PLAYLIST

P.J. Harvey
To Bring You My Love
(Island)

Polly Jean is an uncompromising cuss for the most part, but she's not obstinate enough to commit career suicide just yet. So when 1993's Rid of Me, produced for maximum skronk value by Steve Albini, turned off everyone within earshot other than yours truly, she decided to take a step back. Which is not to imply that To Bring You My Love ventures into Olivia Newton-John territory: Although uber-producer Flood gets partial credit for the disc's sound, he doesn't turn Harvey into a slick, dance-floor chanteuse. The title cut, placed at the top of the album, is creepy and neurotic enough to serve as a warning that the weak of heart should venture no further, while even the compelling, relatively accessible "C'Mon Billy," colored by violin, viola and cello, is not anyone's idea of fun. Neither is the single "Down by the Water," which may or may not be about murdering a child, but Harvey's sense of drama gives this sonic fragment a cinematic quality (Night of the Hunter is an apt reference) that keeps it resounding in your cranium. With an artist like Harvey, histrionic excess is part of the package, and both "Teclo" and "Long Snake Moan" contribute their share. But, as usual, Harvey's highs compensate for her lows. And oftentimes, her lows are even better.--Michael Roberts

Mark Levine
Smiley & Me
(Concord Jazz)

A devoted teacher schooled in the fine art of jazz, pianist/trombonist Levine has worked with Joe Henderson, Cal Tjader, Jaki Byard, Gabor Szabo, Mongo Santamaria and Woody Shaw, but he's best known among today's musicians for authoring the 1990 work The Jazz Piano Book (he's currently penning a sequel). However, the three albums Levine has recorded under his own name are fine efforts in their own right. Smiley & Me, a limited-edition 1985 release on the Cameo imprint that's just been reissued on Concord Jazz, is the most recent of these discs, a duet project featuring drummer Smiley Winters. For the collection, Levine and Winters went into the studio unrehearsed and came out with cover versions of eight compositions, Bobby Hutcherson's "Now," Tadd Dameron's "Our Delight," Billy Strayhorn's "My Little Brown Book" and the staple "Stompin' at the Savoy" among them. The result is an understated yet elegant documentation that deserves to be placed alongside the piano-and-drum recordings that teamed Max Roach with Cecil Taylor and Russ Freeman with Shelley Mann. Smiley & Me's effortless improvisations and subtle spontaneity testify to its continuing worth.--Linda Gruno

Milk Cult
Burn or Bury
(Basura!)

This funky, schizophrenic brain hemorrhage of a record is sort of entertaining, in a sick, syrupy, medicinal way. Imagine Tuxedo Moon on elephant tranquilizers, with a little Art of Noise and Wild Honey kicked in for flavor. Or better yet, try picturing Unsane and the Lounge Lizards duking it out in a twelve-round cage match with Frogs and Malcolm McLaren. Stellar cuts: "Urine the Monkey," a gristly paean to media overkill, and "Hello Kitty (The Meow Mix)," an industrial/jazz/pop/noise/dance track that brings to mind...well, something really weird. It's all good fun, but you should remember to brush your teeth and say your prayers afterward. Because this one could sneak up on you.--Brad Jones

Cluster
One Hour
(Gyroscope)

During the late Sixties and early Seventies, when some of the first examples of electronic music began to emerge, the synthesists who pioneered the form were dismissed by more pop-leaning observers as mad musical scientists in danger of disappearing into their own navels. But what a difference twenty years makes: The environmental excursions of Brian Eno and, more recently, the growing popularity of ambient recordings have made artists like Cluster's Hans Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius, who began collaborating in 1969, seem especially prescient. This latest effort is typical of their work--sixty minutes of continuous, loosely structured blips, bleeps and clanks that come together to form the musical equivalent of a pseudopod. Especially toward the beginning of the piece, Roedelius and Moebius offer keyboard melodies that call to mind (eesh) faux-classical art rock. But as the pair delves deeper into the project, they abandon most concessions to convention and engage in subtle instrumental exploration that owes as much to the Art Ensemble of Chicago as it does to Can. In many ways, this is nothing more than old-fashioned head music. But, given Cluster's track record, it may well sound more new-fashioned as time goes by.--Roberts

 
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