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Juan Gabriel
El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue
(BMG/U.S. Latin)

Pop hero Juan Gabriel goes back to his roots a la Gloria Estefan on this Mexican-style Mi Tierra. Nortenos, rancheros, son michoacano, and other forms of Mexican country music are the stuff of Gabriel's nostalgia, and like Estefan's Grammy winner this is a well-produced album. But the laid-back cadences of these songs, written by Gabriel and performed by him with the musicians who call themselves El Mariachi de Mi Tierra, are sure to alienate fans of the sassy contemporary music that has brought the singer a rabid following south of the border. If you're looking for spice, check out Los Lobos' recent Desperado soundtrack instead. But if you want to experience pure forms of sleepy folk music from El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue (The Mexico That Was), padrisimo, hombre, this disc is for you: guitars, violin, and Gabriel lamenting about old sombreros, old pistolas, and old lovers in a sexually frustrated wail. Grab a bottle of mescal and enjoy.

By Judy Cantor

Sonic Youth
Washing Machine
(DGC)

In the seven years since Sonic Youth hit its apex with Daydream Nation, the band's trailblazing brand of bang-and-clang dramatics has become, well, kind of dull. Their skewed melodies, cut-up lyrics, and screwball guitar tunings just don't cut it when the postpunk noise options out there include masterworks by Rake, Masonna, the Dead C., Harry Pussy, and A Handful of Dust. And the off-kilter and wonderfully bent pop-song structures of SY's Bad Moon Rising (1985) and Evol (1986) have since been outclassed by San Francisco's Thinking Fellers Union 282, who espouse an acid-addled songwriting philosophy that manages to be daring, challenging, and incessantly catchy without ever wasting notes for the sheer sake of experimentation.

There are plenty of wasted notes on Washing Machine, a chronicle of Sonic Youth's creative breakdown that clunks and crashes for more than an hour without making any noises you haven't heard before. If Sister (1987) and Daydream Nation found the group reinventing the avant-screech experiments of their previous work, Washing Machine is the sound of a former top gun shooting blanks. The jagged twin-guitar dynamics of Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore have become little more than a dissonant variety of Muzak for the post-Nirvana set, all chimey and wah-wah-laden, reaching for chaotic transcendence and settling for polished squawk. And if you need more proof of bassist Kim Gordon's ineffectiveness as a vocalist, climb into the spin cycle with "Panty Lines," a sputtering fuck screed that's as admirable as it is irritating, her most useless rant since "Kool Thing" on 1990's Goo.

And so it's been for rock-and-roll innovators from Carl Perkins to John Lydon: Where once they took bold steps in new sonic directions, soon they stumble like doddering old prophets. Sure, Sonic Youth has done its part to redefine rock's possibilities; countless groups, both in and out of the MTV eye, have constructed their sounds and visions on the bedrock of Daydream Nation. Still, it's hard to imagine anyone finding much inspiration among the washed-out blatherings of Washing Machine.

By John Floyd

CIV
Set Your Goals
(Lava/Atlantic)

Who's to blame for the current punk renaissance? Joey Ramone makes for a good fall guy, although it's awful hard to hold anything against someone who has worse hair than Dave Barry. Sid Vicious is always a likely suspect, because he set the standard for talentlessness in the arena of popular music (not counting Dave Barry, of course). But maybe we should target someone more contemporary. Say, Billy Joe Armstrong, Green Day's chief burnout? The boys from Offspring? Or how about Speaker of the House Newt "My wife has cancer? What wife?" Gingrich? He seems determined to piss off everyone 21 or younger. Whoever the culprit(s), these power-chord outfits are multiplying like roaches living on a strict diet of guacamole and McNuggets.

CIV -- "All capital letters, buddy, remember that!" -- is just one of many new ones, and not especially bad as these things go. Nor especially good. At its best ("So Far, So Good . . . So What"), this major-label debut recalls early Clash: kicking rhythm section, scorching guitar, passionate howling. At its worst ("State of Grace"), all these assets are yoked in the service of hardcore posturing. Don't look for a whole lot of depth lyrically. Front man Civ -- "Hey, ain't that s'pose to be all capital letters?" -- restricts his ad-libs to the word fucking. Nice. This quartet plainly has the energy and musical talent necessary to excel in the new tuneful-punks sweepstakes. However, they might consider titling their next one Set Your Goals . . . a Bit Higher.

By Steven Almond
CIV performs with Smile at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 31, at RSC Respectable Street, 218 Espanola Way, Miami Beach; 672-1707. Tickets cost $5.

Machines of Loving Grace
Gilt
(Mammoth)

With their first album, 1993's Concentration, Machines of Loving Grace earned a reputation as a poor man's nine inch nails, offering smoldering guitar riffs over death-disco rhythms in songs about love, hate, oppression, and the like. However, their second offering, Gilt, is a tiresome affair, not just because of its unremittingly corrosive vocals, droning guitars, and bargain-basement angst, but because everything here has been done better by others before. The first track, "Richest Junkie Still Alive," smacks of Filter Lite, carried by a dark bass line that gives way to a cascade of guitar frenzy. You can just imagine the band members patting each other on the back and crowing "Hey, man, nice shot" when they penned this one. "Kiss Destroyer" and "Last" attempt to tread on Ministry territory (the latter song being in parts a blatant ripoff of that band's "Jesus Built My Hotrod"), but are painful to listen to more because of their inanity rather than their overwhelming heaviness. "Animal Mass" and "Solar Temple" cop Rage Against the Machine's funk-and-burn style, but to far lesser effect. Lyrically, the songs have nothing new to say. If you think imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, think again.

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