Orbital, Atari, and more

Orbital The Middle of Nowhere (FFRR) Orbital (brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll) has earned its place in techno's history books with seminal tracks like "Chime" and "In Box." The Middle of Nowhere lacks the dynamics that once made Orbital compelling. Opting for mid-tempo breaks and whimsical melody lines, Nowhere sits on the pop side of the techno fence; if audiences wanted cheeriness, they'd turn to the Crystal Method or Fatboy Slim. Some tracks begin with promise, but get derailed along the way: "I Don't Know You People" starts with a wicked, warped sample—"I don't know you people, why are you here?"—but its doomsday overtones devolve into a breakbeat mess that borders on the cheesy. The record's downfall is its mismatched sounds; the tracks either have a dark disposition with a weak beat structure or vice versa. The odd couplings prevent the music from reaching its stride. One can only hope that Orbital's stay in the middle of nowhere is a pit stop on the way to somewhere else.—Tricia Romano

Atari Teenage Riot 60 Second Wipe Out (Digital Hardcore) The revolution just came to a screeching halt. Those fun-lovin' days when the serious meaning of the message was balanced with the easy massage of the medium are long gone. And that was only a couple years ago, when the US was exposed to the sounds of Berlin-based Atari Teenage Riot. Now 1999 rolls around and ATR loses its magnetic anger to an influx of bland Y2K hysteria and below-the-low-par Rage Against the Machinestyle preaching. The driving intensity of the beats and heavy guitar that dominated Burn, Berlin, Burn have become buried deep under turntable experimentation and shallow anarchist rhetoric that's devolved over the past two years. When it all comes together—as on the hypnotic "Digital Hardcore"—it seems as if by luck. What makes it work is the lack of lyrics, the lack of recycled slogans that have lost their punch after being repeated for five songs. With everyone's fave revolutionary Barbie doll Kathleen Hanna and New York rappers the Arsonists throwing in some run-of-the-mill social animosity, 60 Second Wipe Out provokes one thing: pity. Granted, even Woody Guthrie didn't always know when to shut up about Sacco and Vanzetti, but he at least mixed it up a bit.—James Stockstill

Various Artists Bleecker Street (Astor Place Recordings) The ultimate street of dreams in the early '60s, Greenwich Village's Bleecker Street provided an alternative route for folk singers inside its celebrated coffeehouses. Mining material from this seminal scene, artist/producer Peter Gallway has collected core classics—"protest songs," storytelling tunes, and tales of human relationships—and matched them with contemporary talent for a fitting tribute. The 16 tracks on Bleecker Street are the products of a venerable coterie—Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley, and, of course, Bob Dylan—rendered by neo-traditionalists such as John Gorka and the Roches, modern counterparts including Ron Sexsmith and Jonatha Brooke, and a number of unexpected but welcome artists from Chrissie Hynde to John Cale. The intention of this homage is to mark the decade's transition to folk-rock, depicted in Dylan's pivotal "My Back Pages," perfectly performed here by Marshall Crenshaw. The nostalgic element is key with Phil Ochs' "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore"; although appropriately performed by the Irish act Black 47, the song feels more relic-like than relevant. Most of the other tunes hold up, sounding fresher than could be expected after 30-plus years. As heard in Curtis Stigers' soulful presentation of Rush's "No Regrets," as well as Beth Neilsen Chapman's perhaps too true-to-form version of Judy Collins' "Since You've Asked," the compilation is an earnest effort to memorialize and revitalize some vintage treasures. Bleecker Street brings this period alive, reflecting its glory and affirming that with every season we still turn, turn, turn.—Roberta Cruger

Various artists The Book of Life soundtrack (Echostatic) Sometimes mix tapes tell us a little more about ourselves than we'd really like to know. You make a tape of your current 20 favorite songs, play it back on the tape deck in the car, and realize, "Oh my God, I'm a depressive." Hal Hartley ought to know the feeling. The soundtrack for his new experimental film, The Book of Life, strings one great song after another and ends up with a Quaaludian effect. The film itself is heavily edited and almost self-mocking in its visual leaps; the music is treated to scissoring as well. Moody, great songs by Yo La Tengo, PJ Harvey, Miss Crabtree, and a refreshed-sounding Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares are cut up and used time and again as musical signposts. The songs never appear as songs; instead, they provide the raw material for what emerges as a ravishing score. The gambit of carving up songs feels radical in an age when it seems every film is propelled from its opening titles to its closing credits by a ready-to-market, hits-only, highly intrusive soundtrack. Used most effectively is "Fugitive," by Ryful; a bridge from the instrumental tune is played whenever the character of the Devil appears on the screen. This cinema-readiness is unsurprising, since Ryful is the latest name for Ned Rifle, Hartley's songwriting alter ego. The soundtrack album shows that Hartley doesn't just handle his material well: the material itself is exquisitely chosen. Uneven artists like Takako Minekawa, whose work can sound awfully "Pocket Calculator"-y, are represented by lovely little gems. Such techno mood-pieces are played against more traditional indie rockers, like Joey Sweeney's Replacements-esque "My Name Is Rich." The only problem is, taken in their entirety, and all in a row, the songs may have you gunning your car . . . with the garage door still shut. Buck up and enjoy them one at a time.—Claire Dederer

The Book of Life is playing at the Grand Illusion through July 1.

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