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Now Hear This

CD reviews of new releases by Bjork, M83, G. Love and Special Sauce and local groups Skip Gailes and Jubeus.

"Oceania" is the song she performed at the opening ceremonies of the Athens Olympics - a typically spiky but lyrical melody unfolds over a swooping and humming choir. The industrial sound of "Where Is the Line" has a frantic rhythm, eerie growling and lyrics like "I am elastic, I want to go out of my way for you." Bj”rk's voice and its angelic pitch breaks through the nightmare like a bright light above the din.

Another standout track is "Who Is It," with an innovative happy rhythm and verses that string the synth-sound of the song together with alternating chords. From the sing-song lullaby softness of "V”kur¢" to the dance-ready frantic beats of "Triumph of a Heart," this is an album only an artist as visionary as Bj”rk could create. **** — Shannon O'Neill

M83 "Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts" (Mute)

When you're discussing music, the word psychedelic conjures images of bell-bottoms, guitars and mind-bending jams. On their second full-length album, Frenchmen Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau of M83 make affecting psychedelic music in the comfort of their homes with a dizzying array of keyboards, a computer and a drum machine. And there's not a solo in sight.

M83 is an odd duck, then, being an almost entirely instrumental drone band with a fondness for shoegaze who have opted to make synthesizers the center of their music. While the songs on "Dead Cities" are undeniably epic, with huge swells of block chords that seem pulled from a sci-fi soundtrack's climax, there's a sonic cheapness that hints at the home-recorded nature of the project and lends a certain innocence.

The excellent "Run Into Flowers," despite its overpowering wall of lush sound, feels intimate and romantic, with buried vocals repeating the simple refrain "I want to run to you." The following "In Church" builds a tower of organ drone stretching to the stars, and it's clear that early space-rock outfits like Tangerine Dream are the objects of worship. But M83 sets off on interstellar excursions with a pop sensibility, so the cosmic music is consistently welcoming and approachable. **** — Mark Richardson

G. Love and Special Sauce "The Hustle" (Brushfire)

Since the band's self-titled debut in 1994, G. Love and Special Sauce has defied description. Whether you call the band's music garage-funk or hip-hop blues, it borrows heavily from them all. The band's fifth album branches out and invites a few new genres to the block party, notably the zydeco-influenced "Love," the reggae sendup "Give It to You," and multiple tracks that sound distinctly like the Indigo Girls. Instrumental guest stars provide horns, percussion and even the occasional sample behind the band's signature blues guitar, bass and harmonica. G. Love's lyrics explore life's lighter side, from messing around with a friend and having everything stay cool, to school-bus politics. It's is a solid effort. *** — Amy Biegelsen

Local Bin

Skip Gailes "When We're Together" (self released)

Saxophonist/pianist Skip Gailes has been at or very near the center of the Richmond jazz scene for what seems like forever. A longtime member of the VCU faculty, he's played around town in a variety of lineups, often as a leader, but also as a walk-on soloist. His playing is elegant and articulate, constructing melodic and harmonic improvisations with an unpretentious off-handedness.

The band assembled for "When We're Together" includes a number of notable local players: drummers Howard Curtis and Robbie Sinclair, bassist Randall Pharr, guitarist Trey Pollard and trumpeter John D'earth. Rudy Faulkner appears briefly on congas. The songs are all Gailes originals, but their underlying harmonic architecture makes them, if not immediately familiar, eminently accessible.

Most of the songs are mid- to-up-tempo workouts. The playing throughout is very good, the recording is warm if a bit hazy. In all, a solid piece of work from a local musician who deserves recognition and support. **** — Peter McElhinney

Jubeus "Two Tone Circles"

Richmond's Jubeus is a straight-ahead rock band incorporating blues elements and occasional Caribbean rhythms. There's nothing novel about its approach, but these guys can play, and frontman Jason Masi possesses a resonant voice appropriate to the material. Though their music seems designed for open-air shows before an audience ready to shimmy to extended jams, the band's songs are remarkably compact, with guitar breaks that last only a bar or two. The subject matter on "Two Tone Circles" is spelled out nicely on the catchy chorus from the opening "Sunshine Lady": "Running on a good vibe/holding on my sunshine lady."

Good vibes and sunshine are totally awesome, but tough to build an entire album around. On "Ocean" Masi is tossed like a cork by a girl who rages like the sea, but lines like "I fare the tide that crosses over her/ I'd like to swallow the taste" will have some listeners reaching for the Dramamine. Continuing the nautical theme, "Canoe" imagines carefree days floating with the current to a bubbly good-time beat; "Green Island Paradise" ties up to Jimmy Buffet's boat but lacks humor or levity; and "Coconuts and Bikinis" offers redemption in the form of a punchy horn-driven instrumental with hints of soca to go with the blues licks.

When the closing ballad "Blue Sky Morning" begins with the lines "I've got my hands over me/ my feet beneath the sand" one feels a powerful desire to scrub off the sunblock and head for the high ground. **1/2— M.R.

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