Irresistible Tipsy 'Tease'

Tipsy "Trip Tease" (Asphodel)

If I was the Jesus of Cool, I'd create this record as my birthday present to hi-fi-listening mankind. Tipsy are a bunch of unknowns from San Francisco who have managed to fuse the two coolest trends in today's insiders' pop music: the hi-tech, British-invented, trip-hop (Tricky, Massive Attack) and the nostalgic American lounge-core (Combustible Edison and various shades of their Baxter and 007 themes). So what we have here is irresistible instrumental music -- rhythmically hypnotizing and melodically captivating. The first preview of the 21st-century cocktail party soundtrack. Hope the century will be as good.

Dirty Three "Horse Stories" (Touch & Go)

Well, Australia's rather hot than cool right now, but, in any case, it's notoriously laid-back. Melbourne's D3 are as lazy and moody as the Aussies can get. A trio of, simply speaking, guitar, violin and drums, they play bluesy music at incredibly slow tempo and with incredibly mellow feeling. You may love it, or hate it, or simply fall asleep -- but I can't recall a band quite like this in any hemisphere. Like horses in slow-motion, it's beautiful but somewhat unreal.

Larry & the Lefthanded "Diabolika" (Texicalli)

Wow! I have always been fond of the internationally obscure and underrated Finnish rock scene, and this debut album from a quartet from Helsinki is yet more proof of how interesting these Nordic bands can get. What we have here is garage-thrash-psychedelic brew of the highest quality, reminiscent of vintage B-move soundtracks and the likes of "13th Floor Elevators." The band's keyboard player should be thanked specially for the meanest electric organ sound heard since the mid-'60s.

Various artists "Red, Hot + Rio" (Antilles)

This is the ninth and arguably the best volume in the "Red Hot" series of AIDS awareness and fund-raising projects. As the title suggests, the album is dedicated to Brazilian music, as performed by both superstars of Tropicalismo (Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil and the great man himself, Antonio Carlos Jobim), as well as Samba and Bossanova enthusiasts from all over the globe, including David Byrne, Sting and George Michael, to name but a few. Some tracks here represent very unusual cross-cultural collaborations and they are the ones that really stand out, like the Latin-Japanese-African JV between Caetano Veloso, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cesaria Evora, or the collaboration between British electro-futurists Stereolab and American jazz veteran Herbie Mann. Rio rules, and this is a carnival of record.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion "Now I Got Worry" (Matador/Mute)

After the disappointing previous album ("Orange," 1994), Jon Spencer's punk-blues band comes up with their best and most adventurous work by far. Based, as before, on their wild and noisy reading of Southern rhythm and blues, the new LP introduces some bold sonic experiments and stylistic deviations (hip hop, funk, even acid jazz) that all feel surprisingly organic in the context. Under the recently signed licensing deal with Britain's famous Mute records (home of Nick Cave, Spencer's not-too-distant musical relative), The Blues Explosion may finally get the European recognition they have long deserved.

Kirpichi "Kirpichi Tyarhely" (Music Shock)

Ulitsy "Armianskaya Kislota" (Kurizza)

A couple of brand new releases from small St. Pete labels once again demonstrate how different their rock scene is from Moscow's. First, both bands are very young: Kirpichi are actually teenage -- whereas in Moscow the rock crowd is pretty much a "thirty-something" (or more) thing. Second, they perform uncompromising stuff, showing very little, if any, awareness of market realities. Kirpichi, or The Bricks, play straightforward blue-eyed rap with a positive message (against gangsters, the new rich etc.); they're even against drugs, but in a peculiar way -- by putting alcohol as the alternative. Ulitsy, or The Streets, are a rock/rap crossover with a slightly psychedelic element; not as righteous as the holy Bricks, they share the same level of streetwise energy. Needless to say, neither of the bands is shown on TV, nor do they play in the capital's night clubs. It's a pity.

The Sort of Quartet "Bombas De Amor" (SST)

Imagine Frank Zappa's band stripped down to an instrumental quartet: quirky themes, acrobatic riffs and crazy rhythms are all there, and the musicianship is remarkable. They make jazz rock look alive.