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Gaunt
Yeah, Me Too
(Amphetamine Reptile)

If you're looking to point a finger at the most fertile patch of American punk-rock soil, aim it north to Columbus, Ohio, the home base for an abundance of noise-making underground visionaries, from old-timers such as Mike "Rep" Hummel and Ron House to Monster Truck 5, New Bomb Turks, and V-3. Gaunt, a Columbus quartet led by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Jerry Wick, has at times been the best and most bewildering of the Ohio punk brigade. Since their scorching 1992 single "Jim Motherfucker," the band has knocked off a slew of snarling, primal singles and a terrific EP (the long out-of-print ten-inch Whitey the Man). Their long-playing efforts, however, have been hit-and-miss: Both 1994's Sob Story and last year's I Can See Your Mom from Here were middling affairs marred by Wick's spotty songwriting and Steve Albini's monochromatic production, which reduced the twin-guitar roar of Wick and Jovan Karcic to a distorted whisper.

For Yeah, Me Too, the band's debut effort for Amphetamine Reptile, Gaunt dumped Albini for AmRep in-house producer Tim Mac, who has restored the guitar ferocity of their greatest fuzzball singles and boosted Wick's hoarse vocals higher in the mix. It's a sound that both mirrors their savage live attack and elaborates on the few good parts of I Can See Your Mom from Here. More important, these new songs rank among Wick's best, even if he breaks no new ground. Indeed, he remains obsessed, as much as ever, with the verities of old-school punk: "Insangel" and "Now" combine the scratchy guitar riffs and stop-start dynamics of vintage Stiff Little Fingers with the melodic flair of early Replacements; "Richard Generation" could be an outtake from the Dead Boys' 1977 album Young, Loud and Snotty; and "Just Leave" is a pissed-off love song worthy of the Undertones. They're all great, but they pale compared to "Give Up," Wick's finest articulation of his considerable self-loathing, in which he drinks to drive away the shakes and can't even get his damn cigarette lit. It's everything a pathos-punk anthem should be.

-- John Floyd

Goldie
Timeless
(ffrr/Metalheads)

Goldie, a 30-year-old mixed-race London DJ/graffiti artist, has accomplished something exceedingly rare with his debut album. Like Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, and maybe a handful of others, Timeless firmly plants itself for the ages by capturing a specific moment in music and, by extension, society. Timeless signifies with words, but does so much more through its profoundly impressionistic music. It creates a sonic and emotional climate completely at peace with both the music's past and in sync with its future, from hard bop, soul, and hip-hop to techno, house, acid jazz, and, with Goldie's keen deliverance, jungle.

A variation of urban techno made from breathtakingly hyper beat breaks and dub bass lines, jungle unites American and British dance club musics like a DJ mixing up records at an all-night rave. With Timeless, though, Goldie achieves much more: He brings jungle out of the clubs and into the popular consciousness by applying the music's hypnotic beat to jazz instrumentation, hip-hop samples, ambient soundscapes, and the belting vocals of soul divas Diane Charlemagne and Lorna Harris. Framed by two gorgeous and melancholic epics A the 21-minute title suite (which contains Goldie's hit "Inner City Life") and the 12-minute "Sea of Tears" -- and sprinkled with thrilling industrial grinds ("Saint Angel") and sweet jazz-soul trips ("State of Mind"), Timeless's subtle all-inclusiveness seems to beckon us irresistibly to waken into today.

-- Roni Sarig

Robyn Schulkowsky/Nils Petter Molvaer
Hastening Westward
(ECM New Series)

"Hastening westward at sundown to obtain a better view of Venus." A fragment from Samuel Beckett's final book sets the stage for this album, and a bare stage it is: A woman from South Dakota equipped with gongs, bells, drums, and other percussive devices meets a Norwegian man with a trumpet. Their dialogue seems initially to meander into absurdity. As is the case with most Beckett characters, however, their voices resonate long after the stage has fallen dark. On first spin, Molvaer's trumpet appears to dominate the conversation; listen more closely, however, and you'll realize that Schulkowsky's percussion gently steers this discussion.

The term "drum solo" usually conjures images of sweat and testosterone -- the meathead at the back of the stage beating out an ego trip. Schulkowsky's playing occasionally betrays depths of power, but mostly this is an album of quiet drumming. Her percussion is delicate, even poignant. The whine of a bowed gong announces the 43-minute title series, summoning up the ghost of avant-garde composer Harry Partch. Molvaer, meanwhile, pushes his trumpet to the edge, echoing Jon Hassell but without the electronic monkey business. Now and then he takes wing on an extraterrestrial flight, but his style, much like Schulkowsky's, is more muted than manic.

Is this jazz, new music, or what? File under uneasy listening. Schulkowsky, who now lives in Germany, has hobnobbed musically with avant-composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis. But you don't need to know a thimbleful about serialism or atonality to appreciate, even enjoy, her brave new music. These are shadowy sounds that conjure a bleak landscape, one that is, ultimately, strangely comforting.

-- Wif Stenger

Del Amitri
Del Amitri
(Chrysalis)

Ten years ago, a guy I went to college with lent me this album, the major-label debut by a quartet of little-known Scots. The tape remained in my cassette player for the next four months. Straight. After I had kept him at bay for weeks, the guy finally broke into my dorm room and reclaimed the cassette. I wound up with a dubbed copy that contained as much background noise as music. Thus ensued a decade of fruitless searching. I routinely rifled bargain bins and interrogated record-store managers, all for naught. The album was not to be found, and for good reason: Chrysalis discontinued it a few years after its 1985 release.

Del Amitri eventually resurfaced on a new record label, A&M, and has released a trio of well-received discs. The recent success of the latest, Twisted, finally compeled Chrysalis to reissue the group's long-lost first effort. I consider this to be a personal Chanukah gift from God. The album is a masterpiece of pop craftwork A music that rises on incandescent melodies, tightly marshaled instrumentation, and sparsely poetic lyrics. All ten cuts are instantly catchy, but complex enough -- both in musical and lyrical progression -- to linger without growing tiresome.

At the center of the mix is Justin Currie, the dour bassist/singer who is Del Amitri's driving force. Currie was still in his teens when this record was released, and his husky tenor manages to convey all the angst of adolescence without falling back on emotional cliches. On "Sticks and Stones Girl," a poison arrow aimed at an ex, Currie yelps, "All the girls in the world/Were distorted and deformed/When your first breath was let loose/And my jealousy was born." With precocious candor, the quietly dignified "Keepers" takes stock of the damage men do to women: "And it's ironic that he told you/He'd never let you go/When he left you used up/And disturbed."

Currie's confections fall neatly into two categories -- ballads and anthems -- with Iain Harvey's shimmering guitar leads weaving the appropriate mood, and drummer Paul Tyagi offering both strong-armed assaults and gentle taps on his cymbals. "Crows in the Wheatfield" finds its inspiration in a famous van Gogh canvas, while "Deceive Yourself (In Ignorant Heaven)" relates an unabashed love story that manages to avoid the maudlin, thanks to Currie's relentlessly wry sensibilities.

After a decade of pining, I feel blessed to be able to enjoy this record of high-grade pop without crackles and hisses. But I'm keeping my pirated tape as well. Even a lousy recording of this record is a sublime experience.

-- Steven Almond

Maids of Gravity
Maids of Gravity
(Vernon Yard)

Dink Floyd.
-- Michael Yockel

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