I Said Ignoramus, Not Dummie

I've happened upon enough mix albums to essay another very occasional edition of the Ignoramus's Guide to Last Year's Dance Music. Encyclopedic these will never be. But believe in Steinski, Rupture, and Extra Yard. And note that the Pick Hits come from other realms.

Slicker Than Your Average
In Britain he's got the dogs of clubland on his faithless black ass—2step made him and 2step will bring him down. Because the Neptunes couldn't fit him into their crowded schedule, the assassination was called off, but really, Sting backing a rewrite of his own fusty tune? And Beatles harmonies, how naff is that? Over here, where we're not sure there is such a thing as 2step anymore (was there, even?), he sweats a different kind of cred, because he's, you know, English. Ignore these irrelevancies. As does happen, the songs thin out, and right, "You Don't Miss Your Water" is an idea whose time has gone. Nevertheless, this gentle, suave, insistent smoothie parlayed his direct lyrics and tricky beats into a strong straight r&b album in a year when contenders Raphael Saadig and Me'shell NdegéOcello got tangled up in form. He has the voice and he has the mind, and sooner or later he'll have the Neptunes too. A MINUS

When Lightnin' Struck the Pine
(Fast Horse)
Like most "primitivism," slide-drone band boogie is never as easy as people think, and this version isn't the true raw-cooked, meaning it isn't Hound Dog Taylor no matter what Peter Buck and company hoped. But it'll sure stick to your ribs longer than what Jon Spencer stewed up with R.L. Burnside—long enough to take you back to Davis's 1994 Fat Possum comp, where his suppler voice is asked to carry the purist aesthetic and understated beat. Wish Buck had thought of this then. B PLUS

Minesweeper Suite
Rupture's mixes don't groove or chill or teach. They rupture; they scare up anxiety attacks. This one suggests with a few scene-setting North African flourishes the sound of war in the Middle East, only it won't stay there long: toasters out to rob and steal, rappers out for themselves, electronics that could detonate the suspect device in the ladies' room, walls caving after the blast, muttering and moaning, soul divas proffering succor, prayers, a baby's cry, beats like shock waves and machine-gun fire, the single word "Bush," something about socialism once. It's too abstract sometimes. But it's not too alarmist. B PLUS

(Big Dada import)
Documenting a "bouncement revolution" that exists only in the perfidy of its promotional imagination, this U.K. label comp is the hottest mix CD I heard in 2002. "Dancehall flavoured hip hop," writes one lukewarm listener, but in fact the two elements are equal and the flavor's in the arrangements: spoken Brit-Jamaican English of varying local provenance and no verbal distinction over beats that I guess are "garage," their big attraction keyb-generated horn or organ or guitar bits laying on the rhythmic dissonance and harmonic frisson. These never get better than on the first song, Gamma's "Killer Apps," and wear down midway through. But their momentum sweeps the record all the way to Roots Manuva's "Witness the Swords" and its keyb-generated harp, by which I do not mean harmonica. A MINUS

The Fine Art of Self Destruction
Not grunge, not punk, not "hard rock," D Generation had positioning problems that songs would have cured in a jiffy. Say they were the part of Aerosmith that loved the Dolls, only so much scruffier and also something else. Which on this Ryan Adams-produced solo debut turns out to be "roots" or "Americana," and before you snort too loud consider David Johansen's progress toward Harry Smith. Those who seek movement in their music will find the arrangements boxy, and Malin may yet learn that real men aren't supposed to keen as if mourning their faithful hound. The voice asserts itself as the record sinks in, however, and not only does each song stand out, but the production variegates a sonic grandeur grounded in the rock verities—check Adams's stutter-step guitar on the title track, or the corrida echoes of "Almost Grown." What Malin mourns has urban roots—a maturing alt dweller's ills, details provided and remedies hopefully adduced. A MINUS

(World Music Network import)
The original Afropop has always been mysteriously difficult to access stateside, so this genre survey, divvied up between Ghana and Nigeria, is your chance to become an informed reissue agitator. Will you get behind Celestine Ukwu? Victor Uwaifo? Not to be confused with Victor Olaiya? How about the legendary Rex Lawson? It wouldn't be a Rough Guide without ringers (Orlando Julius), revivals (Stephen Osita Osadebe), and anachronisms (Joe Mensah synth part I think), but near as I can tell—to compiler Graeme Ewens's credit, many of these artists are familiar only to aficionados—the preponderance comes from the '60s and '70s. In other words, it's both postindependence, which means feeling its kenkey, and not stuck on the swing era, which means livelying up itself. It's more uneven than the revivalist The Highlife Allstars: Sankofa, but sometimes uneven equals eccentric, which is good—hits that got heard because they were different. A MINUS

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