Recordings

Screaming's not a perfect album: LeSabre's one-trick vocal style wears on you after a while, and the intensity and catchy power of the beginning and end of this disc notably lags in the middle. But most of the album is highly original, and the funky drum and wah-wah guitar shuffle of "Super Hot Sister 69" (featuring Thrill Kill Kult's Groovie Mann on co-lead vocals), coupled with the hook-laden, danceable gems listed above make it worthy of the purchase price.

The opposite is true for East Side Militia, the new release from much-hyped "coldwave" industrial dance darlings Chemlab. Militia suffers from, among other things, an affliction we'll call "Matthew Sweet/Black Crowes Syndrome." That's where you listen to a song by a "contemporary" rock artist and find yourself haunted by the nagging sensation that something in there--be it a chord progression, a vocal twist, a guitar riff, or all of the above--sounds just like its counterpart in some song by a 1970s "hard rock" band.

There are a few semipromising moments here: "Exile on Mainline," the album's lead cut, has a respectable dance beat, but the synth riffs are just too mellow and thin, and the thrash/metal guitar riffs just too garden variety. "Electric Molecular" is a KMFDM-style upbeat dance tune with dirty synth comping and smooth female backing vocals, and the dance remix of "Mainline," with its chattering, skipping synths, guitar samples and manic beatbox rattling, gets the blood pumping. But songs like "Vera Blue (96/69)" and "Pyromance" find the band worshiping at the altar of midtempo Blue Oyster Cult and Cheap Trick, a sad distance from anyone's definition of industrial.

The smart buyer will skip past East Side and get Beneath the Skin. Collide's debut full-length release is a multitextured, unexpectedly noisy goth/industrial blend that's really tasty. Yes, the trademark gentle-to-soaring, ethereal female vocals (a la Siouxsie and the Banshees and Switchblade Symphony) are here, courtesy of vocalist/lyricist KaRIN. But what sets Collide apart from the goth pack is the delightfully noisy sample, synth and beat collage work of Statik, the other half of the duo.

Highlights on the disc include the title track, a solid dance number with enough dissonant synthesizer squeals to fill the open spaces in the vocals. "Deep" is the obvious radio cut; good melody, strong hooks and just the right amount of exotic edginess to make it special. So what's not special here? Well, the lyrics fall into the standard affectations, tortured goth-kid mode: "Confined within/I walk the wire/On the ledge/No return." You get the idea.

But that's a minor quibble; this album is remarkable enough in its sheer musical beauty and originality to make up for any lyrical shortcomings. And Collide saves the best for last: At the end of the disc, as if to permanently cement the group's industrial credentials, we get two excellent, dancefloor-ready remixes of the album's strongest songs, "Deep" (done by Christ Analogue) and "Beneath the Skin," mixed by Cevin Key, late of Skinny Puppy.

The latter track will blow you away. Much of the song's original instrumentation is peeled off, and a totally sick, minimalist synth drum line propels KaRIN's singing into a foreign world: goth house! Collide will not only take you somewhere truly new, but also will offer a diagnostic tool for your health: If that last cut doesn't get you dancing, you'll know you're already dead.

--Frank Smith

Vic Chesnutt
About to Choke
(Capitol)

Of all the things to say about Vic Chesnutt, the least important are the ones that usually get mentioned first. It's not insignificant that Chesnutt is partially paralyzed or that his boosters include R.E.M., Billy Corgan and Darius Rucker. But what really makes Chesnutt special is that he can't be reduced to a cliche (an example of triumph over tragedy) or a celebrity mascot.

If celebrity endorsements really paid off, Chesnutt would already be a star, since Michael Stipe has long been a champion and produced Chesnutt's 1990 debut Little. About to Choke is Chesnutt's fifth album, and it's not about to make him an MTV staple. Vic's too eccentric, too intensely personal for that. You can imagine him singing "Tarragon" on his Athens, Georgia, porch, swiping mosquitoes between verses. In fact, you could never imagine him living in that just-add-water suburb he sings about on "New Town," a place that reeks of new lumber and cheerful cops who have never made a collar.

About to Choke is evenly split between songs that feature Vic on guitar or keyboards, with a rhythmic assist from his wife, Tina, and members of the New York band Agitpop. This gives the album a conic variety missing from some of Chesnutt's previous recordings. The finger-picking of "Swelters" is matched with "Ladle," which sounds like Vic fronting R.E.M., and the soaring chorus of "Degenerate," Chesnutt's singular take on dissolution ("I am a rough ball of twine").

Even when he's mostly by himself, Chesnutt stretches further than he's gone before. With its heavily distorted vocal and keyboards, "(It's No Secret) Satisfaction" is 62 seconds of industrial-strength Vic. Its one, barely recognizable lyric line is repeated three times: "Trapped in the flame in the nose of a tunnel." The song is followed by "Little Vacation," featuring walking bass, farting keyboards and a mouth-trumpet solo.

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