Maggie Estep
No More Mister Nice Girl

Calling Ms. Estep a spoken-word artist is tantamount to describing Richard Nixon as a former congressman from California: It doesn't exactly tell the whole story. Sure, Estep speaks a lot of words--as a former student at Naropa's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, you'd expect nothing less--but her verbiage is accompanied by her own semi-accomplished guitar playing and a three-piece band, dubbed I Love Everybody, that's enjoyably ragged and suitably obnoxious. The result may make some listeners think of Sandra Bernhard's musical excursions, but Estep is funnier, riskier and more lacerating. Poem-songs such as "The Stupid Jerk I'm Obsessed With" and "I'm Not a Normal Girl" ("...I'm an angry, sweaty girl/So bite me") avoid the novelty rap, but they certainly are novel: They express rage at the male gender, society's stereotypes and life in general with a feral intensity that's equal parts Madonna and Lorena Bobbitt. Dudes come in for a pounding on No More Mister Nice Girl, but we deserve it; we are jerks about 90 percent of the time. Estep knows that, too, and she's been nice enough to preserve her elaboration on this fact for posterity. Thanks.--Michael Roberts

The Charlatans
Up to Our Hips
(Beggars Banquet)

Due to legal difficulties, certain members of the Charlatans are unable to come to the States (perhaps they took the band's name too literally?), so serious fans will have to pacify themselves with this, their third full-length U.S. release--and the first without "UK" tacked onto their moniker. Rob Collins drenches the handful of songs on the disc with his trademark Hammond B3 organ riffs, but avoids drowning them as he did on the act's 1990 hit "The Only One I Know." Elsewhere, Mark Collins gets a little more jangly guitar time, Jon Brookes drums a flawless Manchester beat and lead singer Tim Burgess delivers lyrics for numbers such as "Jesus Hairdo" and "Can't Get Out of Bed"--a tune with tons of tambourine--in a wistful, nasal style capable of taking listeners on a vicarious mind trip. You'll no doubt enjoy going along for the ride.--Susan Dunlap

Gastr Del Sol
Crookt, Crackt, or Fly
(Drag City)

The brainchild of ex-Squirrel Bait/ Bastra guitarist David Grubbs, this highly experimental combo has never been a group--at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, Gastr Del Sol more closely resembles a living, breathing organism in a constant state of musical evolution. This time around, the act's presiding members--Grubbs, Bundy K. Brown and John McEntire--collaborate with abstract guitarist/composer Jim O'Rourke, who is probably best known for his improvisational solo projects on the Extreme and Staalplaat imprints. Together the quartet uses stark, acoustic arrangements ("Wedding in the Park"), gelatinous ambience ("Work From Smoke") and Dadaist lyrics ("Thos, Dudley Ah! Old Must Dye") to create a mesmerizing sound that trickles and bounces like mercury on a sheet of glass. At their worst, the results are curiously engaging; at their best, they're wonderfully illuminating. For those who enjoy experimental music of the John Cage and Red Crayola variety, Crookt, Crackt, or Fly is a bona fide must.--Brad Jones

Pat Metheny
Zero Tolerance for Silence

The vast majority of Metheny's work has been accessible in the extreme; while still intellectually stimulating, albums such as American Garage and Offramp also sport plenty of melody and structures that give fans not enamored of most avant-garde jazz a handle to grab. Every once in a while, though, he takes a chance--think of 1986's Song X, a freewheeling skronkfest co-starring Ornette Coleman. Zero Tolerance for Silence is even more challenging; in fact, it may be the most extreme album released by a major label since Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Metheny's heavily distorted electric guitar is the only instrument heard on the album, which is divided into four sections that are equally abrasive and equally stunning. The first segment, helpfully entitled "Part One," is the most startling (eighteen minutes of sheer, unadulterated racket during which slab after slab of sonic muck is piled one atop the other), but that's not to say that the rest of the album is timid. Heard in its entirety, the disc stands as a coagulated mound of sound that manages to turn beauty and ugliness into precisely the same thing. DGC clearly is nervous about this album (the label's publicity material assures fans that a more commercial Metheny disc should be out later this year), and with good reason. Metheny knows how to play the game, but he's also an artist. This album proves it.--Roberts


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