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DJ Spooky
Riddim Warfare
Outpost/Geffen

Remember the episode of Friends where Ross thinks he can make it as a musician?

The one where he dusts off the old keyboard he got as a teen, makes a bunch of nasty, incoherent sounds and labels the result avant-garde, only to have his homies scoff at every prerecorded note? Apparently, the show's writers have never attended a rave, where a guy like Ross would be considered a friggin' genius.

That's right, folks. Many of the random noises you hear every day, in one form or another, can be combined to make today's youth culture dance and swoon. And the DJs who come up with this stuff are worshiped for it. Just ask Paul D. Miller, better known as DJ Spooky. Ever since his first album, Songs of a Dead Dreamer, his skills as a turntablist, remixer and all-around master of electronica has afforded him quite the reputation. Esquire even dubbed him one of 1997's "100 Best People in the World."

On this, his second album, the Spookmeister makes enough of a sonic ruckus to turn DJ culture into a model argument for noise pollution -- and I mean that in a good way. First off, the Kid is a nut. Everything from computer blips to fax-machine tones to spaced-out synthesizer effects enter Spooky's mix, which often confounds but never alienates. The guy also has serious jungle fever: Drum-'n'-bass ditties like the full-throttle "Post-Human Sophistry" are powerful enough to make Goldie sweat.

Riddim Warfare also dabbles in other, more unlikely genres. A jazz outfit backs up Spooky on the snappy "Roman Planetaire"; Caribbean rhythms float amidst the usual futuristic riffs on "Theme of the Drunken Sailor." On the live "Quilombio Ex Optico," the Kid, along with arty guitarist Arto Lindsay and Brazilian undergrounders Nacao Zunbi, conjure up a chaotic, into-battle number that could've been used for the D-day scene in Saving Private Ryan.

But it's the guest spots that ought to really make underground obsessives salivate. Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore contributes guitar; Kool Keith shows up on a couple of the more spastic tracks. Ditto Sir Menelik, Wu-Tang Clan's Killah Priest and Organized Konfusion's Prince Poetry and Pharaoh Monch, the latter who parlays some Southern-fried charisma on "Rekonstruction."

"A lot of DJs speak with their hands, you know. It's time to expand," DJ Spooky says at one point. And, to a degree, that's true. Spooky is busy shaping freeform music into something both abstract and expressive. Because, after all, proclaims the disembodied voice at the start of the CD, "It is the business of the future to be dangerous." So while Riddim Warfare may not sound the least bit musical to the average listener, it's better to be sorry than safe.

-- Craig D. Lindsey

DJ Spooky performs Wednesday, November 11, at Fitzgerald's.

La Mafia
Euforia
Sony Discos

La Mafia has, over the past decade, established a winning formula that has left its shelves heavy with industry awards. In the process, it has become Houston's ambassador of Tejano, accumulating legions of fans on both sides of the border. That recipe for success has always consisted of sprightly, accordion-sprinkled cumbia and conjunto strains delivered with an unabashedly commercial pop sensibility. Fittingly enough, the lyrics are rife with the romantic longings and implications of lead vocalist/heartthrob Oscar De la Rosa.

So why tamper with success? La Mafia doesn't even entertain the question. For better or for worse, Euforia is more of the same. Its giddy, upbeat predictability is celebrated without apology on tracks such as "Ayer y Hoy," ("Yesterday and Today") "Ahora" ("Right Now") and the jumpy "Tal Vez Puedas Quererme" ("Maybe You Can Love Me"). Naturally, there's also the obligatory gorgeous ballad, in "Pase Lo Que Pase" ("Whatever Happens Will Happen").

Euforia is not about risks; it's about self-satisfaction. As such, the payoff for non-fans is bound to be limited -- sort of like biting into a Healthy Choice brownie. Still, it's hard to blame a Grammy-winning vehicle like La Mafia for playing it safe. Look what happened when they tampered with the recipe for Coke.

-- Bob Ruggiero

R.E.M.
Up
Warner Bros.

It seems like forever since R.E.M. emerged from Athens, Georgia, looking like art-school students who drove pick-up trucks to class (except for Michael Stipe, who probably rode his bike). What has it been now -- almost 20 years? How time flies when you're having no fun at all. That R.E.M. even exists now seems almost incomprehensible, especially when so many of their contemporaries have died on the roadside, abandoned by their fans like so many discarded beer cans tossed from the Replacements' tour van. They're symbols now and not much else -- vestiges of an era before being different meant being just like everyone else.

R.E.M. was an indie band for only one single, 17 long years ago, yet they birthed the movement known as "indie rock," even more so than the Replacements, HYsker DY and others. The term doesn't really mean music released without major-label ties; it has more to do with a sound -- one that's homemade, crafted in a bedroom, done when the rest of the world is off at work or sound asleep. It's music made solely for its creator; the audience is secondary to the process, though if you happen to identify with it, feel it in your bones, then welcome to the club.

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