BASEMENT JAXX

Remedy (Astralwerks/XL) ***

Brit dance-music critics have been elbowing each other out of the way to heap ever more fawning praise on this "best house album ever." The funny part is that Basement Jaxx's improvements on the genre are so glaringly obvious. They add more (and less conventional) samples, a bit of melody, and (who woulda thought house needed this?!) some variation, and suddenly it's like, dude, you don't even need to be on hard drugs to enjoy listening. Reggae chatters, disco divas, Timbaland-style bounce beats, and punk samples all make appearances on the aptly titled Remedy, but the solution isn't in the ingredient list so much as the recipe. Basement Jaxx men Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe (could they possibly sound more laddish?) know how to layer their samples to set up interesting counter-rhythms, and they're clever about changing things up just as you get the hang of 'em. Why anyone thought depth-of-field could be added to house music only at the expense of beat-driven energy has always been a mystery to me. Remedy's consistently powerful, complex mixes deepen the intrigue. ADAM HEIMLICH

RED SNAPPER Making Bones

(Matador/Warp) *

At last, a live, organic band that plays English dance music as boring, fashion-focused, repetitive, and pretentious as the digitally sampled "real" thing. Red Snapper garnishes their familiarly "dark," "jazzy," and "languid" atmospherics with a couple of cliché-spouting MCs. The sort of hiphop this band most evokes is that of the mush-mouthed radio rappers whose primary qualification for chart-topping status, so they boast, is the fact that they don't try hard and lead an easy life. Utterly, instantly forgettable. AH

JOAN OF ARC Live in Chicago, 1999

(Jade Tree) **

Joan of Arc is, or rather was, an emocore trio with a dedicated following of collegiate neo-indie-rock kids. This new album (it's not really live) finds singer/guitarist Tim Kinsella, probably exhausted after years of near-constant touring, singing rather quietly over oddly subdued, pulsing acoustic arrangements. Kinsella, formerly the proud conduit for rock's most distinctive yelp, now warbles about how he's "sick of shouting monosyllabically." Even so, he's unique.

The old Joan of Arc were masters of driving-yet-directionless riffs--the band wore lack of resolution as some sort of slacker badge of courage. Their new music is likewise open-ended, fleetingly melodic and pointlessly bold, but mellowness allows for a richer, more nuanced version of all that. Think Tortoise, if they were young and idealistic, but not so idealistic as to think they could play black. Live in Chicago is about as good an album as a band that can't (yet?) write a song, a poem, or a groove can produce. It sure as hell doesn't sound like anything else. AH

ELEVATOR THROUGH Vague Premonition (Sub Pop) ****

This breakthrough album by the group helmed by Rick White, formerly of the not-nearly-as-good Eric's Trip and same-band-with-a-slightly-different-name Elevator To Hell, is all the more satisfying for its incredibly late arrival. Vague Premonition picks up where Sebadoh III left off, re-interpreting Black Sabbath for suburbanites by making a deal with the devil. The last Elevator To Hell release, 1997's Eerieconsiliation, initiated what on this new album becomes tremendous spiraling momentum, made supremely absorbing through the heft of the band's improved riffs and rhythms. The production is unabashedly raw and bottom-heavy; it'd be out of style if this band--which records on an eight-track home studio in New Brunswick, Canada, laying down every song on the same day it's composed--could possibly have anything at all to do with the outside world. This is four a.m. bedspin guitar music at its glorious best. For some of us, that's deeper than a matter of style. AH

FELICITY Music from the Hit Television Series (Hollywood Records) **

Excuse me, but Felicity doesn't have anything to be depressed about. She's got her own series on the goddam WB, for Christ's sake! So why does every single person on her CD sound like they need to take a grumpy dump? Of course, we expect some mopiness from the demographic Felicity is shooting for--but c'mon! Don't these gals ever party? In actuality, there's not a bad song on the disc (including some nice work by Heather Nova, Joe Ivy, and Aretha Franklin), but the sheer enormity of the jingle-jangle ennui pouring from it is enough to make you break into your dorm's gun cabinet. Do us all a favor, Felicity. Take some ecstasy and cheer the fuck up. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY

DONNA SUMMER VH1 Presents Live & More Encore (Sony) **

Though I appreciate VH1's continuing work in the field of archaeology, they should really concentrate on digging up relics that are, shall we say... a bit more recent. Their concert featuring Culture Club, for example, was right on time. Boy George and the gang sounded great, and their songs were fun while carrying a hint of sad maturity. On the other hand, this live Donna Summer concert has all the hallmarks of a summer State Fair tour: lousy sound, amateurish arrangements of her hits, and backup singers that need a refresher course in the meaning of "backup." Don't get me wrong--Donna still has her pipes, and the audience sounds like they're having fun... but I guess you just had to be there. WSH

AUSTIN POWERS The Spy Who Shagged Me Soundtrack (Maverick) **

The first Austin Powers soundtrack was a weirdo enjoyable pop confection with enough hooks to make one forget the movie wasn't all that funny. However, if this disc is any indication, the sequel could be in for a bumpy ride. Since Austin travels back to the '60s in this outing, the soundtrack is a mishmash of current artists forced to act like stinking hippies. Some are more successful than others: R.E.M.'s cover of "Draggin' the Line" passes the flower-power test, while Lenny Kravitz's "American Woman" marches onto the scene like the National Guard at Kent State. Madonna seems to shrug and play along with the rubber-stamped psychedelia of "Beautiful Stranger," while Green Day dives right into the surf/spy genre with trippy and fun "Espionage." Overall, the misses outweigh the hits, and instead of capturing the spirit of the '60s, it ends up smelling like a businessman wearing patchouli. WSH

PAVEMENT Terror Twilight (Matador) ****

It's like the scene at the end of a generic rock movie when the band gets back together, one last time, without all the attention, distractions, and fanfare, to just jam, maaaan. Not that it's a finale, or that Pavement's fan base will ever spare them the geekiest brand of over-attention. Terror Twilight is just refreshing in the way it showcases Pavement's inimitable style. They seem quite comfortable with the facts that neither their career nor indie rock itself has gone anywhere since 1994--and why shouldn't they be? It was only five years ago, and once you're 30, that's nothin'!

After largely successful stabs at art rock (1995's Wowee Zowee) and winsome, tea time poet-pop (1997's overproduced and overpraised Brighten the Corners), this new one returns to the feel of 1994's conflicted-yet-winning Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. There's the same sense of privacy. Songs that at first sound half-catchy, half-forced turn out, after repeated listens, to be about the tension between plans and capitulation to fate. Lyrically lighter and musically heavier than the last two Pavement albums, Terror Twilight feels like a purposeful version of the slackers-awakening-from-stupor vibe that the band used to hit intuitively. I guess they decided, at least for the time being, that big ideas aren't as cool as that moment when your mental wheels first come unstuck. AH

THE HELLACOPTERS Grande Rock

(Sub Pop) ***

Comparisons of this band to MC5 caused 1998 to be the year that MC5 was most mentioned in the press, ever. The Hellacopters are also compared to Kiss and The Stooges a lot. Let's throw AC/DC and Skynyrd into the conversation too, 'cause I hear them in there. The New York Times claimed, "The band makes you think twice about the value of the new in rock-and-roll." Better yet, they make you not think at all. These Swedes rock harder and less ironically than any current American band. And they're way more consistent than MC5 or Kiss. And their drummer is busier than any drummer in any '70s hard-rock act, except maybe the James Gang.

This Sub Pop debut is satisfying, but a little goofy compared to Hellacopters' live act, which is too exciting to criticize. The album might make a good gift for kids born too late to appreciate real rock. It very effectively exposes Hole and Marilyn Manson's comparative non-mastery of their instruments. Grown-ups should pick this up for something to blast while washing the car this summer. Hellacopters pump enough adrenal power to mitigate even a mini-van. AH

ART OF NOISE The Seduction of Claude Debussy (ZTT) ***

This album marks a reunion for the pioneering techno-sadists who made an indelible mark on the minds of original-MTV kids with "Close (To the Edit)" in 1984. The group is a hybrid of classically trained avant-garders and well-connected-industry-studio-wiz types; they aim to employ contemporary pop techniques as sledgehammers against the walls of genres' boundaries. Seduction is an album-length conceptual piece about the next and last turns of centuries. With jungle and hiphop beats, shards of Debussy opera, new ambient compositions, rap (by guest MC Rakim!), voice-over narration, and, um, other stuff, they construct a dreamlike non-story about the day the father of 20th-century music died.

The cool thing about the album is that you can either get really into the extended metaphor, conducting extra-credit research on Debussy's break with formalism, or you can just get off on the trippy music. On that (very 20th-century) level, at least one track on the album is bound to annoy you and seem pretentious. But they're all transporting--others will take you somewhere you like to be. For the left-brained, Art of Noise's rejection of postmodernism is intriguing--Seduction treats recent innovations as tools for communicating a unified whole, instead of as ends in themselves. AH

TEXAS The Hush (Universal) *

How much do I despise Texas? Let me count the ways: (1) They sound like tepid Alanis Morissette (in other words... ACK!). (2) They try to make up for their lack of originality (and talent!) by pasting a photo of their attractive singer looking orgasmic on the cover. (3) They are yet another example of wimpy U.K. pop invading our shores. Stay away. Stay far, far away.--BRADLEY STEINBACHER

THE RED KRAYOLA Fingerpainting (Drag City Records) ***

Fingerpainting is basically Krayola's first record, The Parable of Arable Land, rehashed and redone with added tracks and sounds, both new and old. It's like a collage of their 30-year career, but this time Mayo Thompson's always borderline ridiculous crooning fight for attention with a heavy drum machine. For true fans (since Krayola has always been an acquired taste), Fingerpainting is not quite as good as Hazel. For the uninitiated, it'll leave you completely befuddled.--BS

THE MUFFS Alert Today Alive Tomorrow (Honest Don's M-M-Good Recordings) **

The Muffs have been doing the exact same thing for years now: making nice punk/pop that never really blows your hair back (their brilliant cover of "Kids in America" not included). Alert Today Alive Tomorrow continues that tradition. Never offensive nor memorable, they are merely insignificant. But if they're your bag, enjoy, because it's exactly what you've come to expect.--BS

JORDAN KNIGHT Jordan Knight (Interscope Records) ***

They say it isn't a competition--but c'mon! Summer 1999 will be remembered as the "battle between the boy band wash-outs," led by Ricky Martin (ex of Menudo), Joey McIntyre (ex of New Kids On The Block), and now Jordan Knight (also of NKOTB), each struggling to regain a sliver of past fame. Though Ricky may have hit the jackpot, Jordan definitely has the best disc of the trio. A proponent of pretty boy soul, Knight has a fine, controlled falsetto. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis add smart production, with lots of programmed drums and sneaky samples (such as Sugarloaf's "Green-Eyed Lady"). Though the disc is predictably ballad-heavy, and threatens to turn into a hiphop Windham Hill sampler, only three of the slower tunes are stinkers, and his uptempo songs, like "Give It To You" and "A Different Party," put a new spin on effervescent pop. I wouldn't lay money on it, but Knight might have staying power--not as a teen idol, but as a honky Barry White for twentysomethings.--WSH

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