Borrowing Rock Tactics-and Stars

Steve Baltin is a regular contributor to Calendar

It's hard to believe that this residential neighborhood in Glendale is home to Los Angeles' most prominent entry in the electronic music scene. Even when you enter the suburban house, you still suspect you have the wrong address.

But pass through the kitchen into the garage--a wonderland of keyboards, amps, programming tools and computer monitors of all sizes--and you can feel the energy that has lifted the Crystal Method to electronic music stardom.

This is where Ken Jordan and Scott Kirk-land set up shop after moving from their native Las Vegas a decade ago. Dubbing their studio the Bomb Shelter, they fashioned a 1997 debut album, "Vegas," that spawned the hits "Busy Child" and "Trip Like I Do."

Having earlier earned a following with the anthemic single "Keep Hope Alive," the pair--who met in Vegas while working at a college radio station and then formed a partnership after Kirkland followed Jordan to L.A.--had established themselves in the dance world.

Seen by many as the American counterpart to England's Chemical Brothers, Jordan and Kirkland were known for their unique breaks (the stops and starts of beats that often define the musical identity of an electronic group), and for bringing a crowd-pleasing, rock-show dynamic to their performances.

Still, their success on such rock radio outlets as KROQ-FM (106.7) and the subsequent gold album for "Vegas" took many by surprise. Not Los Angeles DJ Jason Bentley, who gives the duo props for incorporating the elements of the rock world necessary for wider success.

"It's amazing to me more people don't do this," Bentley says. "I think the Crystal Method have made those advances and types of forays into rock without really compromising what they're about. They've taken the rock standards of touring ... and incorporated that into the electronic world."

The pair's new album, "Tweekend," takes that approach even further and is likely to propel the Crystal Method into the elite of the genre when it comes out July 31 on Interscope Records.

"Most of this stuff is left over from 'Vegas,"' Kirkland, 30, says, surveying the jampacked garage. "But once we made up our mind to record the second album here, we decided to upgrade."

While he's referring to the equipment, the upgrade he speaks of could just as easily apply to the Crystal Method's songs, which take a significant leap forward on "Tweekend." From the ethereal vocals of the techno "Ten Miles Back" and the pop structure of "Murder" to the funky bass line and scratch sounds of "Name of the Game" and the menacing, muscular groove of "Tough Guy," "Tweekend" establishes the Crystal Method as one of the genre's most diverse acts.

It's also apparently one of the most attractive to big-name rock artists. "Tweekend" features collaborators such as Stone Temple Pilots' Scott Weiland, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello (who co-produced three tracks and appears on two) and L.A. wunder -musician-producer Jon Brion.

There's also a collaboration with a Canadian band called My Brilliant Beast on "Ten Miles Back." But while that union might sound more in line with what fans of the Crystal Method expect, Jordan, 34, says the partnerships that appear to be the most natural are not necessarily what the band wants.

"Collaborations where it doesn't really seem like a natural fit are more appealing to us than maybe working with some of our contemporaries."

Although the collaborations clearly had an effect on the more diverse sound of the album, Kirkland says the biggest influence came from participating in such tours as the rock-heavy Family Values and dance-leaning Electric Highway.

"I think a lot of the change came from going out and promoting 'Vegas' for so long. We attack, and each section attacks when it comes in," he says, referring to the way each section enters the arrangement at the same frenetic pace. "I remember coming back after touring for two years on 'Vegas' and just wanting to let it breathe a little bit. And I think that both of us sort of silently came to that conclusion on this album."

Although the time on the road had its pluses, it also contributed to the four-year gap between albums. "The reason why the record took as long as it did was we only knew how to work on music in this studio," Jordan says. "We didn't really know how or have the means to work on new stuff while we were on the road. We're not any acoustic-guitar, songwriting kind of band. We write, produce, mix and engineer everything at the same time."

Any other reasons? Look no further than the album's title, which is a pun on the duo's penchant for fiddling with the material.

"A lot of the songs took a while because we just kept re-tweaking the mixes and songs," Jordan says. "So the album title is sort of the end of re-tweaking the record."

The two perfectionists could have spent years fine-tuning the material before they let it out into the world. Now that it's ready, what do they want people to get from "Tweekend"?

"I want people to have the same reaction I have when I hear this record," Jorday says. "It still sounds like us, but the band has grown."


FROM EUROPE, WITH BEATS: Considered by many to be the home of electronic music, Europe continues to provide some of the most noteworthy releases on the scene. Here are a few new discs--with European ties of one kind or another--worth looking into.

The debut American release of Holland's Ferry Cortesen is out on L.A.'s Moonshine Music. The trance DJ-producer comes out strong with "Global Trance Missions _01." Any shortcomings in the fluidity are made up for by the song selection. Check out Preposterous Dreamer's engaging "The Sound of Goodbye."

Legendary Italian film composer Ennio Morricone ("The Mission," "Cinema Paradiso") gets the remix treatment from the likes of Nightmares on Wax, Thievery Corporation and Apollo Four Forty, among others, on "Morricone RMX" (Warner Bros.).

Finally, fans can trace the roots of electronic music back to Germany once more with Astralwerks' reissues of the first three albums from the '70s duo Neu! Though lesser known than countrymen Kraftwerk and Can, Neu! has nevertheless been a major influence on several prominent electronic and alternative musicians.

"Neu!," "Neu! 2," and "Neu! 75" display sublime, often mesmerizing arrangements whose effect on trance and ambient are obvious. The gorgeous "Leb Wohl," from "Neu! 75," is a compelling soundscape that haunts long after the last note fades. It's a shame that the discs weren't released in a boxed set, as the progression from "Neu!" to "Neu! 75" is a fascinating one.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Sunday July 15, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 16 words Type of Material: Correction Electronica--The name of DJ-producer Ferry Corsten was misspelled in last Sunday's Electronic Beat column.
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