At first glance, this week's two artists, Beth Orton and the Folk Implosion, seem to come from opposite ends of the universe. It was not my original intention to pair them up. After listening to both of their CDs though, I found myself experiencing the same feelings and taking away similar first impressions. Both albums feature music that may seem simple in nature, but that's only on the surface. Repeated listens reveal there's a lot more going on here. Both artists offer up tunes that find acoustic and electric sources blending together perfectly. Techno meets folk. Rock embraces the methods of electronica. I'm also happy to report that both CDs are extremely inventive, captivating and just damn good. Techno fans are already familiar with the vocals of Beth Orton. She's worked with William Orbit and has graced both CDs by the Chemical Brothers with her presence. Her smoky soulful voice is one part Johnette Napolitano; one part Dusty Springfield. Her style is from somewhere between the British rock of today and the Europop of decades gone by. Trailer Park is her new CD and I guess it would be easy to call it a trip-hop record. However, that would be misleading. Yeah, it has its share of deep loops and sonic rhythms, but it's not exactly Tricky or the Sneaker Pimps. Orton's work is more acoustic. String sections, double basses and acoustic guitars play a more dominant role. Trailer Park could be Portishead "unplugged" or Joni Mitchell embracing the techno movement. The songs themselves are things of beauty -- sweeping ballads and pieces of pop perfection. Soothing violins and synthesized blips and beeps live together in perfect harmony. "Don't Need A Reason" sways peacefully while "Someone's Daughter" bounces and skips along freely. Add a touching rendition of Ronnie Spector's "I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine" to the slightly ambient workout "Galaxy Of Emptiness" and you begin to realize the depth of Orton's capabilities and styles. She takes charge of every song; her voice always strong. There's never a dull moment on Trailer Park. The album is eerie, funky and always passionate, but never dull. I always thought Beth could make it on her own. I'm glad she finally did. When you get down to it, Lou Barlow is one pretty prolific guy. In addition to giving us sheer alt-rock brilliance with Sebadoh, Barlow feels the need to break away once in a while. He gets the urge to team up with his other partner in crime John Davis. Together, the two become the Folk Implosion : a low-fi noisy mix of rock, pop and funk. Imagine the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion singing quirky love songs after popping a handful of downers and you kind of get what the Folk Implosion is all about. After composing the bulk of the Kids movie soundtrack and achieving unlikely Top 40 success with "Natural One," Barlow and Davis have reformed to give us Dare To Be Surprised . This collection of spontaneous pop songs is an impromptu groovefest; hook-laden rock with a splash of electronic wizardry and a beat that creeps up from around every corner. This is the kind of wonderful stuff that grows out of studio experimentation. One can tell by listening that the guys had a blast twiddling knobs, cranking up reverb, using distortion and putting gadgets to work. Rudimentary guitar licks, in-your-face bare-bones drumming, straight-forward harmonies and catchy countermelodies all contribute to the Folk Implosion sound. Every song on Dare To Be Surprised has its own personality. The entire CD flows as if the boys couldn't stop jamming once they got started. The mysterious "Insinuation" continues the haunting dance tradition of "Natural One." "Pole Position" is a rock song gone robotic. "Wide Web" with its bending guitar riff plays like a foreboding duet. "Fall Into November" has Barlow singing a bizarre nursery rhyme; his voice wrapping around moats, rocks and castles. "Burning Paper," an uncluttered song of frustration, talks of love gone wrong. "I wrote you a letter but I threw it away/I knew I would/If I waited a day". This is the music of garage band outcasts running amuck during late night recording sessions. This is the stuff that makes you groove while sending a chill up your spine. This is the Folk Implosion.

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