PRINCE
3121
(Universal)
****

Prince’s 2004 commercial-comeback album, Musicology, though tremendous in terms of rejuvenating his public standing, threatened a flattened and sterilized future for the artist. It was both lyrically and musically drained of sex and felt a bit fogeyish in its retro-funk fetishizing. The new 3121 is all the more gladdening, then, as it finds Prince indulging in more extreme and more successful experimentation than he has for over a decade.

The lusciously weird opener “3121” (seemingly excavated from the vault) sets the tone well with its ominous call to an endless party at Prince’s new spot. First singles “Te Amo Corazón” and “Black Sweat” score immensely as well, with, respectively, giddily weird orchestration and an aggressively bare synth bludgeon. Some songs find Prince committing more fully to modern sounds and modern pop/R&B production than he ever has before, but elevating them beyond what they could ever be in the hands of today’s starlets. Others, like the “Adore”-styled ballad “Satisfied,” are pure soul music but, unlike the hypothetically “real music” on Musicology, don’t feel anesthetized for adult-contemporary consumption.

For the first time in years, Prince is making music that one can actually imagine young people getting excited by. While not a consistently great album, 3121 contains truly the greatest songs that Prince has produced since 1991’s Diamonds & Pearls, and it could suggest great things for his future. 3121 feels more like a true return to form than its predecessor by being more virile, more visceral, and more unafraid in its execution. SAM MICKENS

SONIC YOUTH
Sonic Youth
(Geffen/Goofin’)
***
CICCONE YOUTH
The Whitey Album
(Geffen/Goofin’)

THURSTON MOORE
Psychic Hearts
(Geffen/Goofin’)
***½

No matter when your personal teenage riot started, (and there are three decades of Sonic Youth’s discography in which to get disaffected), each generation scoffs at the other eras. Consider these three discs—the last in a series of CD reappraisals—as a scrapbook that could embarrass their own daughter. Apparently there’s no such thing as a cool dad.

That being said, it’s absurd that their 1982 debut has sat out of print for so long. Richard Edson pounds toms with almost funky tribalism missing elsewhere in the Sonic Youth oeuvre, giving buoyancy (and booty) to “The Burning Spear” and “She Is Not Alone.” Guitars rattle like car-keys or else bleat like ice cream trucks. Kim Gordon dresses as a librarian, but on “I Dreamed I Dream,” her mewl already melts.

On 1989’s uneven, mischievous Whitey Album, the band (as Ciccone Youth) name-checks Neu! and worships the immaterial goddess in the Material Girl. In this goof made with buddies like Mike Watt and J. Mascis, Thurston spits forth some heinous raps, but barbed scraps like “Needle-Gun” and “Macbeth” still sound sharp. However, karaoke of this caliber (see “Addicted to Love” and “Into the Groove[y]”) is only tolerable when you’re drunk.

On Thurston Moore’s lone solo album, Psychic Hearts, he tells his audience that God once wore pink, and gives shout-outs to Patti Smith, Yoko Ono, and Jade Jagger. Topped with an eloquent 20-minute “Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars,” it hints at a wisdom that only comes from being an eternal teen yourself. ANDY BETA

FOUR TET
Everything Ecstatic: Films & Part 2
(Domino)
****
KIERAN HEBDEN AND STEVE REID
The Exchange Session Vol. 1
(Domino)
***

One of the defining elements of Kieran Hebden’s Four Tet project is the way he’s able to make electronic music that sounds random, taking his songs away from their programmed and sampled roots and into the organic headspace enjoyed by live bands. Last year’s Everything Ecstatic CD was a fine example of his talents, and the newly enhanced edition of that recording confirms it. Subtitled Films & Part 2, this package comes with a DVD featuring videos for each of the album’s 10 songs, plus a five-track CD boasting extended versions, outtakes, and new music. If you don’t already own Everything Ecstatic, this is the version to get.

The Exchange Session Vol. 1 is a logical next step for Hebden: It’s a full-on jam session with jazz drummer Steve Reid. The CD captures an in-studio performance, without overdubs or edits, and the three improvisations run just under 37 minutes. The music is loose and spacey, with Hebden conjuring all sorts of electronic gurgles and Reid’s ambient cymbals warming the proceedings like a gas-cloud blanket. The opening track, “Morning Prayer,” gives a nod to Pharoah Sanders’s track of the same name, with its aura of sleepy-time mediation and Eastern tonalities. “Soul Oscillations” is grander in scope, lasting over 14 minutes and jumping from low-key jazztronica to Four Tet–like drone rock. “Electricity and Drum Will Change Your Mind” is the one cut where the energy and focus fade. At about halfway into the 15-minute track, the song breaks down into a passive solo showcase for Reid. He may have wanted to keep with the contemplative spirit of the session, but this is a man who has clicked the sticks for James Brown, Ornette Coleman, and Sun Ra—it would have been more fun to hear Reid cut loose. CHRISTOPHER PORTER

COCTEAU TWINS
Lullabies to Violaine: Singles & Extended Plays 1982–1996
(4AD)
***½

This four-disc set updates the posh yet cumbersome 1991 eight-CD singles box, augmenting the program with tracks from the twilight years (but omitting that collection’s four-song rarities disc). As a career overview, Lullabies to Violaine provides a far more comprehensive picture than the single-disc Stars and Topsoil best of. With its barbed-wire guitars and staccato drum machines, the 1982 track “Feathers-Oar-Blades” conjures visions of Siouxsie wannabes dancing the slow-motion taffy-pull. Yet by the subsequent Peppermint Pig EP (produced by Alan Rankine, of cult new-wave act Associates), Cocteau Twins have already shifted prominently to Fraser’s imaginary language and beguiling whoops and warbles.

Over the course of 59 chronologically sequenced cuts, the spun-sugar-and-fairy-dust quotient rises; although consistently bewitching across the middle stretch, by the time the trio hauls out Christmas carols (1993’s Snow), the finish line seems nigh. Yet—surprise—disc two of volume two’s delicately layered remixes of “Feet-Like Fins” and “Seekers Who Are Lovers,” prove far more interesting than the incarnations found on the 1996 swan song Milk & Kisses. Housed in a wallet composed of a rubbery substance apparently genetically engineered from whole milk, coated cardboard, and Naugahyde, the packaging ranks among 4AD design guru Vaughn Oliver’s loveliest, while the modest list price ensures that the Cocteaus retain their appeal to economy-minded aesthetes. KURT B. REIGHLEY

GLOBAL COMMUNICATION
Fabric 26
(Fabric)
****

Don’t be intimidated by the imposing moniker; Global Communication isn’t some monolithic corporation pulling the strings of Comcast, Qwest, Fox, and the rest of their evil ilk. Rather, it is the duo of British DJs/producers Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard, who have been crafting intriguing electronic music together since 1991, with a catalog that includes the chill-out classic 76:14 and the neo-electro freak-outs of Jedi Knights. Like all the superlative installments in the dependable Fabric mix-CD series, Global Communication’s covers a span of musical territory that flaunts the narrow-minded wisdom that a DJ can’t move between disparate genres and tempos, and still maintain fluidity. Starting with the disorienting, slow-motion percussion and sine-wave bass ripples of “No Child of God (Instrumental)” by Dabrye, the duo dedicates the first half of this 74-minute set to cuts that are laid-back yet never lazy. Gradually, the pace accelerates, reaching an intoxicating apex with Afro-beat shenanigans by Solid Groove, followed by the sleek, four-on-the-floor rush of “Vision 2 Vision” by Audiomontage. Working almost exclusively with little-known underground cuts, Global Communication are especially deft at programming tracks that evoke the past—the sprightly “86 (Verbs)” by Jeremy Ellis recalls Ryuichi Sakamoto’s classic “Riot in Lagos,” and Soul Mekanik’s “Robots” pays homage to Kraftwerk—without sounding dated. Would that our world leaders were a fraction as subtle, persuasive, and inventive in getting their points across as Global Communication are on Fabric 26. KURT B. REIGHLEY