VARIOUS ARTISTS The Book of Life Soundtrack (Echostatic) ***

Successful 40-year-old artists who live in lofts in downtown Manhattan and are into new music listen to stuff like this. Yo La Tengo, PJ Harvey, David Byrne, Takako Minekawa, some classical chant, a few unknown singer/songwriters, and boom--it's grown-up indie atmosphere, perfect for the video movie Hal Hartley (who fits the above description) made for French television. With past soundtracks, the never unpretentious Hartley has proven he's got an ear. This new compilation's got nothing but very good, very mellow songs you've mostly never heard (Hub Moore's "Two People" and Super 5 Thor's "Lincoln" stand out), exquisitely sequenced and all recorded with production values several hundred times more respectful of the material than anything you'll hear on yuppie-rock radio. It's all about structure. Forgive me for saying "exquisite" again. Hal Hartley's The Book of Life will screen at Grand Illusion in July, as part of the Year 2000 film series. ADAM HEIMLICH

CHRISTAL METHODISTS Satanic Ritual Abuse (Kolazhnikov) **

These guys aren't the only old punks who've turned to techno and spoken word as the best means for expressing their special relationship with the American mainstream. As the booklet that comes with this 1998 CD (which is slowly making its way around the alternaculture network) shows, there is now a whole movement based around reorganizing samples from the datasphere and setting them to beats. Christal Methodists concentrate on Christian radio. They've found some pretty wild stuff, and manipulate some of it to humorous effect. But the music is insignificant, so there's no real reason to listen to Satanic Ritual Abuse more than once. It's worth hearing if you're interested, though, so if anyone wants it, just send me a self-addressed envelope with enough postage for a CD. Promise to pass it on again when you're done. Write to 41 E 22nd St, #2A, New York NY 10010. AH

BOOM BOOM SATELLITES Out Loud (Sony) ***

Angry teens take note: If the Prodigy are electronic music's Kiss and the Chemical Brothers its AC/DC, the Boom Boom Satellites are its Soundgarden. This album is loud indeed--crunchy and masculine, layered with distorted beats and feedback; where the Chemicals splice and dice rock music into DJ-friendly chunks, the Satellites use their samplers to reconstruct it from the inside out. It may swipe a few tricks from the dance world--such as vaguely junglist cut-up beats, and those low-pass filters the French love so much--but this album is rock music to the core, full of delightfully adolescent and blindingly energetic stompers that'll kick your ass into next Tuesday. MATTHEW CORWINE

THE SHAGGS Philosphy of The World (RCA Victor) ****

The Shaggs are the rock world's equivalent of Edward D. Wood, Jr. The legendary Wood wasn't trying to win the accolade "Worst Director of All Time" when he made Plan 9 From Outer Space; it was honestly the best he could do. So it was with New Hampshire's Wiggin sisters on March 9, 1969, when they entered Fleetwood Studios to record their magnum opus, Philosophy of the World. With musical skills somewhere to the south of basic competency and singing just off-key enough to be irritating, the Shaggs were a cult legend from the get-go. Even the album's liner notes are loopy: "You may love their music or you may not, but whatever you feel, at last you know you can listen to artists who are real." For connoisseurs of recorded dementia this is an essential reissue, offering 31 minutes and 47 seconds of boffo entertainment. GILLIAN G. GAAR

LUSCIOUS JACKSON Electric Honey (Grand Royal) **

Mediocre bands never die... they just keep releasing records. Luscious Jackson's first record was interesting enough, but these days the girls are hard pressed to come up with anything original. Electric Honey is only mildly better than Fever In, Fever Out, and that ain't saying much. Full of bland samples (including a sequence taken from The Breeders' "Cannonball") and even blander lyrics, Electric Honey manages to achieve a new level of tepidness. Maybe one day the girls will find that creative spark again. Until then, stick with those other Mike D. underlings, Buffalo Daughter. You'll be better off. BRADLEY STEINBACHER

PIZZICATO FIVE Playboy and Playgirl (Matador Records) **

Japanese fetish-mongers Pizzicato five have been pared down to a twosome, but their recipe for success remains the same: lots of fashion pictures and a ton of campy, happy songs. Playboy and Playgirl features a London-in-the-'60s look--derby hats and umbrellas for Konishi Yasuharu, blond wigs, oversized sunglasses, and Union Jack minidresses for Maki Nomiya. The music itself looks backward, as well as forward, and probably to the sides as well: Pizzicato Five seem unconcerned about what influences their music, as long as the end product is cheery and a little satirical. If you're a fan, you won't be disappointed by their latest release. If you haven't heard them yet, but have always secretly yearned for go-go songs sung in Japanese by a pouting hottie in a minidress, then Pizzicato Five will definitely scratch you where it itches. NATHAN THORNBURGH

DUB COOKERY The Skanksters (Simmerdown) ***

The spookiest thing about Canadians is that they are so hard to spot. Their amazing morphing powers allow them to move virtually undetected through our ranks--and many of their musicians can flawlessly imitate non-Canadian styles, from Afro-pop to blues and bluegrass. The Toronto-based Skanksters appear to be another example of this, doing to straight-ahead reggae (despite their name, this isn't really ska) what fellow Torontoan Snow did to dancehall reggae back in 1993. Dub Cookery, after all, is not blazing new territory. It's basically a pot of Steel Pulse-style compositions with a pinch of remix wizardry thrown in. The unusual part is how well the Skanksters reformulate the sound--in-the-pocket grooves, triplet bass lines, and ever-present saxophone backings--all this harnessed by the lead vocals of Tanya Kornobis, resulting in a great combination of haze and clarity. With over an hour of lyric-driven Canadian reggae, there are inevitable lapses into lyrical cliché. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater: Dub Cookery is good listening. NT

ADD N TO (X) Avant Hard (Mute) **

Gimmicky. Add N To (X) uses Moog synthesizers and their algebraic band name to show that they've no shame whatsoever about making instrumental music that sounds exactly like the background score of a video driving game. At least the drums are analog. But their beats are always manic, never powerful. The best parts of this album recall the break from Rush's "Red Barchetta." Rock critics like this group because many of us are sort of autistic, and love getting lost in a world of spherical bleeps and blops. You too? Have fun. People who enjoy interhuman connections will find it boring. AH

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