Techno beats and ambient soundscapes

Madison Avenue - The Polyester Embassy Madison Avenue
The Polyester Embassy
(C2 Records)

Taking the classic energy of disco grooves and melding them with a modern techno sound, the Australian duo of Cheyne Coates and Andrew van Dorsselaer have created a solid hit-filled club record in The Polyester Embassy.

Coates gives off saucy girl power energy in songs like "Who the Hell Are You" ("you won't be smiling by the time I'm through with you") and "Don't Call Me Baby," both of which ride solidly funky basslines and dance floor-ready beats. The latter track has already proven its infectious potential abroad; it's already hit No. 1 on the UK pop and No. 9 on the European Hot 100 singles charts.

The disc also, unfortunately, includes a good share of forgettable booty-shakers that sound like a thousand other dance-club songs ("Do You Like What You See," "Everything You Need").

Ironically, one of their more interesting tracks isn't really a dance track at all, but a late night funk slinker called "It's Alright." Here, Coates gives an after-hours come-on green light, with her sexy teases supported by jazzy trumpet lines: "It's alright, if you want me," she promises, "it's alright if you wanna touch me/it's alright if you wanna lay me down."

The Polyester Embassy is not a brilliant disc. But there are some solid, high energy moments that will beg your hips to shake.


Hooverphonic - The Magnificent TreeHybrid - Wide Angle Hybrid
Wide Angle

The Magnificent Tree

On a far more ambient techno bent than Madison Avenue comes Hybrid and Hooverphonic, two groups that beg to be reviewed together: They both have H names, both have female lead singers and both churn out a dense mix of techno beats, electronic samples, orchestral underpinnings and, ultimately, some heady, headphone-ready mixes.

Hybrid is the more ambient, electronic-oriented of the two. Born amid frustration with the English club music scene, Mike Truman, Chris Healings and Lee Mullins put together a savvy mix of dance beats, atmospheric melodies, and guest vocals from Julee Cruise, best known for her work on David Lynch's soundtracks (including Twin Peaks).

Several of the tracks on their debut (which came out in Europe early last year but was just released in a special edition here late in 2000) are instrumental "trance" tracks. But there's too much energy buried in the punching synthesizer bleeps and horn blurts to sleep through them.

In one of the most accessible, single-ready tracks, the band offers a very Robert Miles-style dance club anthem in the building energy of "If I Survive," featuring vocals from Cruise.

Following that stirring track, the album moves in a more ambient direction, although Cruise does return to offer another highly melodic number in "Dreaming Your Dreams."

While the beats stay powerful, the jazzy strings and guitar lines, coupled with a wide palette of orchestral movements, make for a dreamy ride of a disc. It all ends with a maniacal, yet melancholic orchestra-driven cover of The Pretenders' hit "Kid 2000," sung by Chrissie Hynde.

Hooverphonic's The Magnificent Tree is both more pop-oriented and more experimental than Hybrid's disc, especially since Geike Arnaert sings on every track, though both bands work in a similar "soundscape" musical arena.

In "Autoharp," the band puts together an eerie melange of spoken word clips (ostensively from a record that teaches one how to play the autoharp) with Arnaert's come-on, spoken-style vocals, which, on the surface, are strictly about playing the instrument, but are phrased in a way to make them sound like lines to a lover ("You are my autoharp/I push every button on your body... I play every string in your mind").

On songs like "Mad About You,""The Magnificent Tree" and "Vinegar &Salt" the band works in a more high-drama sense, coupling anthem-ready vocals with oscillating keyboards, soaring strings and easy shuffling percussion to create head-nodding, lose-yourself-in-the-moment music.

The band takes plenty of chances, from the bizarre ambling narrative of "Frosted Flake Wood" to the spooky sound effects of "Everytime We Live Together We Die A Bit More" and creepy minor key slides and science fiction movie sounds of the Elysian Fields-esque"L'Odeur Animale."But they also have a Madonna-esque pop ballad sense, as they demonstrate to stirring effect on "Out of Sight," as Arnaert sings a sweet chorus promising "We'll always be best friends something between you and me."

The Magnificent Tree is a magnificently rich, varied and inventive disc. Put it on and prepare to dream wild.