THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS
Push the Button
(Astralwerks/Freestyle Dust)
**1/2

Change is good. And it is often wrong-headed, too. Witness the Chemical Brothers. The British duo's super-sized breakbeat funk and starry-eyed psychedelia peaked on their first two albums, Exit Planet Dust and Dig Your Own Hole. Since then, they've strayed from their strengths; Push the Button continues the slump. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons run through styles and guest vocalists with more dilettantism and desperation than acumen. On the first single, "Galvanize," Q-Tip waxes inane over florid Arabic strings and Middle-East-tense funk. I smell a flop. Elsewhere, the Brothers reach career nadirs with "Left Right" (makes Rage Against the Machine sound subtle) and the twinkling, twee "Close Your Eyes." A couple of highlights--"The Big Jump"'s clipped, glitzy telectro and "Marvo Ging"'s Henry Flynt-like violin drones saturating a rickety funk breakbeat--can't overcome the rest of the disc's dearth of inspiration. DAVE SEGAL

MONOSHOCK
Runnin' Ape-like from the Backwards Superman 1989-1995
(S-S Records)
****

The greatest unsung band of the '90s, Monoshock have recently been getting press here and there, years after they broke up. Collecting all their seven-inch releases, comp tracks, and several previously unreleased cuts from a 1989 demo tape, Runnin' Ape-like is nothing short of essential for fans of the band, if only for the joy of having a solid hour-plus of completely fucked-up, psych-rock-energy music to listen to all the way through rather than having to get up to flip over the seven-inches every five minutes. For anyone new to Monoshock, be prepared for a totally distinctive take on the spot where Hawkwind and the Stooges meet up, with staring-into-an-acid-void vocals, guitars that are more Ron Asheton than Ron Asheton, and a rhythm section that operates on some level of consciousness nobody else knows about.

In fact, before Monoshock, there was no reason to think Hawkwind and the Stooges even met up anywhere, not to mention the fact that it apparently was on some freaked-out astral plane where psychedelic drugs go horribly wrong. Anyone who's had his or her mind torn apart by just the cover art of Monoshock's landmark double album Walk to the Fire knows what we're talking about. If you don't have Walk to the Fire you're gonna wanna go and get it, then get Runnin' Ape-like. Or the other way around. Doesn't matter. You know that movie Altered States, where the guy has sex with a snake because he drank some Indian potion? Yes. MIKE McGUIRK

BILL FRISELL
Richter 858
(Songlines)
***

Seattle guitarist Bill Frisell's compositions flit over museum-case genres like jazz, blues, and Americana in ways ideal for This American Life music beds. He possesses an almost Eno-esque capacity for creating music that works just as well as background atmosphere as it does on headphones. But Richter 858 is something else entirely. Inspired by eight works from massively influential abstract painter Gerhard Richter, the album sounds little like its immediate predecessor, 2004's excellent, eclectic Unspeakable. On the new disc--featuring Eyvind Kang (viola), Jenny Scheinman (violin), and Hank Roberts (cello)--the string section dominates, deftly conjuring mellifluous melodies and spiraling discord in almost constant counterpoint. Frisell's trademark guitar is barely discernible, lightly tolling, obsessively plucking, or mutating into car-alarm stridency. Nevertheless, the disc inventively reflects Richter's oil-on-aluminum paintings' subtly vibrating kineticism and ecstatic tension. Call it a masterstroke. DAVE SEGAL

STEREO TOTAL
Do the Bambi
(Kill Rock Stars)
***

If the greatest thing American musicians ever did was to convince the rest of the world that there's something romantic about being American, then the greatest thing Stereo Total ever did was to sell it back to us. The European mutt twosome of French-born Françoise Cactus and German Brezel Göring has spent the last decade or so crafting a decoupage amalgam of American rock, French pop, and European nebulae--which is to say, a name-checking multi-lingualism, a perpetually French New Wave visual model, and a distinctly aloof Euro-delivery. The package is a brilliantly composed, bite-sized approximation of everything lazy young American Europhiles celebrate about that god-forsaken continent. And while that manipulation alone has kept me largely at arms-length, I have to admit that I've never completely written them off--their songs are undeniable pop gems, and never so much as some places on their latest, Do the Bambi. Though a fair number of the record's 19 tracks passively melt together in a sort of Euro-wash, the record's more compelling moments (the title track, for example) hesitantly solidify my long-dodged Stereo-fandom. ZAC PENNINGTON

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