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  Listen Up! 5/21/02 Listen Up!

Tuesday, May 21

El-P, “Fantastic Damage,” Definitive Jux. Leon tells me this guy used to be in Company Flow. I can tell you there’s nobody else I’ve heard making hip-hop that sounds like this, a dark, thick stew of synthesizers, live drums, syn-drums, unusual samples, distortion effects, and other slabs of sound. Even the rhythms are odd-ball. It’s very interesting stuff, unsettling, not exactly uplifting, but intriguing. I would like to hear it some more.

Down to the Bone, “Crazy Vibes and Things,” GRP Records. Remember all the music that went on in the background of hep TV shows like “Starsky and Hutch” or “The Streets of San Francisco”? Remember how stupid that shit sounded? Well, here’s a whole album of music that sounds just like that, all lame-ass grooves with no direction home, music that will tear your brain apart and shut your body down.

Darren Hayes, “Spin,” Columbia Records. Freed from the constraints of Savage Garden’s teeny-bop audience, Hayes makes a solo record that’s even less inspired. His sub-Michael Jackson wispy voice is set to a bunch of lame melodies that don’t come close to the pop transcendence of his best contemporaries.

Chumbawumba, “Readymades,” Republic Records. They’ve been knocked down, and they’re trying to get up again, but this lame-ass warmed-over Brit-Wave stuff ain’t gonna get them back on the radio, nor is it gonna please the anarcho-punks they already pissed off when they wrote a jock jam called “Tubthumping” a few years ago. I can’t see any point to this release at all.

Music From the Motion Picture, “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,” Columbia Records. T Bone Burnett made some big bucks with the soundtrack for “O Brother Where Art Thou,” so he gets the chance to put together another mix tape for America’s music. Except this time, he doesn’t stick to a simple, easily understood concept (bluegrass of the 50s transposed into rural mountain music of the 30s, with goofy Cohen-Brothers-directed dance steps to put it over the top). This flick looks like a new version of “Steel Magnolias,” and the music is great, but all over the American tableplace (with a key component out of England). Hey, in my world, Ann Savoy, Jimmy Reed, Richard & Linda Thompson, Mahalia Jackson, Tony Bennett, and Bob Dylan are always welcome, but I’m not sure the American public is likely to think this album is as full of good times as the last one. Besides, the American public pretty much limits its roots music choices to one per decade, so we’ll have to wait a few years for the next one. For those of you just wondering whether you should buy this, well I don’t know where else the orchestrated version of “Dimming of the Day” by R & L Thompson can be acquired, and the blues and Cajun numbers are genuine delights (and not often anthologized). On the other hand, there is a Lauryn Hill song that’s every bit as dull as, if less polemical than anything on her latest live album.

--Steve Pick



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