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Back Stories | My Album Reviews From Nov. 27, 1998

Pushing the rewind button on golden oldies from RZA, Less Than Jake and others.

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Two decades ago, new albums from RZA, Less Than Jake and others were spinning away in my portable CD player. Here’s what I had to say about them back then (with some minor editing):

RZA
RZA As Bobby Digital
Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA gives high concept a new meaning with his futuristic, funky new alter-ego Bobby Digital, a superfly superspy superstar with a raccoon mask, a computer brain and a very, very big … gun. But RZA‘s real secret weapon is still deceptively simple musical collages — give this guy a basic beat, a toy piano and a random sound effect and he’ll give you a pumping killer track. Here, he spins off about 20 of ’em, without having to plunder anybody’s back catalogue or drag every two-bit rapper in off the street for a cameo. With Bobby Digital, RZA shows he’s sharp as ever.


Less Than Jake
Hello Rockview
Just when it seems the whole ska-punk think has run out of steam, Florida’s Less Than Jake sound like they’re getting their second wind. This veteran sextet — a punk trio that added a horn section a few years back — are still as punchy and powerful as ever, and their smoking fifth album (and second major-label release) features all the whoa-ho anthems, party-hearty enthusiasm and ska-skewed sensibility you expect, along with the crisp, precision playing that only years on the road can produce. Less Than Jake are less than original, but Hello Rockview is never less than entertaining.


Tommy Boy’s Greatest Beats
Various Artists
With 56 tracks containing over four hours of music spread across four CDs, this ambitious project from New York’s Tommy Boy label is practically an aural history of hip-hop. Afrika Bambaataa‘s seminal track Planet Rock and Coolio‘s breakthrough hit Gangsta’s Paradise serve as the bookends here. Between them you get to hear from a veritable who’s who of artists, including OGs like Digital Underground and Stetsasonic, along with fresher princes like Apache and Paris. And with hit tracks like OPP, Supermodel, Jump Around and The Humpty Dance in the mix, Greatest Beats more than lives up to its handle.


Chef Aid | The South Park Album
Various Artists
Dude! If South Park‘s sick, scatological antics are your cup of TV, you’re in luck. This 21-track, star-studded compilation — sort of a soundtrack to the episode of the same name — is more of a blast than a Terrance and Phillip marathon. You get Isaac Hayes-as-Chef classics like Simultaneous and No Substitute. You get novelty tracks like Kenny’s Dead by Master P and Wake Up Wendy by Elton John. You get original tracks by Rancid, Ween, the long-MIA Joe Strummer, Devo, theme-songers Primus and plenty more. You get Ned the Vietnam vet buzzing Feel Like Makin’ Love. And best of all, you get Cartman’s creepily heartfelt rendition of Come Sail Away. Sweet.


Big Soap
Ka
If you’re expecting something clean, smooth and bubbly from Big Soap, you might be disappointed. If you’re after something grittier, probably not. With their gritty, blood-stained garage-punk roots, stomping grooves and dadaist experimental bent — complete with skronking sax and squealing Theremin — this Cincinnati foursome is 99 and 44/100ths per cent pure cool. Besides, you gotta love any band that has a tune called Power & Volume.


Medusa Cyclone
Mr. Devil
Please allow Keir McDonald to introduce himself; he’s the man of stealth and taste who masterminds Detroit’s Medusa Cyclone. Borrowing from both the Motor City’s rawk and techno scenes, on his second album McDonald crossbreeds them into a mutant hybrid of ominous, lo-fi electronica. Sometimes it’s droning, dramatic and dreamy; other times it’s robotic, pseudo-industrial and nightmarish. From top to bottom, it’s compelling. Call it psychedelia for the devil.


Mono Puff
It’s Fun to Steal
Mono Puff daddy John Flansburgh is slightly better known as one half of quirk-rockers They Might Be Giants. So it’s probably no shock that his moonlighting gig is just as weird, witty and wonderfully wacky as his day job. What’s new is that Mono Pull are more groovy and goofy. John and co. are locked in a serious ’70s state of mind here, liberally lifting a retro-slate of sounds and styles, right down to the wah-wah chicken-scratch guitar lines, funky breaks and disco strings. It’s Fun To Steal is just as much of a hoot to listen to.


Bailter Space
Photon
Photon Torpedo is more like it. New York-via-New Zealand troublemakers Bailter Space‘s latest EP is a heat-seeking missile of noise rock, full of propulsive drumming, snarling guitars and disjointed, buried vocals. The fact that these eight numbers are semi-improvised only adds to the ragged beauty of the whole affair. The bad news: Photon lasts just 18 minutes. The good news: Bailter Space do more in that time than most bands do in thrice that.