McLachlan spent more than two years touring in support of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, then took six months off before entering the studio to record Surfacing. After fighting through a period of writer's block, she reportedly scrapped many songs she was unhappy with and started over last fall. Then she worked feverishly to get the new album ready for its targeted release date. Yes, it's good to have her back.

--Scott Verbout

Various artists
Return of the DJ Volume 2
(Bomb Records)

In 1995, David Paul--former editor of the Bay Area hip-hop zine Bomb--issued Return of the DJ Volume 1, a compilation of superintense funk collages strung together by some of the country's most proficient turntable/cross-fader wizards. Its aim was obvious: remind hip-hop of its DJ history, a history stretching back to late-'70s Bronx house parties and early-'80s DJ classics like Grandmaster Flash's "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel."

Chock-full of technical smarts, lyrical flow, sick jokes and a little wry irony, Return's follow-up substantially betters its predecessor. Album opener "Beyond There" (representing London) references old-school antecedents (Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy J, Red Alert) and samples Boogie Down Productions' classic "The Bridge Is Over," all above a taut, soundscape groove, creating a sound clash between history and innovation so vivid you can almost see it while you feel it.

Cooler still is the very next cut, by Mr. Dibbs/2000 Hobos (representing Cincinnati), whose "B-Boys Revenge 96 Porkopolis Turntable Jazz" conflates Nintendo skills and cross-fader prowess by playing a sample of Mortal Kombat off a sample of Jeru the Damaja singing about "mortal combat/fatality."

For Return . . . Vol. 2's social critique, you've got Tommy Tee (representing funky, funky Norway), whose atmospheric "Aerosoul" draws a strong, if obvious, street-art parallel between hip-hop history and graffiti writing. What's a Norwegian doing stringing together a history/critique of NYC street art?

Return . . . Vol. 2 isn't only about DJing as hip-hop fundament; it's also about hip-hop's ability to resonate outside the boundaries of Afro-American culture. French hip-hop (Frog-hop?) specialist LF Pee strings together airy flutes, Cypress Hill, and a silly-ass guitar-drum freakout to create the album's wildest pop moment. Finland's Pepe Deluxe relaxes on its own syrupy, tuneful good groove as mean, jazz-funk trap drums and a buoyant cowbell take the emphasis off the DJ's cut. Equally musical, but for very different reasons, is "Static's Waltz" by Quebec's Kid Koala, in which a Ralph Norton bass jam is turned into a freakish, off-kilter ungroove that's as propulsive as it is odd and intriguing.

Yet the most obviously accessible cuts come from Phoenix. Z-Trip bookends an obscene scratch session with the album's most memorable nonmusical samples--one prurient ("hey, little girl, I just bought a super new camera"), one Puritan ("there are lots of people who touch us, but they shouldn't touch our private parts"). The track itself is pure scratch-wank; it won't change any musical world views, but its simplicity is as classically pumpable as Return . . . Vol. 2 gets. Then there's the sublime, album-ending Z-Trip solo joint, "Rockstar," which finds room to reinvent Van Halen's "Eruption," Iron Maiden's "Iron Man" and "War Pigs" and, most potently, AC/DC's "To Those About to Rock (We Salute You)." The result is a Bambaataa-style coup d'etat. Hip-hop purists, would you dance to Angus Young? Metal heads, would you air-guitar over a breakbeat? Well, you can tonight.

--Jon Dolan

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