Vienna Fingers

The K&D Sessions (Studio K7)

Ahh, stoner music, pecking you on the cheek like a blown kiss from across the universe, floating toward a faraway destination, gathering space dust along the way.... Come sail with me across the bliss of a 3 a.m. eternal.... Ugh. The language of the stoned is one all its own, one that the occasionally sober among us dismiss and ridicule as senseless wank-off blather. Higher plane, my ass.

To dismiss outright the music geared toward substance achievers, though, is like throwing the roach out with the cigarette butts: Occasionally you stumble across music geared toward one audience that works wonders on another, as is the case with Kruder and Dorfmeister's The K&D Sessions (Stud!o K7).

Peter Kruder and Richard Dorfmeister are Austrian producers who reconfigure free-floating, beat-based electronic music from other people's compositions, remixing what's given to them and constructing their own shell around melodies and movements. But to call them remixers isn't enough, for though they mainly rework others' music on K&D Sessions -- only two of the 20 cuts list them as the composers -- their sound is instantly recognizable for its fuzzy warmth and soft pulse. And despite the disparate sources -- Roni Size, Depeche Mode, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, David Holmes, Alex Reece -- the resulting music has K&D's stamp all over it; pillow beats and rubber mallet grooves provide structure to their ethereal bliss-outs as an occasional guitar or distant surreal voice whispers phrases as if out of a mist. The result is, well, damn near pleasant. If you've grown weary of the recent spate of remix albums, or are looking for a place to start, The K&D Sessions is the joint.

-- Randall Roberts

Novo! Mais! Melhor!: Beleza Tropical 2 (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros)

If we kept score on these sorts of things, Brazil would have to rank in the top six nations for pop-music quality, right up there with the U.S., the U.K., South Africa, Nigeria and Jamaica. With the infectious samba rhythm underpinning most forms the way the blues does in our country, Brazilian music comes off all seductive and enticing, even when it's trying to hit you over the head with a political tract or a statement of life's misery. When Beleza Tropical Vol. 1 came out, I knew nothing about the music of South America's largest country, except what I gleaned from the endless repetition of an old roommate's Astrud Gilberto record. The powerful funk rhythms of Jorge Ben and the melodic purity of Gilberto Gil blew me away. While I found some more great music by the artists on this compilation, I was frequently disappointed by the American releases of most '90s Brazilian music I heard. Too often it was marred by intrusive, clumsy rock guitar or overheated synthetic rhythm tracks.

Of course, David Byrne and his cohorts at Luaka Bop listened to a lot more of it than I did, and they found 15 mesmerizing tracks to show me how good the last 10 years have been in the Brazilian charts.

"Novo! Mais! Melhor!" translates as "New! More! Better!" -- a Brazilian idiom for "new and improved" -- and though I can't buy the idea that this batch of Brazilian pop music is better than or has improved upon the stuff on Vol. 1, released 10 years ago, I can testify that it is both new and, indeed, more. Gilberto Gil is back with something akin to power pop, and Caetano Veloso also stands in from the old school with a long, delirious melodic dream. Most of the best moments belong to artists unknown to me, from the Olodum rhythms applied to the reggae of Daniela Mercury to the supple African drums and pipe of Gonzaguinha (whose "Tanacara" is the theme music for NPR's World Cafe radio show). The lyric translations are fascinating, too, providing intriguing thoughts to match the beauty of the language.

You know how hard it is to find a perfect compilation from any genre, but Luaka Bop has succeeded in duplicating the brilliance of its first Beleza Tropical collection. Ta no batuque que balanca nego (it's in the groove that swings, darling).

-- Steve Pick

By Your Side (Columbia)

For their last couple of albums, the Black Crowes seemed to be running in place, perhaps even moving backward musically -- embracing their role as a H.O.R.D.E.-approved jam band a little too enthusiastically and losing their focus on the sort of taut, soul-inspired rock that made them famous in the first place. Apparently they've decided it's time to shake their moneymaker once again, and not a moment too soon. The group's fifth album, By Your Side, punches a hole through the haze of, um, sweet-smelling smoke that billowed around them on recent efforts such as Three Snakes and One Charm and Amorica with a series of hard-edged rave-ups built around killer riffs, snaking slide-guitar work and raw-throated vocals. "Kickin' My Heart Around," "Go Faster" and "By Your Side" are built on classic rock of the finest vintage -- the last tune, especially, bears a striking resemblance to the Rolling Stones' "Tumbling Dice."

But if you're gonna copy, I suppose, you might as well copy from the best -- the Crowes, after all, owe so much to the Stones and early-'70s Rod Stewart that there's little to do but accept the fact and move on. And move on they do with the sweet Memphis soul of "Diamond Ring" and balls-out rockers such as "Virtue and Vice" and "Go Tell the Congregation." Some of the tracks rely a little too much on groove to get by -- "HorseHead" and "Heavy," for example -- yet the album contains some of Chris Robinson's most convincing vocal stylings in quite a while, as well as brother Rich Robinson's finest guitar work ever. By Your Side should put the Crowes back in the forefront of straight-ahead rock & roll, and deservedly so.

-- Daniel Durchholz

Moist (City Slang UK)

Robotronic, electro-ambient -- whatever you want to call the genre -- it would seem, has come full circle. Now, some 25 years after Kraftwerk plugged in their pocket calculators and programmed the first primitive beeps and blips of what would become the electronic-music revolution, the Germans are at it again, this time building on innovations made by English and Americans who drove Kraftwerk's autobahn to uncharted and wholly warped dimensions.

One German who must have been listening to all of this is Schneider TM, a.k.a. Dirk Dresselhaus, who picks up the creative fires for sonic wanderlust from fellow one-man analog geeks Aphex Twin and Plastikman -- fire, to be sure, because Moist is one of the warmest electro-ambient albums around and a far cry from the coolly chromatic Kraftwerk.

This is not to say Moist is a masterpiece like the Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85-92, but it hints at abounding potential and, yes, even some emotion. On Moist, Schneider TM seems to be searching for his own niche, and the result is a refreshing sense of experimentation that along the way ranges from emulating Two Lone Swordsmen on the opener, "Moist," to My Bloody Valentine on "Starfuck." Dresselhaus also claims to have been influenced by the Velvet Underground, although that's not readily apparent, except maybe if you consider the smeared guitar feedback on "Starfuck." Sure, there are some misses -- the glaring faux-funk misstep "Moonboots," for example -- but nothing here is too minimal to grasp or too jarring to give you a headache.

In fact, one might even go so far as to call this a pop album, because so many of the tracks are immediately rewarding and accessible. The entire album is liberally sprinkled with catchy hooks (most notably "Masters"), "Eiweiss" hints at melancholy and the closer, "Camping," affects a near-convincing poignancy.

Until recently, one could count the tasteful contributions the Germans have made to popular music on one hand, but now there seems to be a quickly fermenting scene in the land of beer and sauerkraut with artists like To Rococo Rot, Burger/Ink, Pole, and Mouse on Mars all creating a buzz. You'll find no 99 red balloons or big-haired scorpions among these new technophiles, so add Schneider TM to the growing list of German musicians to watch and listen to. After all, Germany is long overdue for another seminal artist like Kraftwerk.

-- Matthew Hilburn

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