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Underwater Techno (3/09/2001) Write to CD Shakedown
SubmarineSubmarine, Skindiving (Reprise/Kinetic 2000) - Submarine, a soulful dance combo from South London makes an engaging debut with Skindiving. With sleek melodies, Skindiving is more than your usual trip-hop threesome.

Submarine consists of Al Boyd, a registered doctor and the band's musical director and keyboardist, Richard Jeffrey, a Scottish "son of a preacherman," who handles drums and the Akai S1100 sampler, and singer Adaesi Ukairo, a beauty of Nigerian, English descent.

SubmarineAdaesi delivers with a Shirley Manson (from Garbage) edge, and ranges from chartreuse to lounge singer to a British Eartha Kitt. Exclaims the frontwoman, "These boys were nothing till I came along!"

Like Massive Attack and the Sneaker Pimps (or, more accessibly, Everything But the Girl), Submarine goes underwater on a soul-influenced techno excursion, sampling everything from Perry Como to Chet Baker to Billie Holiday.

SubmarineTracks like "Why" and "Sunbeam" highlight the strengths of the band; a steady beat with edgy vocals. Think Garbage with less of a guitar assault.

Get ready for a sassy dance hall experience with Skindiving.

HooverphonicHooverphonic, The Magnificent Tree (Epic 2000) - Hooverphonic is a Belgian trio with a different emphasis; the songs are more atmospheric, and the tempos slowed.

The Magnificent Treeis Hooverphonic's third album. The band consists of founding members Alex Callier on programming, bass and keyboards, and Raymond Geerts on guitar. Rounding out the group is Geike Arnaert, who has been singing with Hooverphonic since she was 17 (she's almost 22 now).

Geike ArnaertHooverphonic has a polished, textured sound, building on the work of such British bands as Portishead. The focal point is singer Geike Arnaert, who has a haunting lilt like Liz Fraser in the Cocteau Twins or Tracy Thorn of EBTG.

The Magnificent Tree deploys an array of sonic details and alternate instrumentation, including violins, french horns, lutz, and mandolins. In addition, the band incorporates the spooky sound of the theremin.

HooverphonicTracks like "Mad About You" and "Out of Sight" are string-drenched numbers, with a cinematic scope, shifting to the gently rhythmic, "Pink Fluffy Dinosaurs," and the dramatic tension of "Vinegar & Salt." Also listen for "Frosted Flake Wood," which includes a Peter and the Wolf-styled oboe.

For a slice of atmospheric British pop, try The Magnificent Tree.

VallejoVallejo, Into the New (Epic/Crescent Moon 2000) - Austin, Texas has spawned a host of estimable bands. Make way for Vallejo, a potent rock combo with Latin leanings.

The band originally known as the "Vallejo Brothers" started in 1990 with A.J. on vocals and lead guitar, Alejandro on drums, and Omar on bass.

VallejoThe boys were raised in the small town of El Campo, Texas, and relocated with their family to Birmingham, Alabama. In 1995, the brothers moved to Austin and rounded out the combo with James "Diego" Simmons on percussion and Bruce Castleberry and Heath Clark on guitar.

Vallejo has formidable rock chops, as displayed on songs like "Let It Slide" and "Into the New."

VallejoThe polyrhythmic "La Familia" and the pulsing "Modern Day Slave" show the influences of producer Michael Barbiero, who has worked with Blues Traveler, while traces of Santana come through on tracks like "Classico." This is no surprise, as the Crescent Moon label is headed by Emilio Estefan.

Vallejo was named Austin's best rock band of 2000. Into The New shows that the combo has well-honed chops with Latin influences and guitar leads that would make the Allman Brothers proud.

Jean SmithJean Smith, Jean Smith (Kill Rock Stars 2000) - Jean Smith, singer and visual artist for the alternative Mecca Normal, has released a solo project. When I saw the album, I thought to myself, Laurie Anderson? Maybe Liz Phair? Possibly the sweetness of Kate St. John?

I mean, the album looks credible. Jean is listed as providing all instruments (electric & acoustic guitars, piano, sax, synth, drum, and voice). And her label, Kill Rock Stars, has launched such estimable alternative artists as Elliot Smith, Mary Lou Lord, and Sleater-Kinney.

Jean SmithBut buddy, this is some bottle of mouthwash. It's the ambient version of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. It starts with "Ghost of Understanding," a 4:40 sax-laden dirge, and never wakes up to find a melody.

By the time Jean gets to track five, "The Story of History," she has detuned her guitar so badly that it sounds like bagpipes. And the discordant track seven (unnamed) resembles David Bowie's Heroes on bad acid.

Jean tries mount a recovery on the concluding "Halfway," with her interesting, overlayed vocals. But halfway through, she shifts back to the musical melange.

Jean SmithSays the artist, "My overall idea for this project was to record the creation of music . . . I mixed six out of the ten songs myself. I'd get up super early, walk to the studio, unlock the control room, start everything up, and mix my album. It was a great experience."

Sorry Jean, not for the listener. Jean says that the album reminds her of "coffee brewing." That's more like coffee grounds.

I have nothing against the experimental New York sound. And I hate trashing an album. I know that artists work hard, and love their children. But Jean Smith is dreck. One of the most unlistenable projects I've heard in ages. So bad, it gets special note.

- Randy Krbechek © 2001

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