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Smash the Ships and Raise the Beams

This Winnipeg duo whips up a lot of maximum-R&B noise. Although as fixated on the Jam as any other band since the Odd Numbers, the two Duotangs are far more dour, spilling black paint across their sharp three-button suits. It could be the lack of a guitarist--Duotang rocks on with a bass, drums and occasional organ. How can it not sound rather dark when the melody is fashioned from a thick, resonating bass string? Rod Slaughter's vocals aren't enough to lighten the load. "King of Beliefs" and "Follower of Obvious Voices" come close, but Smash the Ships needs a few subtle elements--a solo trumpet or a glockenspiel, perhaps--to help make this promising two-man raft float. (Todd S. Inoue)

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Various Artists
Misfits of Ska II
Asian Man

Assembled by local ska mentor Mike Park, Misfits of Ska II unspools like a superlong mix tape of groups that inhabit the wide, gray expanse between traditional ska and hard-core punk. The bands come from as far as Tokyo and Gilroy to rock steady with gravitational force. Worth savoring are some of the exploratory uses of ska. The Peacocks flip a rockabilly hybrid that's a standout; Link 80 and Against All Authority create a poly-punk blend. Producer Robert Berry did great work making the CD uniform in sound and texture. Misfits of Ska II takes it back to the real reason for compilations--a sampling of different bands from all over the world for a sound price. (TSI)

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Various Artists
Hip Hop Concepts
Freedom Sound

This is hip-hop, neither hard nor soft, just straight-up. Mama Mystique's "Tremendous" prefers a stripped-to-the-bone approach, lyrically and musically. On Ditto Poets of Thought's jazzy "I Remain Versatile," dainty piano and bumptious bass collude as the main Poet repeats the title like a mantra. "Hypothesis" by Mental Device is wordless, creamy smooth and groovy; here again, the bass line is no technical wiz biz, but it coils around the central theme like a benign snake. The Moves Group offers the most unconventional sonic setting on "So in Love." While the riddim is steady as a rock, tittering mandolin and sweetly singing strings underscore the romanticism implied by the title. In the background, the Moves croon the title like younger, hipper Barry Whites. (Nicky Baxter)

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Various Artists
Trip Hop Nation, Vol. 1

Defining trip-hop can be tricky business--this U.K.-spawned beat manifesto takes the African philosophy of the drum for a spin on the Autobahn. What's striking about Trip Hop Nation is that despite the number of raver DJs and producers, the bulk of this stuff sounds like Afrika Bambaata's "Planet Rock" inhabited by marginally more sophisticated beat-boys a decade down the road. Cuts by Oscillator ("Sound Barrier") and Norden Lights ("Voices in My Head") confirm the suspicion that, with a few notable exceptions, beneath trip-hop's thin veneer lies yet another variation of techno's relentlessly unfunky "heart." There are a couple of exceptions: D'Ice Man's "Power Station" features a sitar introduction, while Acid Drop's "Break It Down" kick starts the Miami Bass sound into gear again. (NB)

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From the February 20-26, 1997 issue of Metro

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