by: Sound Tribe Sector 9 / STS9

There just aren't that many bands out there that can claim to have shared a stage with both James Brown and Tortoise. Nor does being able to make that claim necessarily say anything positive about the band's music -- that kind of stylistic reach may point to a salutary universalism or to an addle-brained lack of focus. In the case of Sound Tribe Sector 9, luckily, it seems to be 90 percent the former and only about ten percent the latter. On their latest album, Artifact, STS9 wander in the musical wilderness a bit (on the aimless "Possibilities") and lapse into silly Aquarian homiletics once or twice (check the woolly-headed "Music, Us"), but for the most part they keep things tight, interesting, and funky in a gentle but complex way. The quintet makes skillful use of both organic, human-played instruments and samples, blending them together into a rich fusion of forward-looking funk and crazy space-age electronica. They're at their best on the utterly gorgeous "Tokyo," the subtly dubwise "Peoples," and the lightweight but very nicely crafted "Today" -- but really, nothing here is less than enjoyable. Even the hippy-dippy moments are kind of fun. ~ Rick Anderson

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