MOBY, Mobysongs 1993-1998 (Elektra) This patched-together money-grab could only have been more shameless if Elektra had had the gall to call it Playtime. Just for a moment, pretend you're the company sitting on most of the premium work of the best singles artist of the '90s. Suddenly his popularity moves up to somewhere near that of his beloved Jesus Christ—three years after you've dumped him for the artistic impunity of delivering a guitar record right as "electronica" was about to enter the record- company hype annals. Whaddaya do? No, of course you don't give him the genre-spanning compilation he deserves—what are you, stupid? Strike while the iron's hot, Jack! Play's flying out of stores? Give 'em more of the same! Who cares whether his rock moves were more convincing than he was ever given credit for or if you banked on him in the first place because of his shameless knack for uptempo floor favorites? Just include four dance hits (including a remix of the pre-Elektra single, "Go") and concentrate on all the stuff that sounds the most like Play. Dammit, the public wants to hear the guy brood! Give 'em brooding! Also, you've gotta make sure everyone knows his catalog is still in print, so be sure to include the cover art of his other albums in the booklet. If they're smart, they might even snap those up instead of this pandering loss-leader.—Michaelangelo Matos
MARK KOZELEK, Rock 'n' Roll Singer (Badman) If I got to contribute a rule to the Book of Rock 'n' Roll, I'd throw my two cents in to Chapter Four—Cover Songs. My rule wouldn't be "Don't fix it if it ain't broke," but rather, "If you can't turn a song into something of your very own, don't bother." I think Mark Kozelek would agree. As frontman for the Red House Painters, Kozelek painted songs like the Cars' "All Mixed Up" and Kiss' "Shock Me" with his beautiful, ghostly voice and his signature guitar style: achingly discordant, perfectly sparse, and bitterly smooth. In Kozelek's careful hands, timeworn muscle-car classics and sadly ignored B-sides become poetic masterpieces. The three Bon Scott-era AC/DC covers on this new EP play more like Neil Young than Angus Young; "You Ain't Got a Hold On Me" becomes infinitely more beautiful than the '70s rockers ever dreamed it could be. What was once a tough-guy reply transforms into a sad lament, Kozelek's voice raised to a near falsetto as it careens over the lines, "Just because I'm hooked on memories don't mean I'm hooked on you/You ain't got a hold on me/Why don't you let me be." Even more magical are the three originals. They seem almost equally transformed, ideas turned into epic snapshots by his angular playing style. Both "Metropol 47" and the memorializing "Ruth Marie" are marked heavily with Kozelek's chord banging; heavy hands slap root notes and lazy guitar strings evoke a haunting, almost un-beauty. Rock 'n' Roll Singer contains all the secrets to Kozelek's success, unearthing and reshaping rough diamonds and carefully illuminating the raw underbelly of splendor.—Laura Learmonth
Listen to Mark Kozelek's "Find Me, Ruben Olivares" from the album Rock 'n' Roll Singer.
OVAL, Ovalprocess (Thrill Jockey) Unlike pop stars who still stand a chance of being spotted in places like Butte, Montana, 10 years after their last hit, experimental musicians retire to music textbooks, pigeonholed for the one idea most often attributed to them. John Cage's silent piece "4'33" secured him his place, and today's experimenters seem destined to suffer the same fate. Oval (a.k.a. Germany's Markus Popp, who also records with Microstoria) will probably spend the rest of his career mistakenly tagged as the guy who first made music out of skipping CDs. Actually, this laurel belongs to Yasunao Tone, Nicolas Collins, and a host of lesser-known sonic explorers who, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, applied slivers of perforated tape, thick marking pens, and silk strands to the surface of Milli Vanilli, Color Me Badd, and other abhorrent discs. Like any instrument, sabotaged CDs can assault or serenade the listener, and Oval opts for the latter. Whether using this medium or composing on computer, his current obsession, the songs gently skip, chirp, stutter, and sink into a wistful downtempo bliss. You'll have to sit tight or fast-forward through 16 minutes of silence to hear the last track, a sumptuous m鬡nge of wheezing, plaintive howls and aural slivers of "normal" instruments. Even without the arty packaging (no track titles, minimal credits and a discreetly embossed cover), Ovalprocess is stunning.—Christopher DeLaurenti
SNAKE RIVER CONSPIRACY, Sonic Jihad (Reprise) As twisted as it sounds, Jason Slater, the mastermind behind the rock group Snake River Conspiracy, was a founding member of Third Eye Blind. He reflects on his former outfit: "We were the modern equivalent of the Partridge Family. . . . I didn't want to be remembered for that shit." Lucky for him, Slater stumbled on singer Tobey Torres, an ex-exotic dancer with a voice that can both seduce and destroy. Dark, subversive, and sarcastic, the Bay Area duo's debut, Sonic Jihad, offers a razor-edged mix of industrial electronica that slices through the mediocrities perpetrated by the alterna-metalers that plague today's airwaves. SRC are at their sharpest on tracks like "You and Your Friend" and "Somebody Hates You," in which they seize the pop-song mold and warp its conventional structure with either Torres' sweet-to-suddenly-sour vocals or a barrage of electric guitar. Tamer, trip-hoppy melodies like "Casualty" and "Act Your Age" are enough to soothe any Sneaker Pimps fan, while the high-adrenaline, heavy-hitting "Vulcan" holds its own next to Nine Inch Nails or Korn's louder offerings. SRC commit a grave error by providing so-so takes on both the Cure's "Lovesong" and the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now." Sorry, but any self-respecting act is permitted only one '80s cover per album.—David Massengill