Propellerheads (DreamWorks)

The two loopy English knob-tweakers who created these 13 hyperkinetic, hypnotic sound collages and dance tracks—Propellerheads Alex Gifford, 34, and Will White, 24—are musical sushi chefs; their elaborate concoctions make meat-and-potatoes types queasy. They are purveyors of techno, or electronica, the studio-assembled hodgepodge of canned, synthetic drumbeats, tape loops and snatches of melody swiped, er, sampled, from old records. Happily, Gifford and White also wisely incorporate flesh-and-blood performances by 1970s soul singer Shirley Bassey, hip hopsters De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers into this mostly machine-made album. The guest turns make for the album's most appealing tracks, the best of which is Bassey's sassy, sexy rendition of "History Repeating." Warning: Music lovers who have not awakened to the aural pleasures of synthetic sound may react the way an un-young acquaintance did upon hearing DECKSANDRUMSAND-ROCKANDROLL blare from a neighbor's CD player. "You have to listen to that?" he said. "I'm sorry."

Bottom Line: Technofreaks will get a buzz; others had best steer clear

Maryam Mursal (Real World/Caroline)

Album of the week

Need solid proof that American singers don't have the patent on rhythm and blues? Look no further than The Journey, the powerful solo CD from Somalian singer Maryam Mursal, 48. Mursal gained notoriety by becoming one of the first female singers to perform professionally in her male-dominated Islamic nation. During its brutal civil wars and famine of the early 1990s, she fled her homeland and, with her five children, trekked across much of Africa in search of safety. Eventually, at a refugee camp in Denmark, she was "discovered" by a Danish arranger-producer who brought her intoxicating sound to the attention of Peter Gabriel. He signed her to his label and even sings backing vocals on The Journey. Not that Mursal needs the benediction of a big-time rock star. The music she makes is as heady as her life story, equal parts African rhythms and the careening Arabic vocal patterns most commonly associated with the Algerian brand of pop known as rai. On tracks like the single "Lei Lei" ("I Feel Alone"), gut-bucket bass lines link up with mournful accordions and her Somali-language vocals, making Mursal's music global pop in the truest and purest sense of that overused term. Exhilarating, passionate and triumphant, Maryam Mursal creates music that literally needs no translation.

Bottom Line: Stunning music from half a world away

Mario Lanza (Rhino)

A sometime Philadelphia truck driver, Lanza came to singing late, but with his booming tenor and authoritative delivery he steered himself into a series of leading roles in 1950s MGM musicals. Despite his often operatic material, he managed to turn out a series of pop hits, all of which are in this collection of his MGM performances. The songs—"Be My Love," "They Didn't Believe Me," "Because You're Mine"—are on the corny side, and Lanza was often saddled with MGM's shrieking diva Kathryn Grayson as a duet partner. But his voice still sounds magnificent, and there is still something ingratiatingly romantic about the lavish arrangements he sang to. Not much of an actor, Lanza had a limited career and died at 38 in 1959. These often thrilling pop records should keep his name alive for a long time.

Bottom Line: Super Mario, the Early Years

>"A PROMISE I MAKE" Dakota Moon Rosie O'Donnell gave them TV time, and Tina Turner hired them as her opening act. Now the four members of L.A.'s Dakota Moon head for the singles chart with this acoustic, soft-rock cut from their debut CD. It'll put you in mind of the Eagles.

"PUSH IT" Garbage On this single from Version 2.0, the band mixes techno-tinged agitation with coolly sensual vocals. (Listen closely for the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry, Baby" on the chorus.)

"A LOT LIKE YOU" Taja Sevelle A decade after her first hit ("Love Is Contagious"), a former Prince protégée records a slinky, hip-hop-flavored romp that has her sounding as seductive as her old mentor.

  • Contributors:
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • Amy Linden,
  • Ralph Novak.