Outer Space/Inner Space
Animal Magic
(Ninja Tune)

After the first few listens, one could be forgiven for thinking these two new releases from London's trendpacing Ninja Tune label--home of techno wizards such as Amon Tobin and Funki Porcini--are nothing more than electro easy listening for the Wallpaper magazine set. Spin them some more, though, and subtle nuances come to the fore, revealing sophisticated cores to both recordings. They're forward-looking, even--mellow, but not lost in space. Both discs are smart, snazzy works of consummate musicianship that deftly mix digital monkey-wrenching with memorable melodies and refined rhythms.

The two guys in Flanger, who go by the names Atom™ and Burnt Friedman, draft a bunch of real, live musicians for their effort--talented players, too. The result would fit snugly alongside '70s jazz/funk in the Miles Davis/Herbie Hancock vein, with the addition of the skittering digital manipulations. For example, toward the end of "Galak," the second track on Outer Space/Inner Space, the smooth, vibes-and-percussion jazz starts skipping. More accurately, a few studio snips make the recording sound like a CD that your roommate used as a coaster a few too many times. Here, though, simulated digital disaster is manipulated to make rhythmic sense; electronic technology has been embraced as an instrument on its own, one that can be used to jam and improvise like any other. You could call this "jazz for a new millennium," but rest assured that someone else already has.

Bonobo, on the other hand, is just one guy, Simon Green from Brighton, England. Green goes for a smoother, more sensual sound. In fact, it really isn't too far from easy listening, but Animal Magic is saved from saccharine somnambulism by quirky details like scratchy samples and eerie echoes. Ben Munat

snap judgments

North Mississippi Allstars
51 Phantom
(Tone-Cool Records)
It seems we all breathe a sigh of relief when anyone comes along possessing even marginal talent for playing the blues. Perhaps it makes us feel our world still has the texture it once did. In accordance with this fantasy, the North Mississippi Allstars' Shake Hands with Lefty won acclaim and a large college crowd with jam rock that took more cues from Junior Kimbrough than Jerry Garcia. On 51 Phantom, the Allstars look to turn another trick. Instead, though, we see a group that blew its proverbial wad the first time around. These guys may fancy themselves latter-day Robert Johnsons, but borrowed lyrics and old Spin Doctors solos do not a doom-laden crossroads rendezvous make. Russ Meyer

The North Mississippi Allstars join forces with John Medeski to become The Word, which plays Sunday at the Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside St., 225-5555 x 8811. All ages. See preview, page 41.

Marc Ribot
Ribot's guitar sting takes many forms depending on which artist he's supporting--for Tom Waits it's brittle blues, while John Zorn elicits a dash of lounge and a pinch of surf. But the retro cool of Cubanos Postizos aside, Ribot's solo discs are the true place to spy the mad genius of his fretwork. Instrumental and unaccompanied, Ribot balances virtuosity with tweak like a latter-day Thelonious Monk. Deconstructed (yet recognizable) renditions of classics such as "St. James Infirmary" and "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" rub elbows with expressionist Albert Ayler-esque riffs and a gamelan-inspired Zorn piece. For the fried fruit of abstract strum, Ribot's the man. Dewey Mahood

Burning Cindys
Syntax Era
(Funkytonk Records)
Perhaps a mutant fusion of soul and rock like the Burning Cindys could only have been born in Eastern Washington's nuclear-powered Tri-Cities. Syntax Era, the now-Portland power trio's debut, reports its nine finest moments. From the upbeat opener, "Harsh Mongolian Winter," to the final "Weaknesses of the Panzer," each track on Syntax Era eventually slows down for a short, melodic breather before exploding back into a chaotic storm of punk, metal and hardcore rock and roll. Emotional desperation rules--every song is a now-or-never rocker. An original, aurally friendly, near perfect first album. Kudos, boys. Jason M. Rivera

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO
New Geocentric World of Acid Mothers Temple
Is there a linguist in the house? There must be some confusion about translating the word "psychedelic" into Japanese. While most Western psychedelia is full of pretty pastel slashes, rainbow pinwheels and some form of soft babbling about mushrooms or unicorns, Japan's Acid Mothers Temple re-envisions the genre with violent, clashing, free-form freakouts that spatter the ceiling with gouts of guitar noise. The opening cut--the 20-minute-plus "Psycho Buddha"--is as brain-boiling a mix of vocal screams and fever-dream feedback as you'll hear this year. Make sure your acid is clean, brothers and sisters, or you'll be clawing the walls. John Graham