Thanks to rap star Eminem, who sampled her song "Thank You" on his track "Stan," English singer-songwriter Dido Armstrong' disembodied voice has been everywhere. Finally, with the belated Japan release of her solo debut,
No Angel, fans here get to take a closer look. What that reveals is not only a singer gifted with an enticingly understated voice, but also a mature songwriter who evinces a world-weariness far beyond her years. In addition to the siren strains of "Thank You," Dido - sister to Faithless mastermind and leading UK dance producer Rollo - pines for her lover in the downtempo opener "Here With Me," and broods on the end of romance in the folk strains of "Don't Think Of Me." While many here may already be vaguely familiar with Dido, the Japan release of
No Angel provides a welcome opportunity to get better acquainted with her work.
MARTIN / La Historia (Epic/Sony)
Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin is best known for his crossover hit "Livin' La Vida Loca," but the singer has had a long and varied career since his emergence as part of the teen group Menudo.
La Historia takes a look at the best songs of his career, from his early solo years to his recent English breakthrough, including numbers such as the Latin house workout "Maria" and the classic salsa strains of "La Bomba." You don't have to understand Spanish to enjoy the easily accessible melodies and rhythms on
La Historia. But unless you're a diehard Martin fan, the inclusion of new versions of older hits may not be of great interest. All this album really proves is what we know already: Martin is a sexy hunk and capable singer, but hardly a creative talent of the first order.
Bodily Functions (!K7)
English electro innovator Matthew Herbert certainly has proved himself a sampling wizard and musical visionary, but whether or not you'll enjoy his distinctive music is another matter entirely. Assuming that you like techno, jazz and even a quirky hybrid of both, then Herbert's newest,
Bodily Functions, is a must. Adhering to his credo that only original samples be used, Herbert builds percussion loops from household noises, adds the rich warmth of a live jazz band, and tops it all off with the lovely, lazy voice of his current diva of choice, Dani Siciliano. Tending away from the house vibes of his previous work firmly in the direction of jazz,
Bodily Functions offers a buoyant collection of songs, ranging from the shades-of-Billie-Holiday vocal jazz of "It's Only," to the mellow impressionism of the ballad "The Last Beat," to the slightly disturbing yet soulful choruses of "You Saw It All."
All About Chemistry (MCA)
Pop, rock, pop. Did I mention pop? Minneapolis-based Semisonic are the kind of band that you don't know, but when someone hums one of their tunes you instantly know what song it is. Following on an album that fared much better in the UK than in the USA, this trio continues with much of the same. Other than the title track, "All About Chemistry," which will certainly be hummed by many to come, this album provides very little to gain name recognition among the masses. Each song sounds great and can stand alone, but together on one album they leave the listener feeling a bit numb and thinking that they have heard the current track two tracks before.
Downtempo specialists Autechre deliver another serving of obscure madness out of their lair somewhere deep in the English countryside. Occasional visitors to Japan and heroes of electronic knob twiddlers worldwide, Autechre's latest,
Confield, comes from the nether regions of ambient techno where the term "music" begins to lose relevance and phrases such as "sound environment" come to mind. Disturbing electronic bloops and bleeps and alien voices emerge into the foreground, only to recede into the distance again on obscurely titled songs such as "Parheric Triangle." Autechre won't have anyone tapping their feet or humming a melody, but they certainly do know how to conjure up a hypnotic and otherworldly sonic dreamscape.