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Various Artists

Dublab Presents: Freeways (Emperor Norton)

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The online DJ collective Dublab, launched in 1999 from a Hollywood storefront by a bunch of beat-loving USC scrubs, has taken successful root in part because of its freeform programming, which lets the human element shine through the blips, glitches and multitracked Dadaism of the vanguard techno and hip-hop it spins. Freeways, the maiden release of Dublab's series with Emperor Norton Records, similarly never lets you forget that real minds are behind these sounds. Even better, its 13 tracks eschew the visiting beat luminaries who have spun in-studio -- among them the Orb, Prince Paul, Photek, Fantastic Plastic Machine, Jazzanova, Mouse on Mars, Bahamadia and Nobukazu Takemura -- for entirely LA-based talent (imagine that!). Represented are innovative independent LA labels such as Exist Dance, Stones Throw, Simballrec, Phthalo, Plug Research and Meta Records, and the result is a nice little milestone of LA's ceaselessly cross-pollinating musical underground.

Like Dublab's own army of beat junkies, Freeways artists such as freestyle lyric legend and producer Divine Styler, house/ techno impresario John Tejada and world-jazz shaman Adam Rudolph are all over the stylistic map. Acoustic indie sensation Mia Doi Todd re-creates "Digital," from her corker of a solo CD, Zeroone, as a hypnotic, pulsating mood piece. (Headphones, we'd suggest, provide the best way to hear how her sonorous smoke trail of a voice twists and curls words such as "binary zeroes" and "forbidden fruit" around the frisky, edgy beats.) Mannequin Lung's "Is It Live?" is all-encroaching menace -- complete with thumping bass and molten-lava sizzle. Dntel weighs in with "If I Don't Return," an exhilarating "microchip love song" that pits his soft luv-man whisper against stuttering bleeps and ethereal soundscapes. Tom Chasteen, head honcho at Exist Dance, offers up "Death Zone Reflection" under one of his 200 aliases, Skull Valley -- kicking up mean oilcan rhythms with a little Shaft-like wa-wa that stretches you out nicely in its hammocklike psychedelia (again, headphones).

There are a few missteps: Mad alchemists such as Daedelus and Tejada check in with tracks that range from lukewarm to irksome -- and Nowhereman's "Seathrough Dolphin Smile" wheezes sluggishly like a dying furnace. But the sheer inventiveness displayed by genre- and persona-hoppers such as Madlib from Oxnard b-boys the Lootpack -- recording as free-fusion entity Yesterday's New Quintet -- or unsigned secrets like Damon Aaron (whose "Don't Get Up Again" is all chamber blues and slinky noir) makes Freeways a tantalizing glimpse at artists who've been quietly edging musical trends toward the frontiers of God-knows-where -- and, with any luck, will nudge it beyond.