Recordings

Sleeper
Smart
(Arista)

Listen to the spark of the bite-size guitar implosions, the reconstituted Wire drum kicks, the cheeky cockney delivery: Yes, it would be easy to dismiss Sleeper as the latest commodity to roll off the U.K.'s new wave of New Wave conveyor belt, which has already produced for our conspicuous consumption the tarty delicacies of Elastica, Blur and Echobelly. But Sleeper's Smart debut suggests that given a head start, it'd have topped them all with its taunting glamour, its sharp rhythmic sense and the dazzling absurdity of frontwoman Louise Wener. Add to that a dozen songs that pack bravado, taut pyrotechnics and the neuroticism so essential to this genre, and the results are anything but tired -- even if Wener likes to don an "Another Female Fronted Band" T-shirt in photos.

"Inbetweener," the opener, whirs and bounces like the long-lost bastard sister of Elastica's "Connection," with spewed-out lyrics like, "She's shopping for kicks, got the weekend to get through/ Keeping the rain off her Saturday hairdo/ She stops for a coffee, she smiles at the waiter/ He winks at his friends and they laugh at her later." Then comes the guitar-shredding, irresistibly poppy "Delicious," a sloppily rabid paean to sex that ends with the plea, "You're so dirty/ Make it dirtier." Even in the more delicate moments, Sleeper has a knack for making you choke on air. On "Amuse," Wener recites sweetly, "You're tragically vain/ You knew I'd adore you for it." How true.

-- Aidin Vaziri
Sleeper plays Mon, June 5, at Bottom of the Hill in S.F.; call 626-4455.

Mingo 2000
Out of Our Way
(Mable Label)

After regaling audiences with its oddball sound spectacular this past year or so, the Bay Area's own Mingo 2000 has finally translated its loving homage to early '60s instrumentals to vinyl. Plundering the vast booty of incidental and obscure movie soundtracks, the Mingos cover everything from "Frankie Machine" (from The Man With the Golden Arm) to themes from flashy flicks manufactured in Bombay, India, the film capital of the world. Enjoy the loping quality of "Hawks and Sparrows"; the eerie pre-digital UFO sound effects of "War of the Satellites/Let's Dance the Jet"; the back-alley teen desperation of "Beat Girl"; and the sheer grooviness of the mellow Herb Alpert-isms of "Tesla's Menses" (a phonetic spelling of a Hindi song). Live, the band will set you dancing to "Goldfinger" and "Eight Miles High," but for now audiophiles will have to content themselves with more obscure covers -- unknown authors charge no royalties.

When I asked if Out of Our Way was available on CD, I was met with looks of shocked indignation: Long-playing, high-fidelity, file this one under "Smooth and Easy."

-- Lisa McElroy

Laurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick
Together
(Rounder)

You won't hear Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick amid the born-again honky-tonkers cluttering the "Young Country" airwaves. The duo's fiddle, guitar and vocals represent a subset of country music far outside the mainstream; a bluegrass album is considered "platinum" these days when it sells more than 15,000 copies. It doesn't help matters that Lewis and Kallick, who formed the California bluegrass band the Good Ol' Persons 20 years ago before going their separate ways, play a type of old-timey music more associated with groups sporting some variation on the name "Good Ol' Boys." Or that the duo hail from deep in the lonesome hollows of Berkeley. "There's still this attitude, especially in the Southeast, where bluegrass originated, that Californians can't possibly know how to play the music," Lewis once said.

But one listen to Lewis and Kallick's recently re-released collaboration, Together (originally out on the now-defunct Kaleidoscope label in 1991), and you're instantly transported to Appalachia. Lewis' fiddle wails like a runaway freight train on the bluegrass standard "Lost John" and on the album opener, "Going Up on the Mountain," both songs also featuring Kallick's blistering finger-picking and Tony Furtado's lightning banjo. The mood turns just as easily to heartbreak, bluegrass music's most well-worn and satisfying path, in "Is the Blue Moon Still Shining." Kallick and Lewis belt out aching harmonies -- "Will you ever come back and love me?/ Or tell me, are we really through?" -- with local dobroist Sally Van Meter and mandolinist Tom Rozum laying down plaintive backup lines.

Foot-stomping fiddling and heartache in two-part harmony, with a mountain version of the Maverick theme song and a little religion and yodeling thrown in for good measure: What else could a bluegrass lover ask for?

-- Mickey Butts
Laurie Lewis & Grant Street play Fri, June 2, at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley; call (510) 548-1761.

Fred Frith/Chris Cutler
Live Vol. 2
(ReR/Cuneiform)

Given the unsettling intensity of the music of guitarist Fred Frith and percussionist Chris Cutler, it might seem odd at first that an audience member is laughing it up on the kickoff track of these 1991 live recordings from Trondheim and Berlin. But the rationale is quite simple: astonishment. If you've ever witnessed Frith's feverish performance as he scrapes knives across steel strings or bangs metal rods like drumsticks along the fretboard, such gape-mouthed incredulity is familiar. As scary as his soundscapes get, the sheer artistry of this founding father of avant-garde guitar never fails to leave one bemused.

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