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OS MUTANTES

Everything Is Possible: The Best Of
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

****

WELCOME TO THE brilliant and eccentric psychedelic pop world of Os Mutantes (the Mutants), a Brazilian trio that created some of the most extraordinary experimental and politically charged music during their turbulent heyday from the mid-'60s to early '70s. Influenced by the Beatles, Tropicalia (a musical/political movement in Brazil that blossomed at the same time) and pop icons like Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze, Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso, the strange and provocative Os Mutantes sounded to some as maniacal geniuses, but to most as aliens from another galaxy. What shocked most Brazilian leftists was the group's use of freaky electric guitars with wah-wah pedals, quirky electronic sound effects and American-born singer Ruta Lee's cool baby-soft vocals. Lee, along with brothers Sergio and Arnaldo Baptista, relished poking fun at any mainstream Brazilian music -- none of the country's popular musical styles like samba, Latin jazz or mambo was safe from the group's distorted and hallucinogenic outlook. On Costa's bossa nova standard "Baby," Os Mutantes deconstruct the song into a quiet and twisted pop gem more attuned to American Top 40 than anything remotely depicting South American ethnicity. In "Adeus Maria Fulo," the trio parodies baiao, the fanatically popular beat of Brazil's northwest, with disturbing and hilarious results. And the stark and erotic "Ando Meio Desligado," which became the group's biggest chart-topper, was a frank love song devoted to the glories of puffing on a joint with a bass line swiped unabashedly from the Zombies smash British Invasion hit "Time of the Season." Were they mutant geniuses or lunatics from outer space who crash-landed on earth? One thing is crystal clear: Os Mutantes were light years ahead of any other pop band in Brazil and the ground-breaking music they made defies categorization.

-- Ron Bally


The Donnas

Get Skintight
(Lookout)

***

THE DONNAS ARE a San Francisco-based, Ramones-influenced, all-girl four-piece punk group that kicks ass -- it's that plain and simple. An updated '90s version of lip pouting pre-punk glam rockers the Runaways, before Cherie Currie fled to Hollywood and Joan Jett went solo. These foxy, barely legal punk rock devotchkas may champion the straightforward three-chord blitzkrieg of the Ramones and the sassy, pre-riot-grrrl bullishness of the Runaways, but The Donnas also lovingly embrace the tuneful '80s hair-metal exploits of Motley Crue, Ratt and Poison, if you can believe it. To demonstrate this unlikely devotion, they cover the Crue's "Too Fast For Love" with loads of tongue-in-cheek humor, turbo-charged instrumentation and an all-around vibe that says "Back off, The Donnas are taking command." Courtesy of co-producers Jeff and Steve McDonald of lipstick-smearing bubblegum-punk legends Redd Kross, who permitted The Donnas to run crazy with this rudimentary lite-metal hit and make it sound like they wrote it themselves. These ballsy chicks have "matured" a tad since their 1996 debut, with more emphasis on power ballads and less of the predictable Ramones mannerisms, but their wild juvenile-delinquent urges remain intact. Check out their favorite song topics: "Hot Boxin" (smoking weed), "Doin Donuts" (the thrill of joy-riding), "Party Action," "Get You Alone" (teenage libidos run amok) and "Searching the Streets" ("I'm searching the streets looking for some fresh meat"). Now you'll understand what the future holds for these horny high-school hellcats. The Donnas are not afraid, or even a bit bashful, to show us how lustful, dangerous and downright obscene they are. Time to inform that old alt-rock hag Courtney Love to retire to the old folks' home -- The Donnas ooze oodles more talent and sex appeal.

-- Ron Bally


TRANS AM

Future World
(Thrill Jockey)

***

DON'T LET THE album title, the computer kitsch "Tron"-like sleeve graphics, and all the futuristic gimmickry fool you into thinking that this is Trans Am's tribute to a certain German electronic band. Far from going microchip on us, the band busts some serious room-clearing moves. The dissonant sax-scree intro, "1999," melts the ear wax out right at the start, and after being drill-pressed by the thudding heavy metal of "Am Rhein" or having your black eyeliner and nail polish scared clean off by the industrial-goth hysteria of "City In Flames" you begin to suspect that Trans Am's intention is more Kervorkian than Kraftwerkian; no showroom dummies, they. Diverse, too: dig the chic-sleek teutonic funk of "Cocaine Computer" or the closing number, "Sad And Young," which for the most part ditches electronica in favor of a serene guitar/organ instrumental that starts softly, rises to a furious, anthemic crescendo, then ends in quietude. There're actually two outright homages to Ralf & Florian's Computer World. The title track appears once, then later as "Futureworld II"; and "Runners Standing Still" is lush minimalism, all electronic drum pads, whispered/vocoderized vocals, and Pong-y synth melody. Trans Am: a constantly mutating treasure of the Amerindie world.

-- Fred Mills

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