Laptop for Desktoppers

Music so unlikely it could be written and performed rather than researched and found

Pick Hits

(Clapping Music, 8 alle de Normandes, 78112 Forqueux, France)

In the studio—live, see below, he has a combo—Frenchman Yann Tambour is a solo laptopper whose works are invariably described by the few Anglophones who know they exist as mysterious and depressing. I say they're moody, and note for the record that the mood they evoked on a recent European sojourn was always comforting—notably during a jet-lagged rush hour as we sought lodgings in a language we do not speak on an Appian Way that was more picturesque back in the day. Tambour's music is slow and textural, deploying glitches and ostinatos in the service of a better-grounded groove than is laptop practice. Over this Tambour whispers now and then in a French it's just as well I can't make out, although my multilingual wife believes that on the first track he says either "there is still a time" or "there is still a liver," both of which seem chipper enough to me. Unless—uh-oh—it's "there isn't yet a time" (or liver). Oh well. A MINUS

A Brief History of Rhyme: MC Hawking's Greatest Hits (Brash)

Absurdist comedy in which the virtually immobilized "young, gifted and tenured" theoretical physicist raps via a text-to-speech conversion program—about bitch-slapping his T.A. and drive-bying six "punk ass bitches from MIT," about a bizang bigger than "the sound of my gatt," about entropy and the end of all things, about the idiocy of creationists and others: "New age motherfuckers/Don't get me started,/I made more sense than them,/Last time I farted." It's not all equally mind-boggling, but the concept, which the real Hawking finds funnier than shizzit, is glorious. As creator Ken Leavitt-Lawrence must know, it's an affirmation not only of the primacy of reason but of its nihilistic gangsta power. A MINUS

(Buda Musique, 188 Boulevard Voltaire, Paris 75011 France)

In 1974, a world-class singer in a small world made a pretty darn good album in his local style. Am I smart enough to distinguish said work, marketed here as Éthiopiques 19, from the 1973 and 1975 Mahmoud Ahmed albums that have caught my ear over the years? No. Do I listen with pleased attention as his commanding and arresting if never quite unique or exquisite voice declaims over the Ibex Band's two-sax tchik-tchik-ka from scene-setting "Alèmyé" to relaxed, drawn-out "Tezeta"? Almost every time. B PLUS

Lost and Safe

What new subspecies of wankery is this? Guitar and cello contextualized to sound like laptop doodling? Spoken-word samples so unlikely they might be written and performed rather than researched and found? Plus many minutes of actual singing, or sing-talking, who knows what exactly, about what who knows exactly? If these were actual songs I'd scoff at their inaudible indecisiveness: listen hard now, "Our heads approach a density reminiscent of the infinite connectivity of the center of the sun" in under five seconds. But though this may be pretension, it's also delight, strange and humorous verbally and aurally. It's not catchy, right. Merely memorable and enchanting in the manner of Another Green World—which stays well within the lines by comparison. A MINUS

Everything Ecstatic
(Domino, PO Box 1207, NYC 10276)

Kieran Hebden does pack a lot of ideas, or maybe they're really just sounds, into a song, or maybe the term is album cut. But he's always lyrical. There's never that Conlon-Nancarrow- meets-Squarepusher sense of machine-scale speed exploited to evoke the workings of a mind that should take it easy already. Rounds was so lyrical, in fact, that it drove genre obsessives to the neologism "folktronica." Many such folks are disquieted by Hebden's constitutionally protected decision to dabble in the usages of drum'n'bass, which are every laptopper's roots, after all. The drums get busy at times, but never fear—this sounds more like Rounds than it does like anything else. Just a little funkier. A MINUS

(Manteca, Union Square Music, Unit 1.1, Shepherds Studio, Rockley Road, London W14 0DA)

You want beats, they got world beats, finally. Whatever they're rapping about—and when they break into English, which happens, it'll seem real enough unless humanism's not your way—the 14 non-U.S. crews on this U.K. comp are funking some different shit, usually looped tunelets that are common currency there and fresh here. Front-loaded Latin, it excludes European materials till the final track, which saunters past with its arm around the shoulder of a casually mesmeric Greek guitar or bouzouki figure. Lots of Africans, a German Turk, and some U.K. Indians headline; Sergent Garcia and Oumou Sangare guest. Watch out, homeboys—they're learning, and they're very eager. A MINUS

Discover a Lovelier You
(Ashmont, 10A Burt Street, Dorchester MA 02124)

Trying to be a better person," swears Joe Pernice. But though he provides examples, the title on that one is the all too typical "Saddest Quo." So in the end, he proves his good intentions the only way he knows how. Guitars chime, harmonies glide, hooks and choruses stroll by as easily as extras in an impressionist painting—all in the service of such topics as abject poverty, killing someone in a car accident, and our old friend the loss of love. On the loveliest album of Pernice's pretty career, the most eloquent song of all is the wordless title tune. A MINUS

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