Short Cuts

If stripped-down, charged-up rock 'n' roll is considered old-fashioned, then Baltimucho is about as retro as it gets. But given the canned altrock that's on the charts these days, Love Nut sounds positively refreshing.

-- Liesa Goins

Freaky Chakra
Blacklight Fantasy
(Astralwerks/Caroline)

It was inevitable that electronica, a musical genre that develops and changes faster than most tropical viruses, would eventually start recycling itself. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The commercial success of bands such as Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, and the Crystal Method has inspired countless imitators who try to jump ahead of the pack with faster rhythms and more outlandish sound effects. But electronica, just like old-fashioned rock 'n' roll, has basic ingredients that haven't changed much over the years.

Daum Bentley, otherwise known as Freaky Chakra, knows this. A San Francisco-based DJ who signed to Astralwerks in 1994, Bentley strips electronica down to its shining wires on Blacklight Fantasy, his second release for the label. There's always been roots-rock, but this is roots-electronica: simple, basic, and gritty, with echoes of early Krautrock outfits (Can, Kraftwerk), new-wave novelty bands (Dominatrix, the Normal), and overlooked pioneers (Walter Carlos, Jean Michel Jarre).

The album begins with "Downspace," an eight-minute track of dark, metallic drum 'n' bass -- what used to be called "techstep," back when every new electronica style needed a name -- rounded out by little more than a keyboard melody, a recurring horn section, and the occasional tribal grunt. This song segues evenly into the next, an even more primitive slice of rhythm called "Automatic." As the album progresses, Bentley whittles his songs down to mere digital pulses and only one or two decorative noises.

"Fascist Funk" comes almost midway through the album, and it's an attention-grabbing centerpiece, built around an unpleasant and almost ceaseless buzzing noise. Rhythmic clacking and clanging noises echo hollowly in the dark while a gurgling, computerized voice swallows and vomits its own words. That's about all there is to it, but it creates a nightmarish atmosphere of systems gone hopelessly haywire. It's simple and brilliant.

As Blacklight Fantasy draws to a close, the songs grow slightly more complex and moody. The acid-jazzy "Year 2000" travels along like the sound of passing cars, "Hyperspace" borders on gentle synth-pop, and "Platform" boasts several layers of mellifluous keyboard melodies. The album ends with the title track, a wistful soundscape with dramatic chord-changes and a galloping rhythm -- the kind of thing Jean Michel Jarre and Giorgio Moroder did so well in the '70s and '80s. It's unarguably corny and undeniably nice to hear again, like most of Blacklight Fantasy. Somehow, by reaching back into the not-so-distant past, Bentley has come up with a form of electronica that sounds brand-new.

-- Rafer Guzman

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