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Sandra Collins

The most noticeable change trance DJ Sandra Collins has undergone between her last mix CD, 2001's Cream, and her new one, Perfecto Presents..., is visual.

On the cover of the old disc, she's hypermodernist Euro, wearing a skintight vinyl top and an impossibly smooth gray skirt, looking very much like a marketing exec at a hip video game company. Date that aesthetic post-2011. Perfecto's photo, on the other hand, takes the taste-making back to 1984. Collins wears punky pink and black, thumb hooked Billy Idol-style on her studded belt. Her hair is teased and she's standing in a public restroom, almost sneering, as if she's ready to steal Molly Ringwald's lunch money.

The extreme makeover would suggest that Collins has also drastically overhauled her sound. Her change in presentation, in fact, mirrors the identity crisis electronic music as a whole is enduring right now. The über-serious obsession with all things futuristic that propelled dance music to its commercial high-water mark four years ago has been replaced by the ironic, the lo-fi and the retro. Electroclash was the most hyped manifestation of that postmodern meltdown of techno culture, which came and went almost overnight. But the fad managed to inject dance music with a dose of humor and trashiness that's saving club culture from sci-fi sterility.

So it's odd that Collins, who looks like she's in on the electroclash joke, still sounds like she's spinning records for some imagined supper club on Mars. Impervious to the revolt, she's stuck to the same trance and progressive house style on Perfecto that led her to the international stage in the late '90s. Trance and progressive, which are nearly indiscernible from each other, advance so glacially that the two years between her last two discs could have been just a quick flip of the crossfader. Her modus operandi remains the same: sleek, militaristically precise beats gliding along under cascades of icy, computer-generated melody.

This is not to say that Collins isn't a respected DJ or that she doesn't deserve to be. It's that what she does especially well -- seamlessly mixing dark, soaring trance records together -- has a certain time and place. Except for the dance music diehards who still club four nights a week, that time was 4 a.m. on a Saturday night in 2000, and the place was some long-lost illegal desert rave. Partying like it's 1999 gets wearisome after five or so years. -- Darren Keast

Saturday, July 24, at Rich's, 2401 San Jacinto, 713-759-9606.Modulator EP Release Party, with Steve Burns

Though it was its own distinct musical subgenre, not all 1980s synth-pop bands were alike. There was the grinding, industrial metal music of Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk; the art-school cool of New Order and Ultravox; and the danceable pop of Berlin and Missing Persons. This Houston-based five-piece group leans toward the latter two strains. And vocalist-keyboardist Julie Omran Zamora has a much better tone than the grating nasal caterwauling of Dale Bozzio (and probably doesn't wear plastic see-through bras on stage, either).

Modulator's second and latest EP, Don't Hold Out on Me, was produced in L.A. by ex-Psychedelic Fur keyboardist Ed Buller, whose production credits include Pulp and Suede. Rob Smith's slashing guitar work keeps a rock edge on the material, but with the album's mere three songs, which clock in at less than 11 minutes, it seems there was some wasted opportunity here. The tunes are spoken/sung in a robotic (but danceable) fashion, and use technology as a metaphor for human relationships ("Major Malfunction," "You're So Analog"), while the title track is a pleasant little opus about a woman longing for her distant lover. -- Bob Ruggiero

Thursday, July 29, at Walter's, 4215 Washington Avenue, 713-864-2727.Ratatat, with the Killers

Unabashedly instrumental, Ratatat's self-titled debut CD on XL Recordings seems content with its studied lack of verbosity, although an anonymous, hip-hop-inflected commentator does pop up periodically between tracks to intone stuff along the lines of "Daaamn...Wow. I mean, Daaamn..." It's hard to say whether my reaction to the disc was unduly influenced by the enthusiasm of its self-contained Greek chorus, but I've got to confess that yesterday I accidentally left Ratatat in the boom box on automatic repeat around mid-afternoon and didn't even think to take it out until well after sundown.

This stripped-down combo has an intense history, what with Mike Stroud having played with Ben Kweller and Dashboard Confessional, and Evan Mast's solo records as E*vax, not to mention the duo's recent tours supporting high-profile alterna-stars like Interpol and the Stills. Matters of pedigree aside, though, the most impressive thing about this group is its music, which manages to be simultaneously driving and low-key. Ditties like "Everest" and "Spanish Armada" are unobtrusive enough to fade into the background of your day but well crafted enough to reward close listening. Watch your back, Danny Elfman: These two guys have created a soundtrack to a life worth living. -- Scott Faingold

Friday, July 23, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.Del Castillo, at the Los Skarnales CD Release Party

Forget Los Lonely Boys. San Angelo's much-ballyhooed blues trio doesn't have half the blood and fire of Del Castillo, whose tireless live performances and incendiary rock en español helped the Austin six-piece win Band of the Year honors at the 2002-2003 Austin Chronicle Music Awards, a rather shocking coup for a two-year-old band that began as a lark. After decades in metal acts that assaulted their parents' traditional sensibilities, brothers Rick and Mark del Castillo wanted to make music their folks could enjoy. The result is a lively hybrid of old-school gitano and modern blues-rock, which has been packing clubs down south for a couple of years now. When director Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Desperado) caught the boys, he not only included their song "Dias de Los Angeles" in his film Once Upon a Time in Mexico, he also agreed to direct a concert DVD, Del Castillo Live, which bottles the band's fury during a sweat-soaked set at Austin's Steamboat. No matter what praise and hyperboles I heap on the group, however, Del Castillo makes its best plea live. See for yourself this weekend. -- Sarah Hepola

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