But since the band signed with BMG Sweden last year, things have begun to turn around. And that's good cause for pop fans to rejoice, because The Wannadies -- a compilation of sorts that mostly contains songs from their last two European releases -- is a perfect, hook-packed confection. Imagine a postpubescent, pissed-off Hanson with some Teenage Fanclub thrown in for good measure.

Half the songs clock in at under three minutes, and every one features a hummable chorus you'll likely know by heart after one listen. "You and Me Song," originally released as a single in 1994 during what the British music press was calling the Swedish pop invasion, breaks from quiet, loungey, acoustic moments into the buzzsaw guitars and pounding drums that are a Wannadies trademark. Another group trademark is the perpetually tousled state of lead singer Par Wiksten, who, in the best Marc Bolan tradition, isn't afraid to toss in a pretty "la, la, la" when the song calls for it -- or a good "fuck," for that matter. No wonder the Wannadies are at odds with MTV. (****)

-- Seth Hurwitz

Moondog and the London Saxophonic
Sax Pax for a Sax

Composer and percussionist Louis Hardin -- who's gone by the name Moondog since 1947 -- was a New York City cult phenomenon in the 1950s. Back then, his eclectic compositions, which merged jazz, classical, Native American strains and other influences long before such fusion was fashionable, were admired by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Leonard Bernstein and Arturo Toscanini. Moondog has also influenced the minimalist movement championed by Steve Reich and Philip Glass, recorded a release of children's songs and ventured into classical music with an orchestral release in 1969.

Moondog's diversity, of course, makes him difficult to categorize, and Sax Pax for a Sax, Moondog's first U.S. release since 1971, is another interesting concept recording from this unclassifiable icon. Playing bass, drums and percussion, Moondog leads various saxophone ensembles through 15 of his compositions that combine jazz harmonies and baroque choral forms. The size of the ensembles varies throughout the CD, and those proportional shifts are integral to the ebb and flow of Sax Pax, adding to its unique compositional flavor. The result sounds as if Johann Sebastian Bach, Duke Ellington, Philip Glass and Sun Ra had been commissioned to write a score for a woodwind ensemble -- together.

While the songs generally follow classical structures, Moondog's melodies have a certain pop flair, as heard on the catchy vocal tracks "Paris" and "New Amsterdam." Still, the result is hardly conventional. It's somehow both a bit tiring and provocative nonetheless. Whether it's called jazz, classical, fusion or something else entirely, Moondog's Sax Pax for a Sax is one of the more unique recordings out there. (****)

-- Paul MacArthur

Martyn Bennett
Bothy Culture

Celtic-influenced electronica may sound like an iffy proposition. Without a doubt, combining bagpipes, for example, with drum machines, samples and the occasional spoken word or gurgle is apt to take some getting used to.

On that note, Martyn Bennett's second release, Bothy Culture, is definitely weird -- but in a good way. Bennett is trying to combine these seemingly disparate kinds of music into something that feels organic and whole. It would be easy to dismiss the "hip-hop piper" (as he is sometimes called) as a world-music Kenny G. (Though if Kenny started tearing his shirt off at the end of his concerts the way Bennett does, I'm not sure he'd get the same ecstatic reaction from the fans.) But rather than creating extended solos over bland, mechanical studio pap, like Mr. G, one gets the sense that Bennett is more interested in songwriting than showing off. And he adds didgeridoo, small pipes and sometimes violin to texture his music.

That's not to say Bennett doesn't like to jam on occasion, but it's never at the expense of the music. Much of Bothy Culture actually sounds like a soundtrack -- as if Bennett were writing a score to some imaginary, rustic environmental documentary. The electric violin, strings and rhythms of "Aye?," for instance, seem to evoke the cinematic image of a lone traveler resting her weary feet beside a ramshackle bothy -- or something like that. Bothies, by the way, are the simple shelters scattered throughout the Scottish Highlands used by climbers and other adventurers free of charge. Nice idea. But you'll still have to fork over 12 bucks if you want to explore Bothy Culture. (***)

-- Seth Hurwitz

CDs rated on a one to five star scale.

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