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Marumari: Supermagoadon (Carpark). The image on this CD is "sampled" from Ray Bradbury's existentialist sci-fi epic The Martian Chronicles. The artwork shows two stoic inhabitants of some distant planet sitting on an observation deck overlooking a windswept, rose-colored landscape. There is no other way to describe the music on the disc than as an exact 1:1 sonic rendering of that painting, with melancholy vocal smears and humming hi-fi equipment stirring up the same feelings of alien pastoralism and pastel-hued utopian colonies. An ambient/ downtempo masterpiece best enjoyed with headphones and cherry-tipped cigars.

Mr. Velcro Fastener: Lucky Bastards Living Up North (Statra). Electro, that homo erectus that both techno and drum-machine-based hip-hop descended from decades ago, continues to defy natural selection and show up its offspring with its technological sophistication. But it must be damn hard to market, because even most devoted electronic music devotees missed out on this apocalyptic dancefloor imploder (even with the free cutout robot toy included in the liner notes). Mr. Velcro Fastener is a Finnish group that understands electro is based on a certain insane impossibility: a system of angular machine rhythms, crystalline synthesizer cascades, and guttural vocoder moans that intermesh to create a stiff, menacing funk. MVF's source sounds are so evil they should send people running for their mental stability.

The Parallax Corporation: Cocadisco (Viewlexx). Hailing from The Hague and named after a '70s paranoid conspiracy film, the Parallax Corporation is the leading group behind the worldwide Eurodisco revival. Actually, it's pretty much the only group, but its sputtering retro weirdness really should be the next contagion to take over clubland. (Never happen.) For inspiration, corporation chairmen I-f (best known for his underground anthem "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass") and Intergalactic Gary mine the work of Italian electronic pioneer and film score master Giorgio Moroder (Blade Runner, Scarface), a truly deviant miscreant most contemporary house and techno producers try hard to forget. Juicy, throbbing basslines push these tracks into back alleys of cheap lust and bad drugs, exactly where dance music began and to which it will inevitably return.

Pep Love: Ascension (Hiero Imperium). Quietly, perhaps even conservatively, Pep Love has established himself as one of Northern California's most feared secret weapons on the mike. And he couldn't have made his ten-years-in-the-making debut at a better time -- his Hieroglyphics crew is coming off a series of disappointing albums (Souls of Mischief, Del) and indie hip-hop in general is in a creative lull. Ascension is more than a classic rap album, it's a tribute to the straightforward, gimmick-free beats and lyrics that put the East Bay on the map. Plus, Pep's flow is absolutely his own, a rarity in this day of Eminem and Cash Money clones. Some reviewers fault him for being too wordy, which to me is like dissing a mathematician for using too many numbers.

Prefuse 73: Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives (Warp). Much ink has been spilled over the arranged marriage of bleeding-edge electronic experimentation and hip-hop, that laptop nerds like local media darling Kid606 and his Tigerbeat6 crew are influenced by rap, and that chartbusting R&B producers like Timbaland must listen to jungle. While music from both of these camps is satisfying in its own right, neither so far has arrived at a hybrid that can appeal equally to the other side. Enter Atlanta's PreFuse 73, the first producer who could lure as many hip-hop fans as IDM followers (although the fact that it's on techno heavyweight Warp probably means far fewer hip-hoppers found this awesome debut). The fact that glitched-up, creeping melodic undertones coexist so well with chopped vocals from lyrical sharpshooters Aesop Rock and Divine Styler suggests that the rocky honeymoon between these supposedly white and black musics might be moving into the sweet lovin' stage.

Princess Superstar: Princess Superstar Is (Corrupt Conglomerate). My vote for the best hip-hop single of the year is the Princess's "Bad Babysitter," an über-raunchy rallying call for all the six-dollar-an-hour teenage laborers who put the kid to bed, invite the boyfriend over, and "know how nice it is to get laid while you're gettin' paid." The comparison is really too obvious to make (she even puts it into one of her songs), but Princess Superstar is the closest thing we have to a female Eminem. Overwhelming lyrical dexterity, oodles of shock value, too much personal information, the whole platinum blond thing ... the only difference is she doesn't hate guys and takes herself less seriously. And the duet with Kool Keith should not be missed.
--By Darren Keast


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