By David Browne
Updated February 26, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

When making last year’s ”Music,” what led Madonna to recruit Mirwais Ahmadzai, a veteran (albeit underground) French musician and producer who’s spent nearly 20 years dabbling in punk, indie rock, and house music? Was it his sound, or because he too uses only his first name in his professional life? We can now begin to understand the reasons with Production, the Mirwais album released in Europe nearly a year ago and finally available on our side of the ocean.

The roots of ”Music” (about half of which was produced by Mirwais) are scattered all across ”Production,” from the intergalactic acid house romp ”Disco Science” to the electronic bird chirps and sarcastically perky voices on ”Naive Song” to the dizzying, trashcans in space clatter that is ”Definitive Beat.” His blending of computerized rhythms and acoustic guitar, a type of cyberfolk so effective on Maddy’s ”Don’t Tell Me,” is clearly a Mirwais trademark; he uses it here repeatedly. Like Madonna, he’s also something of a mystery, and he likes it that way: He rarely sings in an unadulterated voice, generally distorting it with various turns of the knobs, and he has an equally playful, winking attitude toward electronic and dance music.

Yet for all its irrepressible sonic whimsy, ”Production” also reveals quite a bit of unexpected depth, which may further explain his appeal to Madonna. ”V.I. (The Last Words She Said Before Leaving)” is all sullen whispers and brooding beats; ”Junkie?s Prayer” finds Mirwais contorting the lyric (”We want drugs / We want love”) until it becomes uglier with each line, mirroring an addict’s descent into desperation. By meshing hard, sullen stomps with melodic warmth, Mirwais’ music deftly balances darkness and light. Even if he’s already preparing to jump aboard another musical bandwagon, ”Production” remains a delicious French pastry, with many layers.