New Skin

(Film Guerrero)

Led by in-demand Seattle producer/multi-instrumentalist Tucker Martine, Mount Analog is one of those super-session projects helmed by a seasoned studio rat that studiously explore the players' myriad obsessions. These musicians--including local A-list experimenters Eyvind Kang, Bill Frisell, Tim Young, and Bruce Wirth--softly and stealthily evoke poignant zones of dream consciousness. In one sense, New Skin is a soundtrack in search of an unconventional indie film, perhaps by Darren Aronofsky. There's much haunting, spacious ambience--like Brian Eno's On Land transposed to the gloomy Pacific Northwest--seeping into these 11 tracks. But Mount Analog also pens heart-melting songs that could cue climaxes of romantic dramas: Check the tenderly beautiful "Bell & Howell" and "Gospel Melodica," which swells to a Spiritualized-meets-Jimmy Webb splendor, and cry yourself silly. New Skin's hard to categorize, but easy to enjoy. DAVE SEGAL



(Minty Fresh/Universal)

If you doubt that the language of rock is inherently Anglo, try listening to some European bands. Though the EU is littered with familiar-sounding rock flavors (garage, indie, et al.), the most interesting characteristic--and biggest flaw--of most of the artists in question is that they tend to sing in English, rather than their native French, German, Flemish, or whatever. Though they may speak it fluently, and the music may sound proper, they rarely have sufficient mastery of English to speak the pop dialect. Hence, the records (most of which will never make it off the continent) sound weirdly crippled.

That's what I thought of Komeda when they first came around in the mid-'90s from Sweden. They certainly looked and sounded the part of art pop, but they just didn't seem to have the language. Fortunately, their first new LP in six years, Kokomemedada, transcends the verbal issue completely, because it is great pop. High-energy, synth-based workouts like "Blossom (Got to Get It Out)" and "Fade in Fade Out" won't have you sweating the (still mildly clunky) vocab, because you'll be too busy shaking your head at how much ass is being kicked. The whole album is solidly inventive, smart, and really, really fun. SEAN NELSON


Soul Survivor II

(Studio 7)

Pete Rock's commercial peak can be easily recognized (it occurred in the early '90s); his artistic peak, on the other hand, is not so discernible because he has never had a low in that regard. In the big country of hiphop, Pete Rock is a volcano that constantly spews out rich, thick material. In 1992, he and C. L. Smooth released a huge hit called Mecca & the Soul Brother (1992). This was followed in 1994 with The Main Ingredient, which didn't do so well on the charts but sounded great on the headphones. The MC and the DJ parted ways after The Main Ingredient, and Pete Rock went on to become a relatively popular freelance producer. His first solo record, Soul Survivor, is a hiphop ark for the year 1998 (every rapper who was important at that time is on that CD). His latest, Soul Survivor II, isn't built like an ark but like a numinous garden. The rappers on this CD (Slum Village, Dead Prez, C. L. Smooth, Talib Kweli, to name a few) are in a wonderland of beats. The tracks are grounded by heavy, walking bass lines and ornamented by floating, spectacular effects. Pete Rock is not soul survivor as much as he is a soul sorcerer. CHARLES MUDEDE


Bamnan and Slivercork

(Bella Union)

In the pop world, the words happy, sunny, and melancholy best serve as adjectives to describe the particular kinds of sounds the music can typically encompass. How about exhalation, then? If that is an apt adjective, then the expression of releasing repressed worry is exactly the way Midlake's Bamnan and Slivercork sounds. Like Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, Belle & Sebastian, Fuck, and much of John Lennon, Midlake is just plain relaxing, provoking the listener's mind to enjoy the freedom of unraveling in thought, whether that's done while paying attention to the astute, bittersweet lyrics or while just enjoying the pretty layers of airy, tinkly, electronic buzz. The brainchild of former Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde, Midlake is relief of closet guilt for those of us who couldn't garner any relaxation from Raymonde's former band, yet steadfast fans should find the bloom of Bamnan and Slivercork a welcome extension of a memory aching to progress. KATHLEEN WILSON