The shadowy Stuzzicadenti (Italian for "toothpicks") is an intellectually stimulating, intermittently winning collaboration between no-wave primogenitor Diego Cortez and sampler/rapper/conceptualist DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid. Augmented by other downtown New York envelope pushers such as Arto Lindsay, Ben Neill (on "mutantrumpet"), cornetist Butch Morris, and soundscaper Ryuichi Sakamoto, Stuzzicadenti traverses many aural landscapes in its attempt to escape what the liner notes suggest is the phallocentric, speciously dramatic format of pop and rock. The packaging, which resonates against the music and the insert, is a postmodern museum in and of itself.
Pop and rock this certainly is not, despite elements of both. It more often approaches jazz. Above all, it is illbient, a neologism invented by DJ Spooky (Paul Miller) to denote edgy ambience. The experiments are often successful, at least on an academic level, particularly in how they blend Eastern and Western sonics. Nevertheless, it all takes awhile to get going, and occasionally the tracks simply don't hook. But those featuring brass, DJ Spooky's eerie vocal samplings, and distorted, amplified keyboards are compelling. The ending, "Teethmen of the Tropics," followed by "Nemesis (Loophole)," approaches the riveting. The liner notes aren't to be overlooked, as each of the 15 tracks is obsessively detailed in annotation that is allusive, provocative, and often too introspective, much like the music itself. Stuzzicadenti might be appreciated best as odd fine art produced by a semi-virtual collective with Cortez and DJ Spooky at its core.