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Mazzy Star
Among My Swan
Capitol

All the music on Among My Swan sounds the same to me -- post-alternative lullabies for people probably better off asleep. Granted, Mazzy Star's much-lauded Hope Sandoval has a pretty voice, but I've got a breeze outside my window that sounds nice as well, and does a fine job of pulling off the same trick as Sandoval's vocals. Maybe Mazzy Star's work grows on you after a few tries, but I could only listen to it once. Why? Because it made me feel that it might be more fun to gut myself with a cheese knife than wait around for Among My Swan's interminable mood-dulling (euphoria inducing, say some -- not me) drone to end. And that's really not a good thing for me to be thinking, seeing as I own a cheese knife. (Epilogue: After writing this, I went out, got nice and mellow, came home and listened to Among My Swan again -- just to double check. This time, it put me to sleep.) (*)

-- Brad Tyer

Asylum Street Spankers
Spanks for the Memories
Watermelon

Any ten-piece acoustic ensemble that features Guy Forsyth and a butt paddle is bound to be good for some entertainment, and on those terms, Austin's Asylum Street Spankers don't disappoint. Devotees of the "less is more" principle when it comes to playing vintage music, the Spankers have a unique and pleasing Depression-era jug band sound on-stage, and that remains intact on their debut CD, Spanks for the Memories.

Unfortunately, the sound isn't the only thing the Spankers try to carry over from their live act. Aside from the music, the success of the Spankers's performances relies heavily on a healthy dose of shtick, and shtick doesn't always translate well to CD. Taken out of the nightclub, the group's lowbrow, vaudevillian humor proves an ill-fitting contrast to its more delicate musical goods. Songs such as "Startin' to Hate Country" (a clumsy tirade against the Nashville star machinery) and "Funny Cigarette," (one of the CD's numerous references to the joys of pot smoking) aren't nearly as sly or crafty minus the visuals. In fact, they sound boorish next to Forsyth's excellent "If I Had Possession of Judgment Day" and clarinetist Stan Smith's smooth "Walkin' and Whistlin' Blues." A little restraint -- and perhaps a little editing -- would have done wonders for these memories. (** 1/2)

-- Gerard Choucroun

Whodini
Six
So So Def/Columbia

A few years back, Atlanta-based hip-hop impresario Jermaine Dupri brought preteen to rap and created a pop sensation with Kriss Kross, a duo of swift-tongued 12-year-olds. This year, with the Krisses well beyond puberty, Dupri focuses his attention on the opposite end of hip-hop's demographics. As rap fans -- as well as performers such as Run DMC and Public Enemy's Chuck D -- mature into their thirties and beyond, perhaps Dupri sees a newly expanded market to conquer.

To stake his claim on adult hip-hop, Dupri has resurrected early '80s favorites Whodini (best remembered for their hits "Friends" and "Freaks Come out at Night"). On Six, Whodini's first release in five years, their savior provides the aging trio with new songs (penned by Dupri and friends), a recording space (at Dupri's studio) and a recording deal (with Dupri's So So Def imprint).

Elements of Whodini's antiquated (nostalgic to some) electro-funk creep onto Six: the hand claps of "Let Me Get Some"; the heavy synth bass of "Still Want More"; the singsong schoolyard rhymes and subtle melodies of "Runnin' Em." But for the most part, Whodini's return sounds every bit as new school as Dupri's pintsize creations. In fact, with Dupri's irresistibly smooth hooks and appearances by R&B singers R. Kelly and Trey Lorenz and young rappers the Lost Boyz, Whodini's old-school recollections are Six's most inconsequential ingredient. (***)

-- Roni Sarig

Tricky
Pre-Millennium Tension
Island

A year after his debut CD Maxinquaye, on which he teased listeners with a glance into the interior of his hair-raising, head-scratching gallery of doped-up beats and ambient trip-hop, Tricky drags us even further into his multiphobic nightmare with Pre-Millennium Tension. And this time, he provides no escape route. He's nailed all the doors and windows shut, leaving the listener alone and frightened to contemplate an irresistibly weird release that is certain to both enthrall and befuddle.

On Tension, Tricky, a reformed English street punk and former Massive Attack associate, creates a disturbing web of sound seemingly jerked from the bowels of Hell, lathering together techno-industrial grooves, jarring studio effects and erotic male/female vocal exchanges in a song-cycle flow that is more than a little scary. As for deciphering just what Tricky's horror show means, or if it really matters, that's the, umm, tricky part. Tension's lyrics address the typical concerns of an artist who's brimming with ego but who's often uncomfortable in his own skin: love ("Christiansands"), death ("Makes Me Wanna Die"), getting laid ("Sex Drive"), violence ("Bad Dream") and the dark side of fame ("Tricky Kid"). Mostly, though, it's hard to tell whether Tricky is being straight with us, simply trying to shock us or, worse yet, just spewing nonsense disguised to sound as if it matters. Tension shudders with -- and, at times, sputters on -- a brawny and blurred detachment. Its richly textured sallowness makes you want to close the door, turn out the lights and cower. (** 1/2)

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