2001 Gets Better

Ryan Adams got 80 Pazz & Jop mentions, Amy Allison one. So I investigated in that order. If I hadn't, the Dean's List would have been one album longer.

AESOP ROCK Daylight EP (Def Jux)
Less experimental beatwise than his boys, less literate bookwise than his rep, but, like his namesake, fabulously wise: "When I was 16 I was taping Bobbito and trying to find out who was newest and was trying to be the dopest, now I don't care if I'm the dopest." I don't know much about dope, I just know what I like: his beats, which average out to deep organ funk; his rhymes, which half-parse no matter how twisted; and his class consciousness—unlike "Bulletproof Wallets," his "Nickel Plated Pockets" are stuffed (they wish) with spare change. Title track gave us the great verse on Labor Days: "Life's not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman/You only call her a bitch because she won't let you get that pussy/Maybe she just didn't feel y'all shared similar interests/Maybe you're just an asshole who couldn't sweet-talk a princess." Second track makes her a biyutch and concludes: "Maybe you're just an asshole, and maybe I'm just an asshole." He isn't. He's dope. A MINUS

AMY ALLISON Sad Girl (Diesel Only)
Mose's daughter grew up listening to Schoenberg on Long Island and sings with the piercing twang of a less urbane Victoria Williams. She writes what seem to be country songs with the same stylized simplicity her dad favors in blues, but the country part is just aura, a way to convince you the singer is as unsophisticated as you think her lyrics are until you think some more. Only the rowdy "Shadow of a Man" and the cheatin' "Sad State of Affairs" come equipped with Nashville markers. The rest are just well-turned songs of the heart. Two illustrate the title all too well, but the best make something of it, especially "One Thing in Mind," about what every mother tells every daughter men want, with consequences. A MINUS

ISSA BAGAYOGO Timbuktu (Six Degrees)
After surfacing as a singer expert on the three-stringed kamalé ngoni droning over a drum machine so spare the naive might call it primitive, he leaves the settings to Ali Farka Toure sideman Koko Dembélé and label owner Yves Wernert, who fashion a world music amalgam slyer and slinkier than any kora fusion. True, there are moments when the production almost drowns in comforting gestures. But the groove always rights itself, and the sound effects are obtrusive enough to give kora fans a salutary case of the jitters. A MINUS

BJÖRK Vespertine (Elektra)
I liked this a lot better once I heard how it was entirely about sex, which since it often buries its pulse took a while. Sex, not fucking. I'm nervous so you'd better pet me awhile sex. Lick the backs of my knees sex. OK, where my buttcheeks join my thighs sex. I'm still a little jumpy so you'd better pet me some more sex. How many different ways can we open our mouths together sex. We came 20 minutes ago and have Sunday morning ahead of us sex. Or, if fucking, tantric—the one where you don't move and let vaginal peristalsis do the work (yeah sure). The atmospherics, glitch techno, harps, glockenspiels, and shades of Hilmar Om Hilmarsson float free sometimes, and when she gets all soprano on your ass you could accuse her of spirituality. But with somebody this freaky you could get used to that. English lyrics provided, most of them dirty if you want. A MINUS

KASEY CHAMBERS Barricades & Brickwalls (Warner Bros.)
I got into the lizard-slow "Nullarbor" only after determining that Nullarbor is the southern Australian desert, its name Latin for "no trees"—did wonders for the "river of tears" line. That's the kind of price you pay for the saving strangeness built into Chambers's achieved, imagined stylistic commitment. Sure the outback can turn you into a country singer, especially if your dad is a professional folkie who's romanticized the natural his whole life (and you're not really a rebel). Sure the difficulty of the leap can mitigate the folk/country corn factor, especially if your voice is a wonder of nature (and you have enough sass in you). But represent your roots honestly, as you're smart enough to know you must, and sometimes you'll lose the folks you romanticize. A MINUS

FAUDEL Baïda (Mondo Melodia)
Beautiful voices mean less than beautiful records, so no wonder this second-generation Algerian-Parisian with the tenor in his pants became a star when his 1997 debut blew up. Cut before he was 20 and just released here, it's as shameless as Shakira. The rai hooks aren't always rendered on authentic instruments, which in rai I guess means electric guitar, but the synth tootles and buzzes feed the tune-at-all-costs abandon. This is the Faudel they call "the little prince of rai," throwing all of his toys on the floor at once. The one they call "the Julio Iglesias of rai" got the next album, which came out first here. Super salsa, kid, and I know there's only one "N'Sel Fik." But why not another "version hip hop"? A MINUS

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