Reviews

Various Artists
Cue's Hip Hop Shop Volume One
(Dogday)

Frank "DJ Cue" Cuevas didn't have a difficult time recruiting qualified artists for Cue's Hip Hop Shop Volume One. As owner of Cue's Records, the 5-year-old Daly City haven for hip-hop record buyers, the member of the Space Travelers DJ collective boasts a staff that includes former DMC Champion DJ Apollo, current ITF World Champion DJ Vinroc, and talented wax-spinner Richness. So it's not surprising that the album is mostly local, though it also leaves room for acts from Florida, Ohio, and New York.

The project is also mainly -- though not always -- a turntablist collection. Flipping vinyl with abandon on two tracks are members of the New York DJ crew X-Ecutioners: On "Beats for Days," Rob Swift juggles snippets of hip hop's early history, including Boogie Down Productions' classic "South Bronx," while Roc Raida's "Raida vs. Mystery DJ" offers a precise manipulation of Rasco's underground hit "Unassisted." Rasco himself delivers a familiar track from his solo debut ("Me & My Crew").

Also featured are local turntablists DJ Badrok (South San Francisco) and Millbrae's DJ Marz of the Space Travelers. On "1-800-Coming Correct" Badrok cleverly orchestrates telephone rings and dial tones while remaining undeniably funky, and Cincinnati turntablist Mr. Dibbs renders heavy drum kicks and bluesy shouts on "Judahs Transmission." Bringing live instruments into the mix is San Francisco's Live Human, a three-piece outfit with a DJ, acoustic bass, and drums who display an unpredictable, jazzy freedom on "Almost Live."

Cue includes some of the more hardcore offerings from the Bay Area, including Santa Clara's Third Sight, who opt for standard gangsta fare on "Hostage," with utterances like "Your whole family/ I'll keep ya hostage." Standing above that mediocre contribution is the infectious "Not Our House" by Sacred Hoop, featuring DJ Marz, Luke Sick, and Z-Man. While drops of guitar and piano dance gently over changing tracks, MC Z-Man hits with verses like "I feel like cotton candy cause fools tickle me pink."

Staffers Apollo, Vinroc, and Richness -- with Invisibl Skratch Pikl Shortkut -- get the last word on the closing "Live at Cue's." Accurately representing the frequent in-store jam sessions held at Cue's, the quartet's furious scratching is a gratifying finish to the many flavors of local and national hip hop the album displays.

-- Craig Smith

I Am Spoonbender
Sender/Receiver
(GSL)

I Am Spoonbender's debut album, Sender/Receiver, is a carefully assembled sonic collage -- the band's sound is both synergistic and singular. Although the basic tracks (acoustic drums and bass) were recorded in a Vancouver, B.C., studio in early 1997, the group -- which boasts a Macintosh computer as one of its primary instruments -- then spent over a year meshing the rhythm tracks with syrupy analog synthesizers, fuzzy tape loops, vocal effects, and digital editing acrobatics. The result is sounds crafted and manipulated from the cold, calculated distance of a computer desktop in order to strip away the organic stylings of rock music.

Spoonbender launches into the album's opener, "Reality Dealer," with a frenzied math-rock jumble of synth warbles, which jostle Brian Jackson's distorted bass and Dustin Donaldson's taut, staccato drumming. "Hair Is Real" continues in the same vein, as Jackson's Voivod-style scale-climbing bass line slithers around horror movie organs and caffeinated rhythms. Eight minutes into the album, Robynn "Cup" Iwata's vocals finally bubble to the surface; her murmured melody, along with the tinkling bell sounds of "Replaced by Toys," is reminiscent of Kraftwerk's "We Are the Robots." Elsewhere, Iwata and Donaldson's hushed vocals harmonize together on the Stereolab sound-alike "Stopwatch Static."

The bleak second side of David Bowie's Low album gets frequent nods as well on such tracks as "Slow Metal Fires" and "What Does the Water Think?," with loads of analog synthesizer chirps and farts dashing throughout. Jackson's dub-laced bass lines and Donaldson's jagged rhythms add tinges of post-punk chill inspired by This Heat and Public Image, Ltd.'s Second Edition.

The pinnacle of Spoonbender's electronic convulsions comes with the nine-minute manic cataclysm of a closer, "Mr. Knife, Miss Fork." Jackson's gurgling bass wades through multiple layers of keyboard goo, built atop a proto-funk beat that would make James Brown proud. The rhythms fracture repeatedly at unexpected moments, repeating single beats and notes as if someone were continuously bumping the reset button. Who's messing with our CD player, we wonder, and from where?

-- Dave Clifford

 
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