Spreading the Net

THE HIVES Veni Vidi Vicious (Sire/Burning Heart/Epitaph)
These Swedes know the great selling point of the Voidoids was the guitars they can't come near, not the vocals they irremediably recall. How dumb—if it was that easy some emo kids would do it. The Hives explode where a hundred other punk bands are proud to rock. If they're not openhearted like Rancid they're also not cute like Green Day, who dominated that punk revival anyway, and I'll take their wage-slave rants over the Strokes' ass-man ennui any day. Really, so what if Max Martin writes 'em? A MINUS

ORCHESTRA SUPER MAZEMBE Giants of East Africa (Earthworks)
These are the Zairean émigrés whose early-'80s soukousification of the Kenyapop classic "Shauri Yako" takes Guitar Paradise of East Africa over the top at track seven. Situated in the same position here, the song's thoughtful melody and surprisingly undemonstrative guitar don't work as much magic, because Mazembe are giants, not angels, and "Shauri Yako" is merely the greatest hit of a band centered around a sparkling-not-stellar guitarist. They can't top it or even equal it. But they're worthy of it every time. Listen for Lovy Longomba, a/k/a "ya Mama," who's so high-voiced he takes the wife's part once. Listen for the dabs of horn. What the hell, listen for the guitar. A MINUS


TOM ZÉ: Jogos de Armar (Trama import)
Too bad Luaka Bop passed on this 2000 album—the French BMG version includes translations, and an English trot would have been nice. Nevertheless, the music speaks so clearly in Zé's out-front avant-pop language that words would be trimmings, as they aren't on Luaka Bop's 1998 Zé push, Fabrication Defect. Zé is my favorite Brazilian because insofar as he's subtle—in the harmonies mostly—he's obvious about it, and usually he's anything but. You can hear those herky-jerk beats on found and fabricated instruments, those sudden stops and starts, those jingle-jungle tunes, the energy if not groove that propels everything forward regardless. On this record he has a lot of fun with choruses, predominantly female, which carry the crucial tunes, often in humorous timbres and combinations. A bonus CD includes many of the tracks from which he constructed these songs, supposedly so you can create others just as valid. I appreciate the impulse, but I doubt you'll get there. A

NORTHERN STATE Hip Hop You Haven't Heard (Northern State)
Three white-girl voices from the farthest reaches of Nassau County: Hesta Prynn angular and willfully ill-bred, Guinea Love zaftig and a touch guttural, the misleadingly handled DJ Sprout well-rounded and sometimes pretty. Their aesthetic is old-school; they quote Roxanne Shanté and cop an all-time beat from Hitman Howie Tee. But their live bass is as hooky as any sample on two of the four tracks on this EP they think is a demo. There's none of that self-abnegating underground minimalism about them, and plenty of regular school, always a reassuring complete disclosure in artists who've been to college: "Keep choice legal, your wardrobe regal/Chekhov wrote The Seagull and Snoopy is a beagle." Twice they boast about their "optimism," and I love them for putting it so literally. Optimism is always the secret, after all. Not only do they believe in their own talent, they're blessed enough to enjoy it. Life isn't eternal. But as long as it renews itself we can pretend. A

Dud of the Month

N.E.R.D. In Search of . . . (Virgin)
I only understood why I so dislike this annoyingly catchy record when I realized the name isn't an acronym. They call themselves N.E.R.D. because nerds is what they are—nerds at their worst. Sure they're clever, but they're also as shallow as Britney Spears, who I swear they're dumb enough to want to fuck, and all they know about the world is that they deserve to run it because they're clever. Ben Folds is Richard Rorty by comparison, and though I prefer their beats to Dre's beats, once again said beats fail to render the accompanying fantasies (and realities) of sexual domination palatable (or clever) (and I'm not so sure about sexual). The final blow is this American re-recording, which substitutes live instruments for the infernal machines of the U.K. version even though the studio is the only thing they've understood deeply in their short little lives. B MINUS

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Neil Young, Are You Passionate? (Reprise): Booker T. as first refuge of a patriot ("Differently," "You're My Girl"); the Selby Tigers, The Curse of the Selby Tigers (Hopeless): whatever exactly they're venting about, they've got that punk mad-funny-fucked thing down ("Dolph Indicator," "Punch Me in the Face [With Your Lips]"); Stella Chiweshe, Talking Mbira (Piranha import): a national treasure—in a nation ransacked? ("Ndabaiwa," "Uchiseka"); the Beatnuts, Classic Nuts Vol. 1 (Loud): hard hip hop dance music, bright and efficient and fun, an achievement more elusive than hards believe ("Turn It Out," "Watch Out Now"); Delta Dart, Fight or Flight (Paroxysm): three women clashing and meshing, meshing and clashing ("Punkrock-icity," "Love Song"); Girls Against Boys, You Can't Fight What You Can't See (Jade Tree): psyche-pathic brrrs, by which I mean still cold bastards ("Basstation," "Let It Breathe"); Wyclef Jean, Masquerade (Columbia): Frankie Valli versus thugs, Tom Jones versus deadbeat dads, Bob Dylan versus war—somehow I don't think it'll work ("Masquerade," "PJ's"); Insolence, Revolution (Maverick): rap-rock rides dancehall bass, further befuddling sludgehead market ("Death Threat," "Revolution"); Clinic, Walking With Thee (Domino): if not clinical, definitely formal ("Pet Eunoch," "Welcome"); Moby, 18 (V2): visionary self-starter generates commercial formula generates foregone conclusion ("In This World," "We Are All Made of Stars"); the Manhattan Brothers, The Very Best of the Manhattan Brothers (Stern's Africa): the Mills Brothers of Jo'burg jive, only the Mills Brothers they weren't ("Vuka Vuka," "Malayisha"); El-P, Fantastic Damage (Def Jux): dystopia is hard, and El Producto will flog you with it if he has to ("Stepfather Factory," "Tuned Mass Damper"); Blade II (Immortal): hip hop meets techno, which rises to an occasion that never quite materializes (Redman & Gorillaz, "Gorillaz on My Mind"; Cypress Hill & Roni Size, "Child of the West"); Ashanti (Murder Inc.): shallow orgasms aren't bad orgasms, but she could probably do better with her own hand ("Foolish," "Rescue").

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