Learning Curve(Higher Ground/Columbia)It's hard to state the obvious selling point of DJ Rap, also known as Charissa Saverio, and not sound like a cad. Put it this way: She has done some topless modeling in the past and claims that she looks even better now (and certainly better than Fatboy Slim). Still, the, er, buxom blonde -- note to ed: must resist the urge to call her DJ "Rack" -- plays up her femininity with all the subtlety of say, Madonna, flashing cleavage and flirting with the camera. As for the music, Rap's debut sprawls across genres -- frequently and compellingly blurring the line between diva pop and tightly wound dance music.
Because she made her name as a hardcore and drum 'n' bass DJ, the most surprising thing about Learning Curve is Rap's singing; she's really good. And it's not just studio trickery. Despite her moniker, there's no rapping in evidence here. Rap's voice doesn't have the strength of other dance-pop divas Björk or Shirley Manson of Garbage, but it has brawny character and range, which lends Rap her badass personality. On "F**K With Your Head," she's a tormentor, following the chasms of bass and echoing percussion with a low-toned threat to abuse. For "Bad Girl" she takes up the same sort of persona, alternating between a piercing, almost falsetto voice and a growling, electronically processed answer. It actually has a pop-like chorus ("You've gotta be a bad girl in this world") where Rap sounds like she's trying out for a spot in Luscious Jackson.
The music of Learning Curve covers or touches on various electronic formats, from lite dance-pop to harder, faster jungle, without spending too long on one style. The rule seems to be the more instrumental the track the more fully realized it is. Because Rap has been DJing, producing, and writing drum 'n' bass tracks for a decade but writing songs for only four years, that would make sense. But when she succeeds in merging pop with ambient jungle -- as on "Changes," where her otherworldly vocals drift across a click-clacking snare and subterranean bass -- it's sublime. The tune ebbs and flows, building up and releasing over and over until it just finally fades away. And "You Get Around" seems to progress like a proper pop song -- bouncing on hip-hop drums, Rap's multitracked half-sung/half-chanted vocals, and swirling keyboards. The best moments of Learning Curve happen because Rap doesn't try very hard to hide the extremes. She brings pop to electronica on her terms. -- David SimutisFull Length Stereo Recordings(Gadfly)Whatever your favorite musical family cliché happens to be, you may insert it in this vicinity: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. There are no harmonies like sibling harmonies. Brothers in bands can't get along for long. They all probably have a place in any review of Robert Crenshaw's debut disc. If the surname is familiar, it's not too hard to figure out why. If the Christian name throws a curve, it's because it's not Marshall, the somewhat famous, soft-tenored pompadoured rocker. Robert played drums and sang on brother Marshall's early successes but was eventually replaced by a rotating cast of session timekeepers, after which he made only sporadic appearances.
It would be nearly impossible to ignore Marshall's influence on brother Robert, as Full Length Stereo Recordings is a couple of great songs short of being a Marshall Crenshaw album. The only major differences between brothers is that Robert's vocals are thinner and slightly more vulnerable than Marshall's, and Robert's songs are not quite as subtle as Marshall's. He relies on more obvious methods of lyrical and musical expression to make his point. But Robert's use of shimmering guitars and harmonies is a dead ringer for Marshall, and it's apparent that Robert exhibits the same passion for Buddy Holly as his brother. As a matter of fact, with his simpler approach, both lyrically and musically, a case could be made that Robert's Holly homage is closer to the root influence.
Robert gets a lot of quality assistance on Full Length Stereo Recordings, from the likes of the Spongetones' Jamie Hoover (who cowrites and plays), bassist and noted producer Don Dixon, and of course the Marshall himself on a couple of tracks. There are very few surprises here, and there are even a handful that could pass for Marshall himself, especially the moody joy of "I Love to Pretend," the effervescent "She's Not You," and the brooding "When the Rain Comes Down." Whether or not Robert Crenshaw has established a genetic precedent for determining musical style is up for debate. What he has done on this auspicious debut is to create a satisfying set of songs that will definitely tweak the radar of any fan who swears allegiance to Marshall law. -- BrianBaker
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