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First Listen: Luscious Jackson, 'Magic Hour'

Luscious Jackson's new album, <em>Magic Hour</em>, comes out Nov. 5.
Doug Seymour
Courtesy of the artist
Luscious Jackson's new album, Magic Hour, comes out Nov. 5.

The best dance music is the kind that reminds you to move through life with your body rocking. It's one thing, a necessary thing, to get on the dance floor; but it's also supremely beneficial to carry that funky sway onto the streets and into daily routine. Luscious Jackson, the Manhattan-born, now bicoastal band of rhythm gluttons whose hits (remember "Naked Eye"?) were among the most pleasurable alternative rock produced in the '90s, demonstrates exactly how to do that. On Magic Hour, its first album in fourteen years, the group gives instructions in fun, love, loyalty and self-appreciation with ten songs that go down as easy as drummer Kate Schellenbach's backbeats.

With keyboardist Vivian Trimble sitting this one out, the now-trio (referred to by Spin as "the '90s' coolest girls") of Schellenbach, vocalist/bassist Jill Cunniff and guitarist/vocalist Gabby Glaser gets right back in the pocket on Magic Hour, building sleek grooves to support arrangements that blend in reggae, disco sirens, crunchy guitar riffs, and kool raps. The hooks and totally singable melodies on songs like "Awww Turn It Up" and "Are You Ready" honor sources ranging from funk sisters ESG, to the Go Go's, to MC Lyte and, of course, the band's old friends the Beastie Boys. Magic Hour's sound is timeless but shows its makers' awareness of what's happening now: "#1 Bum," with its playful lyrics about a loved one's finest asset, connects with the trickster spirit of M.I.A., while the celestially sexy "Frequency" begs for an EDM remix.

It's always been fun to dissect the influences in Luscious Jackson's music because these women are so knowledgeable and skilled at creating unexpected blends. But Magic Hour's fun really lies in the stories it brings to life. "3 Secs to Cross" details a New Yorker's process of falling in love with California. Schellenbach now lives in Los Angeles and works as a television producer. The Adam Horovitz-produced "So Rock On" is a grown woman's love song about appreciating a person from the toes to the bump on the nose. "Are You Ready" is city fantasy about starting a dance party with your neighbors. "We Go Back" memorializes gone-too-soon Beastie Adam Yauch, its ruminations going beyond one death to consider how the past is always present yet irretrievable.

Best, perhaps, is "Show Us What You Got," with its motivating mix of kick drum, cowbell and killer guitar riffs, and its message to the next generation of coolest girls and boys - maybe their own kids, but really all kids born with rainbow sensibilities and an innate desire to strut their stuff. "Put that drumstick in your hand," Cunniff and Glaser sing in harmony. "Grab your friend and start a band." It worked for Luscious Jackson. And it still does.

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.