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Wednesday, September 22, 2004; Page C05

SHE LIKE ELECTRIC

Smoosh

Let's be frank: If the sisters who compose Smoosh were in their twenties, we might not be reading a review of their debut album. Seattle has gaggles of girl indie rockers who write thoughtful, earnest, homespun pop songs.


With "Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned," the Prodigy bids to regain the electronica crown. (Pattern 25 Records)

But Asya and Chloe are 12 and 10, respectively, and so curiosity alone makes "She Like Electric" worth a spin.

Smoosh began two years ago when Chloe's drum teacher suggested she play with her sister, who made up songs on her Roland synthesizer. Nowadays, the teacher plays in Death Cab for Cutie and lets Smoosh on the bill: Seattle scene synergy.

The girls -- no last names, per Mom and Dad -- exude something of the blond home-schooled charm of Hanson, but their melody-driven songs are less wide-eyed, more alluring. Asya's sweet, meandering vocals owe something to Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays, even the soaring Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins at times.

Smoosh is at its best when Asya weaves her words through syncopated piano. "To Walk Away From," "Pygmy Motorcycle" and "It's Cold" show a certain sophistication. The aggressive "La Pump" spews the Riot Grrl ethos still in vogue in the Northwest; it's convincing, if unsettling, when you consider these are preteens.

Musically, the amateur rap doesn't fly as well. The double-Dutch-flavored "Rad" is all misplaced bravado, and "Bottlenose" reminds that the screech of schoolyard girls can break glass from 500 feet.

Still, not many middle-schoolers can open for Pearl Jam, as Smoosh will do this weekend. And it's great to see girls flaunting their riffs instead of their midriffs.

-- Elaine Beebe Lapriore

ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, NEVER OUTGUNNED

The Prodigy

Upon initial encounter, the Prodigy's comeback feels irrelevant and borderline pathetic.

"Firestarter" was the British act's breakout song. So it begins the new CD with a similarly snarly, electro-punk tune called . . . "Spitfire"? Dudes, you had seven years. Is that all you got?

Don't be fooled. By the end of this entertaining, sometimes excellent cut-and-paste journey, the Prodigy comes close to recapturing its genre-bending electronica crown. Just one man deserves to wear it. Prodigy guru Liam Howlett wrote and recorded this without vocalists Keith Flint (the double-Mohawked, child-scaring evil clown) and Maxim Reality. Armed with a laptop and a penchant for beat thievery, Howlett enlisted eclectic guests instead: looney-tune actress Juliette Lewis, rappers Kool Keith and Twista, Shahin Badar (who sang on the Prodigy's 1997 hit about smacking up your, uh, female golden retriever) -- even Liam Gallagher of Oasis, who sounds reasonably sober.

Howlett refocuses on dance aesthetics here, smoothing out the group's hybrid of rave ecstasy and headbanger crunch. "Girls" pumps out thumping, high-volume discotheque chic, while "Hot Ride" transforms the 5th Dimension's "Up Up and Away" into a slinky grind with a new-wave punk edge. The Prodigy's minimal lyrics are reliably stupid, repetitive and sometimes delivered in ridiculous voices ("If I was in World War II, they'd call me Spitfire!"). No matter. This album is best when nobody's singing and Howlett is pilfering melodies from somebody talented. "The Way It Is" gets supercharged by an incredibly funky reworking of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" riff. Unless the lawyers tell him to beat it, Howlett is one of the best at stealing in the name of groove.

-- Michael Deeds


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