ISIS

Panopticon

(Ipecac)

*** 1/2
Boston's Isis embody all the political leanings, biting cold winds, and higher educational precision of their hometown within sprawling, titanic, almost orchestral post-hardcore. They balance lumbering cadences so dense they exert gravitational pull (to the repeat button) with dewy quivers recalling bevels of Ride, Radiohead, and the Cure, and never more than on the quintet's third full-length, Panopticon.

With 2002's Oceanic, it's possible Isis were merely alluding to aquatic expanse. But it's equally possible it was suggesting Oceania, the super-state from George Orwell's 1984. Panopticon reinforces this theory by referencing another dystopian facet of dystopia: conceptual surreptitious surveillance as derived from 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon prison.

Panopticon isn't paranoid, per se, but the eight-minute-on-average compositions are so hefty, so enveloping, that they instigate the feeling that the bristly riffs prick the skin like 1,000 watchful eyes. The glossy satellite photos gracing Panopticon's packaging do nothing to dissuade this eerie insinuation of omniscience.

On Panopticon, taut yet tensile songs don't shove, they shrug, sloughing off layer after opalescent layer of ambient interlude. Drums are submerged anchors and Isis epicenter Aaron Turner's vocals--sometimes growling, sometimes gleaming--are eddies in the frothing current burbling from the same well of meticulous muscle as Neurosis and Godflesh. Isis' paced campaigns furrow through the often inspiration-leeched landscape of metal. With Panopticon, Isis reveal they do see much that other bands of this ilk don't. TONY WARE

Isis play w/These Arms Are Snakes Thurs Nov 18 at Neumo's. 8 pm, $12, all ages.

BLUES EXPLOSION

Damage

(Blues Explosion/Sanctuary Records)

**
From Pussy Galore to this. Jon Spencer, once an avatar for barbed-wired blasts of dirty noise bombs, now helms an act that has as much to do with feral Blues Explosions as a retired Elvis impersonator. His schmaltzy, showbizy, lounge-punk shtick is showing its threadbare sleeves 10 albums after his trio's 1992 self-titled debut. The band's latest, Damage, required five producers, two guest stars (Chuck D gives "Hot Gossip" a baritone bump), and a barrage of grunts, fronts, and howls to recreate what Spencer and crew (guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins) have basically been repackaging since before Plastic Fang. The trio--who've dropped the "Jon Spencer" from their moniker to show they're in this together--do offer a couple sharp edges in Damage's smooth blooze grooves. "Rattling" gets a chop-and-paste, stuttered-electro reworking and the punk funk "Fed Up and Low Down" shifts into jerky triple time for a couple quick energetic sprints, but then it's back to same old swivel-hip grind. Even with big producer names like Dan the Automator and DJ Shadow taking the controls for a couple tracks, the Blues Explosion have folded into a cliché of their own formula--a blueprint so worn even Spencer aptly jokes on "Help These Blues," "Before I used to walk, now I only crawl." JENNIFER MAERZ

The Blues Explosion play w/the Gossip Fri Nov 19 at Neumo's, 9:30 pm, $13.

JACKI-O

Poe Little Rich Girl

(TVT)

**
Damn, we've come a looong way since when MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Yo Yo mixed hardcore appeal with feminine sensibilities. Now, since Heather B went MIA and Lauryn Hill went crazy, with but a few exceptions (Jean Grae, Invincible, Bahamadia) the "femcee" blueprint dates no further back than 1996, when Lil' Kim and Fox Boogie Brown dropped their debuts. Though she's a better MC (or possessing better ghostwriters), image-wise Jacki-O is just a gullier version of Trina, herself hailed as a more hardcore Lil' Kim.

I'm not gonna sit here and tell you Jacki's titillating freakier-than-thou narratives don't make for some entertaining listening--but the shtick wears thin simply because it's so fucking predictable. Peep these gems off of "Pussy Real Good," just one of the songs Jacki devotes to her kitty--"He need this pussy/he smell this pussy/wanna taste this pussy?/you gotta pay for pussy/that pussy, pussy"; you get the idea.

Ms. O fancies herself "the madam of the industry," and just like her male would-be "pimp" counterparts, Jacki's guilty of selling a very shaky take on empowerment to impressionable youth. If you're old enough to know better, then it's all to the good--but shit, if you know better, then you've already got the best track on the album, the Ghostface-featured "Tooken Back," originally on his Pretty Toney Album from earlier this year. For that matter, "Tooken Back" is exactly what this CD might end up being--keep the receipt. LARRY MIZELL JR.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Compilation #2

(DFA)

****
It's a rare pleasure to witness the rise of a much-hyped label that actually deserves it. New York's DFA earns respect for regularly kicking out killer jams since 2001 without coming close to mediocrity. (Okay, the Rapture's Echoes verges on it, but it's the exception.) Run by James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy (AKA LCD Soundsystem), DFA mostly peddles cowbell-powered disco punk that transcends both genres' strictures like Buddha transcends material reality. This triple disc bestows DFA's recent and forthcoming 12s. Pixeltan's "Get Up/Say What," J.O.Y.'s "Sunplus," punk-funk OGs Liquid Liquid's "Bellhead," and LCD's two versions of "Yeah" are the dance-floor destroyers here, but other delights abound. Juan Maclean (ex-Six Finger Satellite guitarist) brings chunky electro into the scuffed-disco equation. Black Dice are the illest psychedelicists going. And Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom conjure sunrise-euphoria electronics out of the Harmonia school of autobahn cruising. Welcome to America's best label. DAVE SEGAL

**** Hebrew National *** Ball Park ** Oscar Mayer * Yve's

Support The Stranger