Kiki & Herb Will Die for You

Also: The Chemical Brothers and Playgroup.

KIKI & HERB

Kiki & Herb Will Die for You

(Evolver)

Live albums always lose at least a little something in the translation—not just the physical presence of the performers, but of the audience as well. That's especially true of Kiki & Herb, the scabrously funny New York performance-art cabaret act who performed what they billed as their final shows last September at Carnegie Hall, only a couple weeks after appearing at Bumbershoot—which happened three months after they performed for On the Boards' 25th anniversary. In a sense, the duo called it quits just as their Seattle fan base was getting its feet wet, which makes Kiki & Herb Will Die for You, a double-CD recording of the Carnegie Hall shows, all the sweeter. Sure, you don't get to see Kiki (Justin Bond) pouring herself drink upon drink while declaring, "When Herb and I use the word retard, it's sort of like when black people use the word nigga," or watch Herb (Kenny Mellman) grinning like a damned idiot while keeping the music flowing from tinkly (Stevie Nicks' torchy "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You") to ferocious (an amazing extension of Suicidal Tendencies' thrash-punk standard "Institutionalized," as well as the dizzying "Revolution Medley," which encompasses Gil Scott-Heron, Wu-Tang Clan, Eminem, and Talking Heads). But for the most part, the absurdity of the show translates just fine to the audio-only realm—turns out the two-and-a-half-hour stage show's pacing holds you even minus the visuals. Really, you haven't lived till you've heard a sozzled drag queen crooning, "Wu-Tang, motherfucker"—or turning the Mountain Goats' harrowing "No Children" ("I hope I lie/And tell everyone you were a good wife/ And I hope you die/I hope we both die") into an almost sweet-tempered duet with her long-suffering sidekick. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS

Push the Button

(Astralwerks)

If you're still on a major label and were ever considered "electronica," now is probably the time to put out feelers to healthier genres—clubland is contracting, while recent albums by Fatboy Slim and the Prodigy stiffed on both sides of the Atlantic. Always tending toward the syncretic, the Chemical Brothers shape-shift a little on their fifth album, shoring up their long-held investments in hip-hop by hiring Q-Tip and Mos Def's brother and tingeing things with Timbaland-style exotica (glitch salsa here, filmi strings there)—the new thing for only the last few years now. Elsewhere, they remind everyone that they arrived at glockenspiel-beat psychedelia long before Manitoba and Four Tet did, and that they can love the early-'80s dance-rock ideal just as much as the DFA can. In spite of these admirable tweaks and a few obligatory good tunes (like the creamy "Hold Tight London," which sounds like a 10-year-old IBM Aptiva commercial), the overall effect is same-old same-old. Not helping matters are the lyrically vague pleas to self-liberate—as unwelcome a reminder of mid-'90s muddleheadedness as the partial Lisa Loeb quote in "Close Your Eyes." The best tracks from a bootleg album called Flip the Switch (details at chemicalbrothersremixed.com) underscore just how tired the Chems' sound has been lately: While not surpassing the originals in quality or execution, the boot's approach often tends toward the minimal, even dinky, serving as the smaller, faster, cuter mammals to the Chems' arena-techno dinosaur. MICHAEL DADDINO

PLAYGROUP

Reproduction

(Peacefrog, U.K.)

Three years ago, it seemed like Trevor Jackson was set to become the hippest beatsmith around. A London producer who'd left behind his days making fusty trip-hop to revisit the early '80s on the self-titled album from his Playgroup project, Jackson brokered a détente between indie rock, post-punk, post-disco R&B, and the trippier aspects of house and techno that was by turns loose limbed and bug-eyed. Does any of this sound familiar, fair DFA Records fans? It ought to, because right around the same time Playgroup emerged in the U.S. (it had been a U.K. semi-hit for a few months by the time it appeared here in early 2002), DFA partners Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy's production of the Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" and LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge" did pretty much the same thing, only better. In the meantime, Jackson has parlayed the Playgroup name into a terrific volume of the DJ Kicks series, tended to his Output label, and done loads of remixes, 16 of which appear on this double-disc compilation. Like both Playgroup and DJ Kicks, Reproduction has an appealingly narcotic bareness—the bass lines evoke the late, knotty Chic albums over drums that sound as much played as programmed and that heave as much as they click, like a slightly bionic version of the West End Records house band. Though Jackson can pile the sounds on—see the manic layers of echoed voices and old-school synth sproings of his version of Sinema's "In Your Eyes"—he's best when he lays the ideas in the cut, giving them more or less equal space and letting them pop out of their own accord. And even when the songs aren't great—Chicks on Speed's needless cover of Tom Tom Club's "Wordy Rappinghood," Louie Austen and Peaches' dully pervy "Grab My Shaft"—Jackson's groove theories breathe life into them. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

 
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