'The Best of Techno' can be quite entrancing

RECORDS

December 27, 1991|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

THE BEST OF TECHNO, VOL. 1

Various Artists (Priority 1420)

One of the problems with trying to draw a bead on the "techno" scene is, as the liner notes to "The Best of Techno, Vol. 1" admit, "Most people don't know what it is, and of the ones that do, each has his own interpretation." So rather than quibble over which acts or what singles are included in this compilation, it makes more sense simply to consider the music itself: one dozen electrobeat ear-blasts, each one bracingly minimal, with melodies that rarely extend beyond a few robotically repeated notes, and rhythms that are subtle as a sledgehammer. Yet the best tracks -- "Gaza" by Andromeda, "Disco Therapy" by Trance Media, "F.U." by Fuse -- are entrancing despite (or, perhaps, because of) their abrasiveness.

DANCEHALL REGGAESPANOL

Various Artists (Columbia 48526)

Reggae may have been born in Jamaica, but it's now a near-global pop style, as the singles collected on "Dancehall Reggaespanol" make plain. Although the sound on most of these tracks is pure Kingston, their actual point of origin is Panama, where dance hall reggae (the Jamaican answer to hip-hop) is all the rage. And while some performances borrow heavily -- Arzu's "Amor," for instance, is little more than a Spanish-language update of Gregory Isaacs' "Night Nurse" -- the best stand on their own, from native efforts like El General's "Pu Tun Tun" or Rude Girl's "Que Lo Que Es," to collaborative efforts with Jamaican stars, like Little Lenny ("Punnaney Tegereg") and Sugar Minott ("Real Ragamuffin").

PLANET ZOUK

Various Artists (Rhythm Safari 57165)

It's easy for Americans to think of foreign pop styles as being one-dimensional or monolithic, but the truth is that most are just as richly varied as American pop music. For proof, consider the musical diversity offered by "Planet Zouk," a compilation of dance music from the French Antilles. Even though most of the acts represented here rely on an essentially similar beat, one which draws freely from Caribbean, African and American sources, the range of variation they manage is astonishing. "Case a Lucie" by Malavoi, for instance, evokes the jazzy sophistication of the samba, "Sye Bwa" by Kassav' recalls the exuberance of Central African guitar pop, while "Mi Se Sa" by Dede Saint-Prix has the raw, percussive power of Carnival music. All told, it's a planet well worth visiting.

ACID JAZZ: COLLECTION TWO

Various Artists (Scotti Bros. 75230)

Though the term "acid jazz" seems to suggest a sound both harsh and abstract, the music itself -- at least, if "Acid Jazz: TC Collection Two" is any indication -- is neither. In fact, apart from the mild, post-Coltrane tenor solo heard on "Where's the One" by Snowboy and the Latin Section, acid jazz hardly sounds like jazz at all, owing more to the bass-heavy dance beat of Soul II Soul than any swing thing. Still, that's hardly cause for complaint, particularly if the style can continue to produce singles as exciting as Colonel Abrams' suave, soulful "I Don't Know" or the Vibrophonics' coolly hypnotic "I See You."

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