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Roni Size
Reprazent: New Forms
(Talkin' Loud/Mercury)

Plenty of electronica artists are taking the Prodigy route: i.e., they're attempting to split the difference between dance music and pop in the hope of coming up with hit singles that will still work in Clubland. Size, for his part, is moving in a less financially rewarding but more creatively intriguing direction by using his gear to explore textures in ways that retain their mating-ritual appeal but are actually worth listening to in the cold light of day. The two-CD length of Reprazent implies that Size merely put together a batch of programs, then pushed a few buttons and let the album finish itself. But "Trust Me," which begins with a jazzy fillip that recalls the Art Ensemble of Chicago and uses subtle bursts of sampled voices in a manner that's not far removed from old-fashioned soloing, seriously undermines this theory, and "New Forms," featuring Bahamadia, kills it dead. On the latter, vocalist Onallee offers a fleet-footed rap that's every bit as rhythmic as Size's skittering percussion, resulting in a seven-minute-plus extravaganza that's machine-driven but thoroughly human. (A similar juxtaposition is utilized in "Digital," a computer-age effort that sets Onallee's throaty exhortations against a synthesizer pattern that's as Kraftwerk as Kraftwerk can be.) Because of the sheer volume of creativity on display here, Size's more composerly turns (like the fast-slow "Hot Stuff" and "Ballet Dance," which is laden with ambient squiggles) tend to get lost, but that doesn't mean they're not worth discovering. Reprazent is a cornucopia of sound; just when you think it's empty, it bears more fruit.

--Michael Roberts

The Grifters
Full Blown Possession
(Sub Pop)

After their recent concert in Denver, one of the Grifters relayed a hometown friend's assessment of Full Blown Possession, the Memphis-based group's second long-player for Sub Pop: "You guys finally made a real record!" This opinion makes sense on some level: Because the CD was polished in the studio, it's considerably less raw than some of the Grifters' earlier, more lo-fi selections. But at the same time, Possession is a characteristically awesome display of songwriting, energy and flexibility--arguably the act's best offering yet. Of course, the Grifters remain a simple band with fairly standard rock instrumentation, and their songs still deal with everyday matters--relationships, cars and so on. But every tune has a weighty life of its own. Guitarists Dave Shouse and Scott Taylor share distinct, complementary vocal styles and a knack for perceptive yet down-to-earth lyrics like, for instance, "It's harder to tell/Am I staring at hell/Or is that the sunrise?" Their guitars, meanwhile, are used for heavy moving, droning ornamentation and percussive effects. As for the rhythm section (made up of bassist Tripp Lamkins and drummer Stan Gallimore), it's capable of wildly shifting gears, and does so on a dime throughout "Re-entry Blues," whose gritty, low-down guitar intro connects to a viciously efficient track that's every bit as intense as "Black Fuel Incinerator," from 1994's Crappin' You Negative. Elsewhere, "Centuries" is buoyed by a rare funky undercurrent and cleverly riffing refrains; "Sweetest Thing," a ballad complete with harmonica and abnormal keyboards, provides a sorrowful, therapeutic respite; the instrumental "Hours" combines a vague R&B quality with a Seattle edge; and "Contact Me Now," an arresting unrequited-love song, finds the players working at their individual peaks. Possession is indeed a "real" record, but its production values don't obscure the Grifters' unself-conscious, over-the-top rock brilliance.

--Thomas Peake

Judas Priest
The Best of Judas Priest: Living After Midnight
(Columbia/Legacy)

Back in the day, the mere sight of Rob Halford dressed in studded leather was a guaranteed laugh-provoker for me. So the fact that I actually enjoyed a significant portion of this appropriately dunderheaded, unexpectedly hook-laden retrospective is either a comment on the slackness of today's hard rock or proof that nostalgia can attack anyone at any time. Be careful, or you may find yourself shelling out for a Pablo Cruise album as well.

--Roberts

The Sundays
Static & Silence
(Geffen)

Since the early Nineties, the sounds made by most female-fronted alternative acts have been utterly homogeneous--which is a good way of describing the incipient style of the Sundays. The act's first two releases, 1990's Reading, Writing and Arithmetic and 1992's Blind, were built around singer Harriet Wheeler's lullaby voice and now-husband David Gavurin's ethereal guitar playing--and although "Here's Where the Story Ends" and "24 Hours" were lazily effective in and of themselves, they varied precious little from the group's other material. Fortunately, Static & Silence is a marked departure from this methodology, albeit a tenuous one. "Summertime," the first single, is a stylistic declaration of intent; the approach is more upbeat, and Wheeler, while still soft-spoken, seems more sure of her voice. "Another Flavour" and "So Much" follow suit effectively, and if the comparatively melancholy pace of "Folk Song" and "When I'm Thinking About You" causes the disc's middle section to sag a bit, at least Wheeler's youthful Cockney accent lends the music a dash that distinguishes it from the faux-Seventies femi-nonsense that currently pollutes the work of nearly every woman operating in the alterna-folk realm. Static isn't a throwback; it's a welcome respite from an annoying present.

--Joshua Green

 
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