In the Mode
(Island/Def Jam)

The year 1997 was a long time ago. Back in those heady times, Mr. Size was king of the jungle, gathering critical accolades, including the coveted Mercury Prize, like a fat kid hordes Christmas candy. Nearly four years later, drum 'n' bass is the "edgy" stuff of hair salons, car commercials, and, still, mid-week theme nights--which means Roni's got a whole new battle on his hands: convince the jaded masses to give a shit. His response? Bring on the guest stars, baby. The stuttering, bumping bpms remain, bolstered on this go-round by human beatbox Rahzel and former Machine-Rager Zack De La Rocha, who blend seamlessly into Reprazent's tight, snare-happy productions. The highlight? Method Man's shout-outs on "Ghetto Celebrity" to Erin Brockovich, Mennonites, and Vaseline Intensive Care--the repeat button was made for him. LEAH GREENBLATT

Buzzle Bee
(Drag City)
No stars

I've heard enough post-ironic sambas to last me awhile. One imagines that the Highest Llama, Sean O'Hagan, has heard the whispers ("He's a genius! A perfect pop composer, lounge for the intelligentsia, Bacharach three decades on"), and now, fully aware of his own worth, he has it all worked out. I can see him locked away in a studio with some charts, showing the exact, scientific moment when the Moog should meet up with the flute. He's got theorems that tell him when to mix theremin with slide guitar with ubiquitous guest vocalist Mary Hanson for the most sugary cocktail tune. Buzzle Bee is the most soulless, calculated record you will hear this year. High-minded rags will decry the Swedish hit factories that'll manufacture the latest Backstreet CD, while giving High Llamas their tip-top rating. Fuck that. Truth be told, this record sucks harder because its makers think they're smarter than us. I now understand why guys like O'Hagan got beat up in high school. JAMIE S. RICH

Sampler EP

Honey Ryder is the band that, last year, rented that billboard and plastered it with their "super-hot" faces. Now, it is easy to assume that a band whose fame rests solely on a large piece of advertising probably plays horrible music. But, since this assumption is inherent, is it not possible that when said band's music actually turns out to be mediocre, it sounds better than the listener's expectations? Hence, I am ethically bound to declare that, while Honey Ryder's one-dimensional guitars, Pat Benatar-influenced vocals are empty calories, this EP is infinitely better than I thought it would be. It's movie soundtrack filler--and actually, when everything's said and done, that's a lot better than the monstrosity that could have been. JULIANNE SHEPHERD