-- Tim Kenneally

New Music for a New America

At its best, experimental music is mind-blowing innovation; at worst, it's a self-indulgent morass of postmodern cliches. New Music for a New America by Bay Area enigma Rituel hovers somewhere in the ambiguous middle (under)ground. Rife with deconstructionisms -- cut-up tape loops lifted from media talking heads ("MTV today is violent, coarse, kinky, weirdo," blathers one pundit) and artfully juxtaposed multigenre pastiches -- and ironic detachment, Rituel draws on both popular and fringe elements of American culture.

Nothing is sacred, or rather, all sounds assume one sacred voice within the ceremonial celebration of the "new music" ritual -- which isn't really "new" at all. Apparently, Rituel's ethos is "Everything's been said and done so why don't we urbanites splurge on all the goodies in the postmodern megamart like Aunt Ida at the church bake sale." Pugnacious punk wailing, Xenakis-inspired percussion, and the screaming ghost of Albert Ayler meet operatic mooning on "Unseen Rain," a schizoid meditation on Sufi mystic Rumi's lovelorn verse. A nutty reworking of "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" speaks corncob pipefuls about the genre. And, tellingly, the kickoff track is a pungent, sax-laden "Are You Experienced?" By now, we all are -- aren't we?

Rituel plays a record release party Wed, April 3, at Beanbender's Berkeley Store Gallery; call (510) 528-8440.

-- Sam Prestianni

Princess Superstar
Strictly Platinum
(5th Beetle Records)

Look at what the Beastie Boys have wrought: What do you get when you cross a bunch of white kids who grew up on punk and moved on to hip hop with a four-track, a voice box, malt liquor, and a New York ZIP code? If you said Luscious Jackson, Jon Spencer, and Butter, you'd be correctamundo, if not exactly an interpretive genius. Princess Superstar, the latest white-punks-gone-dope, wear their East Village origins like a big, shiny sheriff's badge they found at a thrift shop near Tompkins Square.

On the quixotically titled Strictly Platinum, the co-ed quartet's debut, they trumpet their would-be downness with a mix of braggadocio, barely self-effacing irony, and a sharp sense of humor. Like all the Beasties' bastard children, Princess Superstar makes knowing nods to singsong hip hop, specifically the old-skool NYC kind, and couples them with pop-punk riffs. The album's first track, "Theme Song," is just that: punchy waves of bass lines, spacey effects, grooved guitar, and only one lyric -- "Princess Superstar," of course. On the honky manifesto "I'm White," lead vocalist Concetta Kirschner (who sounds eerily like Luscious Jackson's Jill Cunniff at times) intones, "I'm white and I'm from Pennsylvania/ I don't have no gold and I don't have a pager/ Where I'm from there isn't a scene/ I got my information reading Highlights magazine." Thankfully, the laughs are reserved for the lyrics.

Strictly Platinum's production, which is co-credited to Kirschner, is simple and sparse but always smart: a sample here, a little effect there, and a constant awareness of when to change the pace. And while these Superstars sound ragged throughout, they've got that garage-band energy that's hard to pull of on record. Princess Superstar is nowhere near as sophisticated as most of its musical influences, but rarely does self-parody so skillfully straddle that thin line between clever and stupid.

-- Zev Borow

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