front" and "Wrong" drag. The last show I saw them perform, in Minneapolis toward the end of the tour, was a lot of fun, and I don't doubt that the show documented here was, too. In this case, though, being there and listening to it later are completely different things.—Michaelangelo Matos

DECKARD, Stereodreamscene (Reprise) Refreshingly diverse in its styles and subject matter, Deckard's first full-length album, Stereodreamscene, recalls that period—from the end of the '80s to the beginning of the '90s—when vocals weren't mightier than Queen Liz and psychedelic, spiraling guitar riffs were sexier than Liz Hurley. In other words, before Travis' Fran Healy began whining about the rain and Oasis revived Beatlemania as part of a nationalist campaign. Composed of three Scotsmen and a Londoner (one can only imagine the piss-taking), Deckard offer everything from swirling pop tunes ("What Reason") to somber love ballads ("Remain This Way") to—go figure—a ballsy psychological study of a pre-op transsexual ("Christine"): "Pure white trash and this inhuman race/ Wouldn't understand and that is no disgrace . . . But I know this is something I just have to do/And nothing makes me smile like a brand new dress." With a sound that's more early Pumpkins than late Suede, chances are the punters in Liverpool won't be coughing up any quid for this. But if you still harbor a soft spot for Northside, Happy Mondays, Charlatans UK, or Ned's Atomic Dustbin, you might want to show these blokes some good ol' American hospitality. —David Massengill

RUSSELL MILLS/UNDARK, Strange Familiar (Instinct) You may not have heard Russell Mills' work before, but chances are you've seen it. He created the paintings on the cover of Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral as well as devising record covers for Brian Eno, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Bill Laswell, among others. Many of Mills' design clients are also his musical collaborators, though his forays into writing and recording have been few and far between. So fans of inventive ambient and electronic music will rejoice at the release of two Mills albums in the span of a few months, both recorded with Undark, his revolving cast of all-star contributors. Mills manipulates found sounds, field recordings, and specially created instrumental samples into rich, dramatic soundscapes. Pearl/Umbra, released in January, included a laundry list of collaborators; its follow-up, Strange Familiar, pares it down to 10. Among that number are no less than four distinctive guitarists—Michael Brook, My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields, U2's the Edge, and the Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie—yet they provide one small part of the atmospheric whole. Sculpting with sound, Mills evokes murky, wordless melodrama one moment and something approaching gothic pop (with help from David Sylvian's mournful vocals) the next. The eight tracks on Strange Familiar avoid ambient's more bloodless New Age tendencies, opting instead for the eerie pull of what Mills describes as "ghost cellos" and "select-a-bonk rhythm," not to mention misty blues shouts ("Rain in Our Room"). The title of the album—and of songs like "Stone's Eggs" (a shimmering, John McEntire-esque number) and "Blood Is Climbing" (a spacey, surging drone)— suggest the tensions at play. Mills seems to carry his tape player to unusual places, emerging with something warm and comfortable yet oddly foreign and new, as if he's serving you a cup of tea in the middle of a lunar landing. Here's hoping he

doesn't wait another four years before unleashing more strange, familiar music.—Jackie McCarthy

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Frikyiwa, Collection 1 (Six Degrees) Twenty-first century world fusion in action, the nine tracks gathered on Frikyiwa recontextualize traditional West African music (predominantly from Mali) as boffo modern grooves. The DJs/producers behind the remixing handiwork are expert at finding a cultural common ground—which just happens to be a disco. Frightened that this evokes the sort of bland multiculturalism that's spawned overproduced Youssou N'Dour records? Lay aside your apprehension. French world/house DJ Frederic Galliano handpicked recordings from the vaults of Paris-based Cobalt Records for Frikyiwa, and it's a grooving mess. It works because his chosen remixers don't attempt to fit all the source pegs into any single genre hole. Thus the Natty Bass Sound System remake Djigui's "Ladilikan" as tripped-out, reverb-drenched, voice-loop dub reggae. Aqua Bassino reimagines female vocalist Nahawa Doumbia's "Yankaw" as a deep house anthem—percussion, background singers, and funk guitar intact, new keyboards and bass drum whomps burning brightly underneath. And DJ Spider's reworking of Ibrahim Hamma Dicko's "Sida" is a left-field polyrhythmic extravaganza, bells and hand drums weaving around reed and keyboard licks, creating a trancelike effect that would make even Goa revelers lose consciousness. It's a one-world dance floor in the making, mindless hippie sentiment not included.—Peter Orlov

 
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