DJ SPOOKY
Under the Influence
(Six Degrees)
***1/2

One doesn't listen to a compilation for the individual tracks, but for the meaning of the mix, which ultimately forms the image of the DJ. Whatever is in the mix speaks only to the DJ, and is silent about its origins. But in DJ Spooky's excellent compilation Under the Influence, something else is happening. The compilation is not just an image of the DJ (or "selecta") but a blueprint for his own original work. Under the Influence describes Spooky's next CD, the direction it will take, the problems it will raise and try to solve, the sounds it will break. The CD is a mix of hiphop, jungle, jazz, and dub from bands like Anti-Pop Consortium, Sonic Youth, Saul Williams, and DJ Logic. The backbone to the mix is hiphop, the body is jazz, the brain is jungle, and the soul is dub. I'm convinced that Spooky can do nothing wrong. CHARLES MUDEDE

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SARAH DOUGHER
The Bluff
(Mr. Lady)
**1/2

You ever feel guilty for not liking something as much as you think you're supposed to? This is the persistent, uncomfortable feeling I get listening to The Bluff, as Sarah Dougher's no-nonsense alto fills the room. Like her two previous solo projects (1999's Day One and 2000's The Walls Ablaze), Dougher's latest release is carefully rendered, with skilled musicianship, charming, conversational lyrics, and John Nikki's excellent guitar-playing. And yet it all feels so familiar and not terribly exciting; self-conscious and restrained, as if there were very strict rules placed on Dougher's particular brand of Northwest, lo-fi, Smart Girl Rock. Dougher's lo-fi-ness almost works against her at times: It can too easily be mistaken for a lack of urgency or passion. I'm sure Dougher has passion in spades. It just seems to be inexplicably muddled and tucked away on this album, with all too few exceptions or moments of real sparkle. With The Walls Ablaze, I swooned and ached and thought about Dougher's words constantly; with The Bluff, I wash dishes and dust, humming absentmindedly, grateful for the pleasant tunes in the background. MIN LIAO

APHEX TWIN
Drukqs

(Warp Records)
***

Less than two years after proclaiming his retirement, Richard D. James returns with a double-disc opus that goes a long way toward justifying his reputation as one of the few geniuses in electronic music. James juxtaposes definitive ambient tracks like "Bbydhyonchord" with hypertensive dance-floor demonstrations like "Cock/Ver 10" as a kind of complete tour of Aphex Twin's amazingly diverse oeuvre. True, few of these offerings break new ground (in fact, rumors have James simply culling his hard drive for unreleased material), and some of the shorter John Cage-inspired piano treatments also feel like he's trying too hard. But after you hear the apoplectic ping-pong breakbeats and warm harpsichord tones of "Mt. Saint Michel Mix + St. Michaels Mount," it's hard not to forgive the godfather of IDM. When he's not distracted by his own self-importance, James delivers the most unearthly and beautiful machine-music ever made. DAVID SLATTON

MISSISSIPPI FRED McDOWELL
The Best Of Mississippi Fred McDowell

(Arhoolie)
****

LIGHTNIN' HOPKINS
The Best Of Lightnin' Hopkins

(Arhoolie)
****

Unlike SOME labels, Arhoolie has always done proper by their back catalog... which, SURPRISE, is from whence these collections are culled. All y'all "Dude, I totally love blues music, like R.L. Burnside" folks'll wanna take a big looky here... even IF there ain't no DJs scratchin' 'n' slashin' "beats"! Okay, personally I ain't never been a "best of" fan, but I DID take note of these: they're solid "howdy-do's" to both Mr. McDowell and Lightnin'. Anyway, it ain't hard for these to NOT suck... these men are giants. It's true... just dig Fred McDowell's striking, open-tuned, hollered country blues, which'll have you face down, ass up, swiggin' on yer loose juice, stompin' silly like Jed Clampett! Well... that's what Fred does to me. WHOO!!! Oh... along with Fred's acoustic action, this collection features a slim sample of his electric blues too. As for Mr. Lightnin', like it ain't been said enough: Lightnin' is a bit more, um... easygoin', and always doin' it Lightnin's way. Like, he sticks to the "12-bar" form as much as he'll turn it into 10 or 14... or seven bars, whatever he needs to suit his phrasing. And the motherfucker is H-A-R-D... a bit more city savvy, as it were. Okay, so these collections, if you ain't already dug these mighty men of blue, will certainly point you in a good direction. And be mindful, these're testimonies to how "blues" ain't always about no hung-down head, like we're always told. These blues is for smilin'! MIKE NIPPER

THE MELODY UNIT
Choose Your Own Adventure
(Hidden Agenda)
**1/2

The Melody Unit's strength lies in the double harmonies of singers Kevin Kelly and Jessica Folsom, and the swirling, shimmering melodies of keyboardist Peter Lynch. The strongest song on Choose Your Own Adventure, "Suite for Caesar," is (sadly) the first song on the album. The rave-up that opens "Prepare the Juggernaut" captures your interest, but it takes three minutes to actually get into the gooey, juicy goodness of the song. On "Juggernaut," Kelly and Folsom sing "One wall comes down/One more needs to be knocked down/Our call to arms rings loud/Sound the revolution now." The irony here is that they sing it quietly. With lyrics like these you would expect a loud screaming fit, but the Melody Unit doesn't see it that way. This album isn't groundbreaking, but suitable listening for a dinner party, as you are going to sleep, or as a gentle wake-up on a Sunday morning. BRYAN BINGOLD