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Busy Signals

The improvement in home-recording technology has caused an explosion of material from bedroom auteurs. But a not-so-funny thing often happens on the way to the iBook: Many performers spend so much time polishing their sonic rocket that their finished products sound slick and lifeless, thereby reducing the initial spark of invention to so many interchangeable bits and bytes.

Fortunately, that's not the case when it comes to Howard W. Hamilton, the Minnesotan behind Busy Signals. The music made by this one-man band may be the result of solitary obsessions, but it arrives at the ear with rough edges and charm wholly intact.

Pure Energy is something of a catchall drawer, with its dozen songs that include previously unreleased tracks, B-sides from early singles, and bonus cuts from platters issued in Japan. But as fans of Busy Signals efforts such as 2000's inviting Baby's First Beats understand full well, most of Hamilton's best work has an informal feel, as if tossing off clever imagery and catchy hooks is as simple for him as exhaling. The title cut layers together rudimentary beats and casual samples -- laughter, background conversation -- with a relaxed melody and screwball lyrics such as "They pixilated your face." Just as easygoing are "Friend of a Friend," an exercise in strummy soul that suggests 21st-century Style Council; "Explorin'," a minisymphony recorded on a quarter-inch Fostex eight-track; and "All the Young Designers," which savages the fashion industry ("It's a lot like the past with a twist of the wrist") without sounding the slightest bit savage.

Hamilton doesn't do everything unassisted: Amanda Warner contributes a lovely background vocal on the aforementioned "Friend," and Robert Schneider of Apples in Stereo fiddles about in his usual poptacular manner throughout "The Freeway Remix." But even though he plays well with others, Hamilton apparently prefers being a solitary man: "Too Much Togetherness," for instance, finds him recommending that folks left gloomy by the presence of others should "try a little loneliness."

That wouldn't be a bad idea -- as long as you've got a companion like Pure Energy.

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Michael Roberts
Contact: Michael Roberts

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