Albums

Len – “You Can’t Stop The Bum Rush”

Five songs into Len’s major label debut, You Can’t Stop the Bum Rush, a German voice (in German, nonetheless) intones over some elementary school Bontempi keyboard tapping that “my battery is on, listen to my super sound, our love is electric, it produces current…” and lingers on a bit, a clear send-up of Kraftwerk, if not any German who’s ever committed themselves to tape. Sure, it’s childish and the novelty wears thin after a nanosecond, but it is a fair representation of the ambition and scope of Len.

This might be a hip-hop send-up band, composed of brother and sister Marc and Sharon Costanzo and some their profoundly baked cohorts, but You Can’t Stop quickly establishes itself in its own right as an effortless party record and immersion in all the joys of good, baked, organic and stoopid fresh hip-hop.

The album starts with the summer’s truly unavoidable “Steal My Sunshine,” which shows what a good keyboard loop and some well-meaning but unvirtuosic rapping and singing can do for you- an instant summer hit (this is not the Abercrombie and Fitch song – those guys have been shot). “Cryptik Souls Crew” is an impossibly funky Sugarhill Gang pastiche. “Beautiful Day” utilizes the sadly overlooked skills of the great Biz Markie, previously consigned to exile on Beasties throwaways and duets with French rappers of questionable talent.

The whole thing is actually rather tight – good samples, scratching, and a devastating array of beats. I know, D-Rock isn’t the greatest rapper in the land, and Shar possesses an alarmingly annoying voice at times, but Len have charisma in spades, and they clearly love what they do. They even have the gumption to invite former Poison axeslayer C.C Deville(!) to the fete. He dutifully provides a hoary ’80s hair metal solo to the really rather lame “Feelin’ Alright.” That and one other slip-up aside, You Can’t Stop the Bum Rush is a real joy, meant to accompany the casual herbal imbiber or the rabid hip-hop fan.

The Chemical Brothers,

“Surrender”

Even if we never hear from Fatboy Slim again, and hip-hop and dance diverge once more like two particularly estranged and bitter lovers, we’ll still have the first and ultimate testimony to the often-slagged but undeniable genre of big-beat, the Chemical Brothers’ gate-crashing Dig Your Own Hole. A supreme mix of all that’s BIG and contains BEATS, Dig was unsubtle but truly a force of nature. It showed the dynamics of beat like few records before it (or since) and stands as a landmark (we Americans even bought it, in droves).

Their third effort, Surrender, finds the Bros. back at the top of their form, mapping a landscape that is at once hypnotic, edgy, ephemeral and downright funky. All the guest stars are back, although many might seem obscure to a US audience. New Order’s Bernard Sumner guests on “Out of Control,” a bleeping, roaring house stomper which shows the Bros. obvious affection for those early New Order hits, while at one point the song dissolves slightly into Sumner’s chiming guitar. It’s really quite lovely.

Noel Gallagher’s back (the eyebrows of Oasis) with “Let Forever Be,” which unmasks his still lingering obsession with the Beatles. The song’s not bad, boasting a sprightly break, but I mean, the Chems have to get paid as well (they had a Number One in England with “Setting Sun,” another duet with Noel).

“Orange Wedge” might have been an outtake from Headhunters, had Afrika Bambaata been along for the ride – it just grooves like a beast with some keyboard squiggles on top. Wonderful. It’s not all who’s got the biggest beats of them all though – the Chems have an introspective side to them as well, brought out by their interesting choice of guests: Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval on “Asleep From Day” and Jonathan Donahue of the Catskills band Mercury Rev on “Dream On.” Both songs are somber and reflective, half-formed ideas that are played out and manipulated, ultimately integrated into what is nothing more than a dance track.

This is precisely the blueprint the non-musician Chems have mastered; combining the repetitive, hypnotic and musically simple elements of house with genuine pop ideas, bringing along the charisma and pull of the guest to create danceable soundscapes that can rock, funk, hypnotize or lull, depending on the desired mood.

It’s very effective at times, providing a many-faceted album whose scope is rarely matched in most of today’s pop music. “Surrender” is really the kind of album that would have to be invented if it didn’t exist already, a giant sweep through ’90s pop that is both thrilling and beautiful.

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