If you're looking for something unique to give your honey for Valentine's Day, how about making him or her a romantic CD filled with the songs of your choice?

K-Tel has continued to provide the "design your CD online" service that I wrote about here last Valentine's Day. You can actually create a CD for a variety of occasions and choose from a selection of CD covers. For Valentine's Day, the site offers a selection of "dusties" to choose from. The list includes The Lettermen's "Unchained Melody," Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love," Turtles' "Happy Together," Climax's "Precious and Few," The Association's "Never My Love" Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors," The Chiffons' "He's So Fine" and many more, including a selection of instrumental "elevator music" versions of oldies. To check out this service, log onto the K-tel Web site at www.ktel.com/customed.

 

Blue Man Group - Audio Blue Man Group
Audio
(Virgin)


If you haven't ventured downtown to experience the bizarrely humorous, uncategorical show that is Blue Man Group at the Briar Street Theater ... stop reading this right now and get on the phone and order tickets.

If you have seen Blue Man Group, then you know that the three silent "blue men" put on a strange mix of performance art and percussive music that is highly innovative and entertaining. Where else can you watch bald blue men bang on walls of drums, or use the amplified sound of chewing Captain Crunch cereal as a percussion device?

While television ads and talk show appearances focus on the group's propensity for bashing on kettledrums covered with wet paint (certainly a messy but highly visual feat), the group is about far more than visceral percussion. The Blue Man show (titled Tubes) was conceived in New York by a group of industrial/dance musicians who devised oddly unique instruments to create new sonic textures for their music and paired that with a mix of mime, sight gags and wild physical stunts. The stage show (currently playing in New York, Boston and Chicago) allows them to demonstrate some of their homemade instruments complex banks of PVC tubing used as xylophone-like instruments or fashioned into "Drumbones," (several lengths of tubing that are drummed on, with someone sliding the tubes up and down to create different percussive notes).

But the act is limited by time and space constraints onstage as to how many of their bizarre instruments they can drag out and play. Not so on Audio (now available both at shows and in stores), which includes some of the music used in the stage show, but also offers a number of new compositions.

Audio allows the group to record itys work with strange instruments, such as the "Tubulum," "Drum Wall," "Cimbalom,""Sword Air Poles," "Backpack Tubulum," and many more.

The exotic percussive textures that these instruments provide really take these instrumental songs to a new level. Some of the songs are driven by surf guitar leads, and others by oscillating synthesizers and "Doppler Toms." What they all share is an aura of excitement and, often, of mystery. This is a great album for putting on at home as atmospheric background music. But with their concentration on big percussive sound, it's the kind of background that isn't going to put you to sleep this is instrumental music, but it's definitely not elevator music. Challenging, exotic and deeply, timelessly textured, the 14 songs on Audio are almost as much fun to listen to as the Blue Man Group is to watch. Catch them both.

 

Faze Action
Moving Cities
(Warner Bros.)


While we're talking about instrumental music to play around the house with a solid beat to it, Faze Action's new disc offers a variety of sonic textures with a disco feel to them. This is less "intense" than Blue Man Group's sonic textures, but still an enjoyable background. The title track, "Moving Cities," could easily serve as disco ball material, with its oscillating keyboard work and soaring string support (not to mention funky guitar and bass background). "Isis" has a more contemplative atmosphere, but still features a solid beat behind the mysterious swells of strings and arpeggios of keyboards.

This one isn't all instrumental, however. "To Love Is To Grow" and "Got to Find a Way" feature African-flavored percussion and vocals. And "Heartbeat" is a '60s-ish jazzy guitar-based piece with a guest female vocalist.

Overall, this CD listens like a collection of artists, rather than a single band, since it varies from instrumental synthesizer disco material to African "worldbeat" material to the more jazzy lounge guitar songs. But that variance also keeps its easy-listening beats from getting too samey-sounding and stale.