Hard to pigeonhole, easy to enjoy

CD REVIEWS

March 02, 2000|By J. D. Considine | By J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Supreme Beings of Leisure

Supreme Beings of Leisure (Palm Pictures 2006)

It used to be that there were only two kinds of pop groups. One was the vocal group, which consisted of several singers who performed with backing musicians who were not, technically, part of the band. The Temptations, Boys II Men and 'N Sync are all vocal groups of this sort.

Then there was the band, a wholly self-contained unit whose members not only sang but played all the instruments. The Beatles, the Cars and Pearl Jam all fall into this category.

Lately, however, a third type of pop group has arisen, one which doesn't really fit into either category. Bands like Deee-Lite, Garbage and Supreme Beings of Leisure, which compared to the old order seem neither fish nor fowl.

They're similar to bands in the sense that they make all their own music, but because they're as likely to use samplers and sequencers as guitars and keyboards, they don't really "play" in the same sense that the Beatles did. They're creatures of the recording studio, not the concert stage, and their sound has more to do with the pulse of electronica than the roar rock and roll.

"Supreme Beings of Leisure," for example, is full of the detritus of club culture, from fevered drum 'n' bass breakbeats to the scribbling wikki-wikki of turntable scratching. But it isn't dance music in the strict sense, as its songs are seldom in thrall to the dictatorship of the beat. Instead, they emphasize melody and texture, using thoroughly modern means to create what is essentially old-fashioned pop.

The Beings themselves -- singer Gerri Soriano-Lightwood, keyboardist Ramin Sakurai, bassist Kiran Shahani and guitarist Rick Torres -- draw from an impossibly broad range of influences. "Golddigger," for example, uses fuzz-tone garage-rock guitar, cheesy lounge-music samples, and deep-pulsing electrobeats to carry its cool, melancholy melody.

"You're Always the Sun" folds bits of dub and retro-funk into its groove without diluting the electronic intensity of its rhythm track, while "Never the Same" walks a line between the dreamy thump of trip-hop and the convoluted thrum of drum 'n' bass.

"Strangelove Addiction" spreads its net even wider, contrasting twangy world-music sitar and whispering ambient synths against crunching metal guitars and a thrumming industrial groove, yet still finding room for lush pop vocal harmonies and string sweetening. It's a hard song to pigeonhole, but that doesn't really matter; the various elements so perfectly support the melodic idea that it's not important where the Beings found them.

But that's the point. However much their means may be different, the goal of these Supreme Beings of Leisure is the same as with any pop act: to make memorable music. And "Supreme Beings of Leisure" shows that they have, delivering hooky, hummable songs from start to finish. *** 1/2

JAZZ

Herbie Hancock

The Best of Herbie Hancock: The Hits! (Columbia/Legacy 65963)

If ever a jazzman has had his fusion recordings held against him, it's Herbie Hancock. When he records with acoustic piano and a mainstream rhythm section, he's deemed one of jazz's premier keyboardists. Let him crank up the synths, however, and many jazz fans turn up their noses. A pity, because his electronic work was remarkably prescient, as the tracks on "The Best of Herbie Hancock: The Hits!" make plain. The heavy synth bass in "Chameleon" laid the foundation for P-Funk's '80s sound, while the two-guitar interplay of tracks like "Ready or Not" set the stage for Maxwell's sophisticated funk. And would electronica have sounded the way it does were it not for "Rockit"? If only this CD had been expanded to include the likes of "Future Beat," it would be perfect. ****

POP/ROCK

Groove Armada

Vertigo (Jive 1241 41683)

It would be hard to imagine a better name for a dance-music collective than Groove Armada. Groove, after all, is what this crew is about, and as "Vertigo" shows, it owes its strength to the combined forces of its various contributors. Coming out of the English club scene, but with a strong pop sensibility, the Armada is blessed both with a sense of adventure and a keen ear for melody. So in addition to the giddy, house-influenced drive of "If Everybody Looked the Same," we get the jazzy extrapolations of "Pre 63," the swaggering, rap-inflected thump of "Whatever, Whenever," and the dark, hypnotic allure of "Your Song." Add in an adrenalized Fat Boy Slim remix of "I See You Baby," and "Vertigo" seems almost dizzyingly attractive. ***

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