Mu-Ziq, Royal Astronomy (1999)

Mike Paradinas (mu-ziq) is, like his peers, Aphex Twin and Luke Vibert, a tremendous talent. In the brave new world of autistic dance music – which both flirts with and ignores the dance floor – Mike is the most brilliant of the idiot-savants, work-playing in the increasingly mined terrain of electronic music, from the break beats of hip hop to the ethereal computer-disco-meets-Alvin Toffler sounds of techno.

The personal twists of mu-ziq on this post-modern electronic music are his frequent forays into strings and atonal contemporary music, exemplified best by his latest record, Royal Astronomy, which nods to Schoenberg and Stockhausen – two old-time European gurus of 20th century musical deconstruction – as much as it does hip hop and drum ʼn’ bass. The question is, as in all cases of musical
hybridity – whether it be black slamming into white or DJ Red Alert floating along with Stravinsky – one of power: Who gets to do the cross-pollinating, for what audience, and for how much money? These days, itʼs talented heads such as
mu-ziq that get to decide what is included in todayʼs musical collages and what gets left out; what underground sources get mined out of their context and integrated into an increasingly privileged space where cultural politics takes a back seat to the lucrative search for the “cutting edge.”

So, when in “The Motorbike Track” a Gang Starr vocal is sampled – “Knock that shit off, for real, know what Iʼm saying, thatʼs some greedy-assed fake bullshit” — the ambivalence of Paradinasʼs position within electronic music – outside or inside, underground hipster or sold-out spin-maker, keeping it real or biting it hard, dropping the science or kicking it black-face – is made manifest. And though my sympathies lie with musical miscegenation rather than cultural conservatism, my “faking-the-funk” radar goes off when a few brilliant white kids get to tell the rest of the world whatʼs up in the urban underground–and then set it to strings.

Guided By Voices, Do the Collapse (1999)

Previously driven cars

I am not a fan of Guided by Voices because of their now mythical, rough-cut, non-sensical, lo-fi rock heroics: i.e. recording their music — partly by necessity, partly for its angsty realism — so it sounds like the underneath of an angry buzzsaw-table drowned among the weeds of a twisted British folk lyric. Instead I’m a fan of the deeply morbid three-and-a-half-minute-long pop anthems that have surfaced on GBV’s records since the band’s 1994 release, Bee Thousand (on longtime home Matador). Basically, I’ll take well-crafted pop brilliance over sonic devolution-revolution anytime.

That said, Do the Collapse features some of the best tunes Bob Pollard – the drunken, Princelike figure who commands 95 percent of GBV’s songwriting credits – has churned out, though the cynic in me notices that this breakthrough comes on an album produced by the Cars’ Rick Ocasek and released on the un-Matador-like label TVT. But when a sell-out sounds this good, only the most spoiled indie-rocker could whine. More to the point, when it means that GBV finally jettisons the lion’s share of its rock-retro fetishes – from wanna-be Beatles b-sides to REM necrophilia – then there’s hope that musical transcendence will win the day.

And it does. The singles are plentiful and the lyrics on such songs as “Hold On Hope” (“Well that’s the chance we take/ to be always working/ reaching out for/ the hand that we can’t see/ everybody’s got a hold on hope/ its the last thing that’s holding me”) are simply beautiful. This may be GBV’s version of a throwaway album – all more or less straightforward and sonically pleasing – but so what. The Cars never sounded this good.