PLAYLIST

Electric Company
A Pert Cyclic Omen
(Onion/American)

Thus far, the memorable work Brad Laner has produced under the auspices of his band, Medicine, has evaded the embrace of the mainstream: A cut on The Crow soundtrack does not a breakthrough make. But rather than up the pop quotient of his material--by, say, not allowing his amplifiers to erupt in waves of feedback--Laner the auteur has made a disc that's more distorted than anything he's ever done. Calling himself Electric Company is an apt joke, for the various sounds he combines on A Pert Cyclic Omen (yes, Laner likes anagrams) surge and jump like severed power lines. In some ways, the album might be shoved into the ambient pigeonhole, but you couldn't call it background music--Laner makes sure of that. "Polymeric Accent," for instance, writhes over a persistent, gates-of-hell roar, while "Elm Crypt Oceanic" spikes a Miles Davis-like fusion rhythm with brutal whines that tear at the fabric of the piece for nearly nine minutes. As for the title cut, it makes Metal Machine Music seem like "Dancing Queen" by comparison. Your average George Winston aficionado would probably rather have bamboo shoots shoved under his fingernails than listen to this disc, but anyone with industrial tendencies and a generous supply of nerve may well consider Laner's latest musical bastard to be good company. And we all know how many people match that description.--Michael Roberts

The Stone Roses
Second Coming
(Geffen)

It's a rather ambitious title, especially for such a long-awaited project. But even if the Stone Roses' sophomore CD can't live up to expectations, it deserves to be judged simply as a collection of tunes. The disc opens with "Breaking Into Heaven," a typical eleven-minute gem that includes a five-minute intro, birdie samples, several tempo changes, an updated Manchester beat (lots of toms, more tambourine than cymbal) and gentle vocals courtesy of Ian Brown, who delivers the aspirant lyrics over John Squire's simple guitar strumming. That's followed by "Ten Storey Love Song," a cut whose instantly catchy melody hints at the band's intentions, and "Love Spreads," in which Brown's persistent mentions of "my sister"--a woman also popular on the act's self-titled debut--are suspiciously less than wholesome. Then again, the words on Coming often seem like an afterthought. Apparently, primary songwriter Squire, who also created a colorful montage for the CD jacket, is more interested in sound than sense; how else to explain the unlisted (and unnecessary) bonus track, which is dominated by an out-of-tune piano and random throat-clearing? Elsewhere, keyboard dashes and two-part harmonies suggest a Sixties retro feel; so, too, do photos of the Roses as youngsters, before the lawsuits and the label-switching hassles. Of course, the bandmates are older now, and so are their fans, many of whom have expressed disappointment with this album. But if they hadn't been forced to wait six years for the Roses to come again, they'd likely feel differently. And were this the group's debut, they might well be calling it brilliant.--Susan Dunlap

The Technical Jed
Southern States
(SpinArt)

The debut release from this pack of Richmond, Virginia, bohemians is one of those records that seems derivative the first time around. Even the song titles--"Dance of the Lollipop Faeries," "Cartoon Train" and "Vitamin E" among them--sound as if they could have been plucked from the last Sonic Youth platter. Fortunately, repeated listenings prove otherwise. Densely textured pop treats like "Black 60," "Philips' Bastard Son" and "Liquid" quickly move beyond the off-key posturing practiced by most of today's Lee Renaldo disciples to reveal a savvy sense of musical structure and timing reminiscent of Jed's SpinArt labelmate, Trampoline. All in all, an impressive first effort by some especially moody Southerners. Once the initial comparisons have worn off, that is.--Brad Jones

Cake
Motorcade of Generosity
(Capricorn)

One listen to this disc put me on the fence, and I'm still there. Clearly, there's something going on here: The lyrics display more than the minimum daily government requirement of cleverness, the arrangements bespeak a notable wit, and the use of a trumpet (tooted by Vince di Fiore) as a solo instrument gives the songs a distinctiveness they sorely need. But a certain superficiality is at play: Vocalist John McCrea settles for mere jokiness a tad too often, while the tunes themselves are reminiscent of Jimmy Buffett and the Spin Doctors as frequently as they recall Camper Van Beethoven. What stops me from dismissing these guys completely, then, are bright spots like "Jolene," which sports a heftier-than-usual melody, and "Rock `N' Roll Lifestyle," whose pointed words ("How much did you pay for your rock-and-roll T-shirt/That proves you were there--that you heard of them first?") would consign the track to the novelty bin if the damn thing didn't bite so hard. So what to do? Chalk Motorcade up as promising and wish Cake a quick exit from Margaritaville.--Roberts

 
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