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Exciter
Depeche Mode
Mute/Reprise

It is easy to forget that Depeche Mode has been around longer than R.E.M., U2 and other Brit favorites like Duran Duran. And given its longevity, it's not surprising that the band has had many ups and downs along the way, with the deepest plunge occurring in 1995 when frontman Dave Gahan became addicted to heroine and eventually tried to kill himself. But just like their music and lyrics, the band has managed to rise from the ultimate low moments life sometimes offers, turning them into one huge dark celebration.

Their latest studio endeavor, Exciter, continues this theme. It's not as catchy and as hit-packed as some of their other albums, like Music for the Masses, but Martin Gore's song writing seems more focused than ever and Gahan's vocals are both haunting and commanding. From the breathless a cappella opening track of "Dream On," to the closing moments of the final track, "Goodnight Lover," Exciter offers an intimate and moody ride. On the ethereal ballad "When the Body Speaks," it's as if Gahan is next to you, whispering in your ear. Yet the very next track, "The Dead of Night," is a heady industrial jam.

This CD is more scaled down than some of the band's prior work, integrating more guitar and less electronica, but the result is powerful, full of intense lyrics and incredible sound orchestration. In fact, this CD is ripe for headphone listening, so the subtle but intricate sound work can be channeled directly to the ears.

Exciter is Depeche Mode's 10th studio album. They have never been ones to follow pop trends, and this CD is no different, proving that these original and trend-setting synth-poppers have not lost their knack.
Suzanne Becker

Gorillaz
Gorillaz
Parlophone/Virgin

Forget for a moment that Blur singer Damon Alburn and dub master Dan "The Automator" Nakamura started running with the Tank Girl crowd, and just listen to the music. Gorillaz is one of the best musical side projects since Greg Brady picked up a microphone and had a Sunshine Day.

Gorillaz plays like the Old Navy of dub, breaking beats for all personalities, looping samples for all ages, combining influences that even Mom and Dad can appreciate. A sophisticated London sound flows through most of the tracks, an almost jazzy elegance that carries the listener past the few over-produced rough spots.

The album's elegance can be directly attributed to Alburn's sad, sensual, metered voice. Two fine examples of this monochromatic sound are "Tomorrow Comes Today" and "Starshine," the kind of pieces you'd plot murders or paint impressionistic art to.

"Double Bass" shows the skill of The Automator with even-flowing, layered beats interspersed with pure lounge samples and a suspenseful collection of electronic xylophone-type notes. The entire track gives you the feeling of being in a very upscale aquarium.

Del the Funky Homosapien lends his propelling rhymes to "Rock the House," urging listeners to "trace the globe and shake your pants" to the '70s cop show horn riffs and the rolling bass line. Del's good-natured stylings also accompany Alburn on "Clint Eastwood," a well-crafted, high-lonesome, urban, dub Western that is so well crafted it lays over your ears like Grandma's quilt.

The project also captures the voices and beats of Kid Koala, the Tom Tom Club's Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, the Buena Vista Social Club's Ibrahim Ferrer (who is solely responsible for the subtly beautiful "Latin Simone") and Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori, whose voice is a highpoint throughout. The album stands brightly as a simple, shining beacon to other experimental dub fiends and cartoon DJs alike.
Kristen Sherwood

Everybody Got Their Something
Nikka Costa
Virgin Records America, Inc.

Upon first listening to this CD, various names may float through your head: Macy Gray, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Fiona Apple, even Sly and the Family Stone. But Nikka Costa cannot be pigeonholed into just one category, nor can she be directly compared to just one person. Though influences can be heard and comparisons drawn, Nikka Costa holds her own and ultimately creates her own unique sound on her debut CD, Everybody Got Their Something. The album is composed of classic R&B tinged with soul, and modernized electronic and dance rhythms.

The title track is the stellar track of the CD, reminiscent of the funkiest funk of the 1970s. With a groovy bass intro, a souped-up brass section and a bit of hip-hop, this song has a life of its own, driven by both the music and Costa's sexy, clear voice.

There are also two ballads included on this disc, the Billie Holiday-esque "Nothing" and the very soulful "Corners of my Mind." These two tracks are noticeably slower than the rest of the material, but a wonderful addition in that they showcase Costa's clear, smooth voice and wide vocal range.

While the CD shows Costa's talent and potential, there is unfortunately some sloppy mixing, leaving a few tracks cloudy or sounding out of place. The opening track, "Like a Feather," for example, could be a fluid, sultry tune, fusing jazz and funk styles. Unfortunately, the mid-song remixing of electric guitars and beeping sounds is disruptive and seems out of place.

Despite the occasional mixing flaws, this is a great CD. The lyrics are honest and compelling, the music raw and alive. For those who are tired of the sugarcoated pop and misogynist rap that keeps showing up in the new-release bins, Nikka Costa's debut is worth seeking out.
Suzanne Becker

  • Reviews of the latest albums from Depeche Mode, Gorillaz, and Nikka Costa.

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