By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Real-life drum'n'bass, at least in the sense that all the other instruments keep falling out, with mantras and guitar solos; hence, very early-'80s New York (see: Liquid Liquid, Konk, Bush Tetras). Five songs, seven versions total, five-person band from Brooklyn (one low voice, one high), nobody named Mary. Free-floatingly shapeless, but jovial. Unexpected reference points: "She's a Rainbow," "Lightnin' Strikes," "Baby One More Time." Not to mention "Johnny Thunders/He left his soul, his body, and his heart/Rock and roll will never be the same," right before everybody starts mimicking (sampling?) "Johnny" from the first Suicide album.
Punk trance? Black-hole trance? Gangsta trance? Whatever . . . two acts screwing with each other's stuff, building beats into gangliated symphonies of scratch and fuzz. As vague as any admirable recent dance-but-how? 12-incher by, let's see here, M Path or King Kooba or Westside Chemical, but way more abrasive. Dälek's rough-hewn toasts, increasingly pissed-off and apparently verbose ones concerning black Jesus and resurrection and wasabi, are submerged under lotsa who-knows-what. Do they even matter?
Overheard words about luck and fate (hence, the title's poker metaphor), random loud-and-quiet changes, adenoidal Perry Farrell faux-falsetto, but god, the A side rocks tough anyway. And since they're named after Woody Guthrie's kid, maybe the aces they're holding have glossy pictures with circles and arrows and photographs on the back of each one. The mellower B side, patterned on a "Smells Like Teen Spirit" fugue just like the A, isn't quite towering enough to scrape skies.
Of the four Bay Area underground hip-hop units here, only Slumplordz featuring Zion 1 feel the need to act hard, and theirs is easily the record's most affected, most reined-in track. Azeem does a jazzed and friendly voiced tribute to women who just got out of jail, one of whom he meets when she comes into Taco Bell to use the toilet, after which she fixes monster trucks then robs a Baskin-Robbins with kerosene and matches. (I guess the ice cream melted.) Moon Rocks dedicate their Globetrotter routine to DJs who play 'em and DJs who don't, fans who make Internet orders, punks, pigeons, beatniks, bookworms, Mom and Dad, the dirt, the trees, and the air. But the pick hit is "Swervin' " by the Coup, which takes its staccato cadence and rhyme scheme from "Back That Azz Up," except the riffs rock out even more and the words are both bilingual and literate, revolving around how the War on Drugs fucks up the neighborhoodnot so much pro-dope as anti-selective incarceration by the federales. This should've been played over the credits in Traffic. "Babies need cereal/And folks need currency." So you do what you gotta do.
A mysterious master of ceremonies promises he's "the originator of this slide and don't let anybody tell you different," and his CD cover says "Don't be fooled, this is the real cha cha." Well, it's not, of courseno more than Lou Bega's was the real mambobut if the Slide Man's worried about us being fooled, some competing version must've topped five obscure Central European charts. Here, a few r&b stations nostalgic for jam-band-mode Trouble Funk have eaten up grits-and-gravy asides about "take it back now y'all!" and "right foot left stomp!" There are marks of an impending summer wedding-reception/aerobics-class linedance craze, too: a limbo break pushing us down to the floor, another part where Mr. C commands us to "Charlie Brown!" Which I guess means trying to kick a football, then winding up flat on our backs.