Uneven as hell but charming nonetheless, it manages to rock in its own sloppy sort of way -- I'd take Free Kitten over the latest Sonic Youth, maybe even the new Thurston Moore. It's certainly good for more laughs. "Our guitars are always in tune/ The European tour is in June," the Kittens mew on "Proper Band," adding, "We've got a lighting crew/ We're Kitten and we're better than you." "Rock of Ages" pokes fun at the sniveling hunks of modern rock: "Stop thinking about the bitch who screwed you, there's a million who would do you/ Acting like a social retard, can it really be that hard?" Other highlights include "Greener Pastures," with its sarcastic praising of the rock lifestyle's many perks (free beer, all-access pass), Gordon's dope(y) rap on "Scratch the DJ" ("Play some records, tell it like it is, I'm sick of Stone Temple Pilot jizz") and the back-bending thrash blast, "Secret Sex Friend." Grrrlish tirades pervade throughout, but they're humorously packaged and they successfully avoid diatribe. The album closes with "Alan Licked Has Ruined Music for an Entire Generation," a five-second noise burst and the epitome of in-joke indie irony. Don't sweat it if you don't get it: You're certainly not alone.

-- Mike Rowell

Channel Live
Station Identification
(Capitol Punishment)

If you're tired of ignorant rappers who bore you with talk of gats and hoes ad nauseum, then pick up the remote control and flip it to Channel Live. The programming is conducive to mental elevation, with no static and a clear signal. Former high school teachers who turned to rap when their Afrocentric curriculum got too radical for the N.Y. school board, MCs Hakim and Tuffy are true disciples of the blastmaster KRS-One, who produced most of Station Identification and does a cameo on "Mad Izm." With a tight concept and solid production, these consciousness-oriented songs will spark a cipher in your brain as they break down stereotypes and build a positive reality. "What (Cause and Effect)" is a discourse on the overuse of words like "nigga" and "bitch"; "Sex for the Sport" looks at just how easy it is to get caught up in being fly without regard for the consequences.

With just enough skills to pay the bills, Channel Live has the good sense to refrain from one-dimensional didacticism; their brand of edutainment frees your mind as your ass follows the groove. "Internalize, externalize, check the exercise/ Kick the lyricals/ The buddha smoke helps me reach my high/ My eyes bloodshot/ Buckshot for the props/ Say what you didn't know/ Why'd you sleep on Hak?/ I'm not Sealy Posturepedic, the boom bap I need it/ To get the shit correct my style comes orthopedic," goes "Reprogram," which is emblematic of the album's content: basic headnodda's delight infused with metaphysical references that never get over your head. Channel Live may puff "Mad Izm," but the duo's clear and articulate ideology is deep enough that no one could accuse them of short-term memory loss. If rap is the CNN of the young black male, as it's said, Station Identification is Headline News -- with no reruns.

-- Eric K. Arnold

Monster Magnet
Dopes to Infinity

"A diverse, strange album with the intensity of 1,000 exploding suns," is how Monster Magnet lead singer/guitarist/producer Dave Wyndorf pegs Dopes to Infinity. It's an apt description: The Jersey band serves up a hard flurry of psychedelic songs laden with menacing, acid-dosed guitars set against a backdrop of demonic voices. Stringy-haired Wyndorf is the kind of guy you wouldn't take home to mama -- until he opens his mouth and lets his intelligently sinister lyrics unfold. The same goes for his music, which may sound bombastically heavy at first, but gets more complex and elliptical with each listen. Wyndorf expanded the Monsters' already huge sound, recording with 48 tracks as opposed to the 24 he used on 1993's Superjudge. The addition of sitars, mellotrons and organs softens sharp edges, dropping a gauzy veil over Wyndorf's deadpan vocal delivery.

There's nothing deniable about the first single, "Negasonic Teenage Warhead" (which appears in demo form on the S.F.W. soundtrack), with its sing-song refrain of "I will deny you, baby" and its crunchy instrumental hook. "Dead Christmas" skips down '60s pop lane on the strains of the mellotron; it's a happy little song unlike any of the band's previous work. Though the album's lyrics reflect a functional drug culture enriched by vibrant color, Wyndorf says Dopes is more about sex than drugs. But for him, the two go hand in hand.

-- Kim Taylor

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