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CD Disc-overies 

New works by Hefner, Master P and more

Dismemberment Plan -- Change (De Soto Records)

First off, let's get one thing straight: Dismemberment Plan is not emo. The kinetic energy that roils on this disc is too massive and fresh to fit into that stale construct, and when was the last time you heard emo music that made you want to get up and dance? Change is the follow-up to the Plan's breakout disc, Emergency and I, and is just as innovative, vigorous and utterly unclassifiable. It's also dreamier and mellower, not quite as caffeinated as Emergency. The music is rococo and pointillistic, and the vocals cut through like an arrow, puissant and bell-clear. There's something vaguely Shudder to Think about the Plan's musical dynamics: They're more clean-cut and less opaque but just as darkly sexual. The new Flaming Lips? Quite possibly, and the result is one of the year's best rock records.

-- Brian Howe

Hefner -- Dead Media (Too Pure/Beggars Banquet)

The synth-rock revival continues with this latest release from London's Hefner, formerly a straightforward guitar-pop outfit, now retrofitted with synthesizers galore and a new lease on life. This is a vastly different recording from previous disc We Love the City, or from any of Hefner's previous output, for that matter. The classic pop songwriting is still there, but it's fleshed out with different toys. Things start off strongly with the title track, the punky dance-floor stomper "Trouble Kid," and the blatant 80s throwback "When the Angels Play Their Drum Machines." But as the disc progresses, one gets the sneaking suspicion that this album has already been made, say by master synth-tinkerer Momus, of kitsch-pop Michigan label Le Grande Majestry. Hefner sounds like they're having fun recording, but at times the personality of the band is overshadowed by the machinery they use. Still, it's hard to fault a band for trying new tricks, especially when they can still deliver lines like "We killed the digital whores last Thursday."

-- Tim Anderson

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion -- Plastic Fang (Matador)

Blooz-rock fans know that Plastic Fang is the voodoo totem that gave the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion its mojo back. But it's not just voodoo that's responsible for what might well be the New York trio's finest album to date. On 1998's Acme, singer/guitarist Spencer yelped, "I don't play no blues, I play rock & roll!" Plastic Fang backs up that claim. Throughout Acme, Spencer -- along with guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins -- was too preoccupied with guest producers. But for Fang, the group has put down the groove boxes and rediscovered the gut bucket, dipping their hands in dirty, dirty Delta soil infused with blood, blisters and swagger. No more focusing on breakbeats to get their groove on. This isn't the first time JSBX has stripped down (the raw Now I Got Worry followed the 70s funk/soul-influenced Orange). But this time, the band has managed to move its focus forward by going back to basics, crafting some of its most visceral, skuzzy, bastardized backwoods boogie meets gritty garage meets blues-by-way-of-70s-Britain. Across 12 tracks, JSBX romp from stomp to shuffle -- and they really sink their Fang into it.

-- Tony Ware

Master P -- Gameface (No Limit/Priority)

Gameface? No-Game Face is more like it. Master P broke fast from the gates of the Southern rap race in 1997, producing a string of infectious singles like "Make 'Em Say Ugh" and "Thug Girl," and fashioning himself into a Down South version of the rapper-producer-entrepreneur shtick popularized by Sean Combs. Now it seems many of his proteges have outdistanced him (Mystikal in particular), taking Southern rap in a more progressive direction while he was busy fooling around with moviemaking and the NBA. As a whole, Gameface falls laughably flat: recycled beats, kindergarten synths and vapid cliches repeated over and over and over. If blowhard posturing and shout outs to collard greens are your thing, check this one out. Otherwise, avoid this album in case being soulless and trite is contagious. File under "Make 'Em Say I Want My Money Back."

-- David Mueller

Stan Ridgway -- Holiday in Dirt (New West).

Ex-Wall of Voodoo frontman Stan Ridgway -- whose eccentric voice powered the unlikely 80s hit "Mexican Radio" -- has spent the last two decades creating quirky, unforgettable solo work. Overflowing with moody film noir verses and offbeat musical ideas, albums from The Big Heat (1985) through Anatomy (1999) have been unified by little more than Ridgway's distinctive nasal delivery and novelist's attention to lyric detail. It's a sweet surprise, then, to discover that Holiday in Dirt -- though ostensibly a collection of B-sides, alternate versions and songs written for movie soundtracks -- is actually Ridgway's most thematically consistent disc to date. It finds the singer ruminating on age and the passage of time, ideas he treats with admirable grace on "Beloved Movie Star." A lush composition inspired by the classic film Sunset Boulevard, it chronicles the decline of an aging actress, set against shimmering walls of harp strings. The album includes two versions, one a longer, expansive "Cecil B. DeMille mix." Much more sinister is "Brand New Special and Unique," originally envisioned for Ridgway's sideband, Drywall. Like Devo gone bad, the track bleeps out eerie computer rhythms underscored by haunting chorales, while Ridgway grimly intones, "Gray is shown the door... Bring the new, replace the antique." Holiday finishes with an amusing hidden track on which Ridgway, assuming the guise of a doddering geezer, belts his way through the cheesy country standard "Behind Closed Doors" with all the grace of an arthritic mule crossing a frozen pond. Hilarious and revealing, the song makes it clear that this particular singer/songwriter, although a bit long in the tooth, has many good miles left to travel -- and that his sense of humor is still fully intact.

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