For the Record

For national releases, 2003 wonked as much as it rocked.

On Nueva Musica, the Latin Project combines live recordings of Latin vocals and instrumentation with programmed beats and synths. Without sampling any vinyl, the Latin Project has created a compulsively danceable new sound that accents the strengths of its roots without diluting them.

Jesse Houk's (aka Scumfrog) two-CD set, Extended Engagement, which features his original material along with wildly imaginative remixes of other artists' tracks, is perfect for dancing, listening and just chilling out. And the vaguely house-y cuts are damn good.

The War of the Airwaves
By Michael Roberts

Most radio programmers aren't interested in folks who like more than one style of music. They prefer predictable people who listen exclusively to one style until the day they're planted. That leaves eclectic sorts with minds of their own -- call them the outcasts -- to keep fighting the good fight. Below is one exception to radio's blandification and nine more that deserved to be heard.

1. Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista)
On The Love Below, Andre 3000 offers up "Hey Ya," which singlehandedly made mainstream radio tolerable, and a bold, funny, untoppable mix of hip-hop, funk, jazz and whatever. It's 2003's finest, hands down -- and as a bonus, the package includes Big Boi's Speakerboxxx, a pretty decent disc in its own right.

2. H-Foundation, Environments (Astralwerks)
San Diegans Hipp-E and Halo bring it to the house in an unconventional way. Instead of simply fiddling with their knobs like most electro-pros, they lay the Foundation beneath actual songs that are as good for listening as for dancing. What a concept.

3. Rodney Crowell, Fate's Right Hand (DMZ/Epic)
When mainstream country started sucking, Crowell, a commercially and critically popular tunesmith (and Johnny Cash's former son-in-law) refused to make like a Dirt Devil, and faded as a result. His indie comeback, 2001's The Houston Kid, was merely an appetizer for this defiant, consistently moving album.

4. Low Flying Owls, Elixir Vitae (Stinky Records)
Fronted by the reedy voiced Jared Southard, this Sacramento four-piece may have started in the garage, but the band's on the road to new destinations. Elixir Vitae blends rock rudiments with aggressive psychedelia on tracks like "Glad to Be Alive" that stretch out without wearing thin. (Low Flying Owls appears at the Larimer Lounge on Friday, January 9.)

5. Inti-Illimani, Lugares Comunes (Xenophile)
An Andean collective that's been around since the late '60s, Inti-Illimani is known for its fearless political activism, which its members exercised at great personal risk. This legacy steals attention from music that, on Lugares Comunes, is deep, gorgeous and thoroughly accessible: Chile, not chilly.

6. Kindred the Family Soul, Surrender to Love (Hidden Beach)
All too often, the "neo" in neo-soul is a warning that the music in question is a watered-down version of the real stuff. In the case of this Philadelphia combo, however, the label doesn't fit. "Spread the Word" compares to classic R&B because that's what it is.

7. Spring Heel Jack, Live(Thirsty Ear)
In which drum-and-bass groundbreakers Ashley Wales and John Coxon join forces with jazz avant-gardists (Matthew Shipp, William Parker) and intriguing wild cards (J Spaceman of Spiritualized) to make glorious, pigeonhole-smashing racket. Proof that creativity can't be bound by any category.

8. Moneen, Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now? (Vagrant)
The only emotion generated by a frighteningly high percentage of emo acts is profound indifference. Yet despite this album's tedious handle, Canada's Moneen dodges the boredom bullet via an unexpectedly adventurous musical approach and some concrete passion. That's happy news.

9. Gemma Hayes, Night on My Side (Astralwerks)
Some mediocre singer-songwriters try to tart up ordinary material with electronic touches in a futile attempt to seem hip. Fortunately, Hayes is a strong composer who uses new-millennium studio techniques to enhance songs such as "Making Waves," not cover up their deficiencies.

10. Limp Bizkit, Results May Vary (Flip/Interscope)
Just kidding.

In Sounds From Way Out
By John La Briola

During a stellar NASCAR year when Toby Keith connected stateside with more hearts and minds than the Dixie Chicks, it seemed that folks preferred their scenery to go round and round rather than venture down the road less traveled. Here then, y'all, are ten curious roadside attractions that got lost in the shock 'n' awful shuffle.

1. Aurora Sãnchez-Sousa, Genoma Music/The Genomic Sound
What do you get when you assign musical notes to the nucleotides in an arbitrarily chosen strand of DNA? An alphabet soup of easy listening, jazzy tone poems with titles like "Homo Sapiens Alphoid Sequence." Providing a simple audio version of the blueprint for life, Sãnchez-Sousa, nimble pianist and head of the mycology section in a Madrid-based hospital, explores the soothing, electronic side of deoxyribonucleic acid.

2. The Evolution Control Committee, Plagiarythhm Nation (Seeland)
Silly and subversive sound-collage artists from Columbus, Ohio, take a cue from Negativland, snubbing their collective nose at outdated copyright laws. The results? Janet Jackson actually sounding good! Chuck D and Flav dabbling in Kraut rock! Vincent Price shilling chicken livers! And for hands-down, best-song-of-the-year honors: Dan Rather fronting AC/DC ("Rocked by Rape") in a hilariously recontextualized dispatch from the frontlines of Armageddon.

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