Consumer Guide

In the biz, September is boom time, and you'll find several brand-new albums below, with other late-month releases certain to follow. But in my life, it's also time to put a summer's pleasures on paper. I don't know how the Garbage sounds on the radio. But I guarantee it's dandy in a car.

DAVE ALVIN: Blackjack David (HighTone) Fronting an acoustic band that gives his voice the breathing room it needs, Alvin brings off the quiet despair of "Evening Blues" and "From a Kitchen Table." But making the personal historical is still his metier--the border patrolman of "California Snow," the Vietnam casualty of "1968." He also knows how to make rootlessness historical. But I say he just likes the road. B PLUS

ARCHERS OF LOAF: White Trash Heroes (Alias) Hey, we all have our personal alt-rock standbys--campaigners who've stuck out a sound that rings our chimes dead center. So if I tell you mine are the Voidoids revisited, will I maybe make a sale? Two guitars, one choppy and one fleet, rip up bebop-worthy dissonances over punk forcebeats, and if the frontman seems less than charismatic, well, Richard Hell types never hold bands together for six years. Seeker that he is, Eric Bachmann varies croak with tweetle, massages some keybs, even samples. Minor details, I insist. This is their sound, there is none higher, other indie bands should just retire. A MINUS

BEASTIE BOYS: Hello Nasty (Grand Royal/Capitol) Hip hop is their heritage, and having wasted years proving they can't play their instruments while enrapturing MTV fans who loved them for trying, they come home not an album too soon--flowing prose to cons and cons to pros, scheming rhymes against reason like flow against know. Old-school in their spare breakbeats, skilled back-scratching, and heavy-breathing beatbox, they also remember how to lay some guitar on this shit, and dance like Juba through missteps from planet-rock Vocoder to Roy Ayers carioca to good old Hammond B-3. And of course they rhyme, wise and wiseass, humanitarian without ever getting sappy about it--and without mentioning the Dalai Lama once. A

BIKINI KILL: The Singles (Kill Rock Stars) Nine songs in 18 minutes--one bunch of three entrusted to Joan Jett in 1993 and keyed to the unforgettable anthem "Rebel Girl," the rest vented by the band in 1995 and keyed to the unforgettable title "I Like Fucking." It's striking and impressive the way they ratcheted their popcraft down. With this band, incoherence was always a way of knowledge, imbuing their spew of ideas and feelings with a conviction that made one's confusion about whether they actually liked fucking or not irrelevant. After all, it was probably a little of both--given their intensity level, a lot of both. A MINUS

MARY J. BLIGE: The Tour (MCA) If "street" seems fake and "real" stupid, try an older cliché: "down-to-earth," a corny compliment no one in the '90s earns more completely. Because she cultivates youth-center loose rather than arena big, Blige's de facto best-of is more than an enlargement. If her raucous tone and sour pitch aren't deliberate, they aren't unwitting either--she believes, correctly, that her fans will relish them as tokens of honesty. And to go out she covers Aretha's "Day Dreaming," which made clear long ago just how street soul sisters on both sides of the monitors really want to be. A MINUS

JAMES CARTER: In Carterian Fashion (Atlantic) I could call the organ a pop concept, but fact is I enjoy this as a jazz record. Just by blowing so lustily and swinging so edgily, Carter puts out more personality and pleasure than all but a few musical word-slingers. Deep meanings? I dunno. Aren't we in this for the pizzazz? A MINUS

GARBAGE: Version 2.0 (Almo Sounds) The chrome-plated hooks and metronome hardbeats of this irresistibly dislikable exercise are perfect for a frontwoman whose vaunted sexuality is no more welcoming than Tina Turner's. For those of us with no knack for real-life sadomasochism, how better combine pleasure and pain than to let 12 impregnable theoretical hits march over us in their digital boots? A MINUS

KINGS OF AFRICAN MUSIC (Music Club) Ali Farka Toure's folkloricism to Manu Dibango's dance jazz is a leap for anyone who can hear, and as a listener who has learned to distinguish instinctively among the vocal approaches of Zimbabwe, Congo, and Senegal (to overgeneralize shamefully, call them rough, sweet, and piercing), I object in principle to the pan-African conceit. But essentialism has its lessons, such as how overtly dramatic--ergo individualistic?--pop vocals have gotten continent-wide since the ebullient postcolonial communitarianism captured by John Storm Roberts's Africa Dances. And done as well as this, essentialism also has its uses--as a budget-priced introduction for theoretical Afrocentrists ready to confront musical reality, and a minor treasure trove for supposed experts like me. How can it be that I never heard Franco's "Tres Impoli" before? A MINUS

LOCAL H: Pack Up the Cats (Island) At first I was just glad to ascertain they weren't a fluke. Now I think they've gone and made themselves the straight rock album of the year. Their idea of roots Hüsker Dü, their idea of avant-garde also Hüsker Dü, they attack the 100-bpm four-four with a singleness of purpose unknown to rap-fearing new metalists, ska-loving old hardcorists, and indie adventurers adrift on the great unknown. They're not true believers, writing early and often about just how far straight rock can't take you. They address an audience they swear is still there. And they have something to prove, even if it's only that a duo from the same Illinois town that produced the Shoes can make more noise than a pumpkin-smashing factory. A MINUS

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  • September
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