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Bjsrk
Post
Elektra

The eccentric voice of Bjsrk, with its range and variety of accents and enunciations, could make a reading of the dictionary a pleasurable experience. Her songs have always been more about sound than meaning; the only person who could probably make any sense out of the majority of her lyrics is the Icelandic siren herself.

It was easy to be captivated by Bjsrk during her tenure with The Sugarcubes, even if you thought their quirky pop sounded like the Icelandic version of the B-52s. Bjsrk's first major label solo album, 1993's Debut, with its blending of techno, jazz and classical, only increased her allure.

Her latest effort, Post, has the feel of a movie soundtrack: its mixture of sounds and emotions result in an almost hypnotic listening experience. There's little to complain about on any of the album's 14 tracks; however, the ones that stand out are "It's Oh So Quiet," a sexy big band number with an 18-piece orchestra; "I Miss You," which flavors techno with Latin beats; and "Enjoy," a pulsating techno tune that's best summed up by one of its lines: "This is sex without touching." Like Bjsrk herself, Post is refreshingly unique, a welcome respite from the glut of angst-rock sound-alike music.

-- Joe Hon

The Rhythm & Bluefield Band
Reclassified: Casual Sax 2
D'Blue

Every so often someone wonders, "Gee, what would Beethoven and Mozart and them cats have sounded like with modern instruments?" And, without ever thinking that those cats would have written different music, they put out classical compositions performed with saxophones and electric bass. This tends to work about as well as jump-blues bagpipe.

Typical is this issue's treatment of such compositions as Chopin's Nocturne in f minor, Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 and Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." All are fluffed up, treacly, light-jazz shells of their timeless selves. Howard Arthur has moments of interest in his guitar work, and bandleader David Bluefield is a technically proficient pianist, but, oh, it hurts to hear a saxophone playing a tune that predates funkiness. This is the kind of stuff that an inept office manager would stick in the sound system at work, thinking it wouldn't offend anybody, and then wonder why the Brubeck fan in the mailroom and the classicist in accounting both went postal at the same time.

-- Jim Sherman

Chris Knox
Songs of You & Me
Flying Nun/Caroline

Forty-three-year-old New Zealand comic artist/illustrator/movie critic/rock star Chris Knox has been making music for two decades either solo or as part of bands such as the Enemy, Toy Love and the much-loved-but-little-known duo Tall Dwarfs. His new Songs of You & Me is typically rough-cut and overblown, surreal and supremely melodic. Which means, where the production values go down, the sounds and ideas fly up, up and away.

Knox conceived his Songs of You & Me as two separate albums. One, Hanging Out for Time to Cure Birth, features 11 songs of "You" (about people in general), while the second, A Stranger's Iron Shore, is filled with nine songs of "Me" (personal confessions, insights and inside jokes). The "You" songs include "Vol Au Vent," a cute punk pop tune about a viral infection that eats away internal organs, and "Lament of the Gastropod," a new-wavey science-nerd ditty about being (or acting like) a snail and featuring SAT stumper words such as "bio-luminescent," "alimentary" and "glutinous" in the lyrics. The "Me" songs include "Mirror, Mirror," a Leonard Cohen send-up directed at Knox's overzealous devotees ("You haven't a clue what's going on inside this head"), and "Shrapnel," an effective approximation of good old-fashioned punk anger in dirge form.

While the concept is loose at best, both the lyrics and the music keep the album consistent with a smart combo of weird tinkerings (that include, among other things, kazoos, crowtheremin and organ bossa-nova beat), cryptic scribblings and the kind of honest, funny, accessible pop only a poet/ musician from down under could deliver. Given the reportedly minuscule budget for this project (about $1,100), these songs -- both of us and him -- are considerable over-achievements.

-- Roni Sarig

Smoking Popes
Born to Quit
Capitol

It's impossible to listen to the Smoking Popes debut, Born to Quit, and not see the band for what they really are: a bunch of mediocre musicians who would very much like to be the '90s American version of The Smiths. While frontman Josh Caterer may have a moany/whiny voice, he simply doesn't have the range of Morrissey -- every time he stretches his vocals, it seems like they're about to crack. Lyrics are key when it comes to sensitive-guy rock, and the Popes are lacking a lot more than just the limey twist. The ten songs on the CD come off more as spineless, pathetic whimperings than melancholy ballads; the sense of hurt isn't very deep, nor does it seem to be very well thought out.

As for the music ... well, let's just say that Caterer is no Johnny Marr, either. If Born to Quit is the best that this copycat band can do, the Smoking Popes should take the album's title to heart and giveit up. -- Joe Hon

 
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