Spreading the Net

When the pickings get thin, roam. Find below old music from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Colombia, and Brazil. Three of these albums are imports, the last old-not-current rather than old-archival—and the best "new" album I've heard all this thin year.

ATMOSPHERE God Loves Ugly (Fat Beats)
Slug is hip hop's finest poet of everyday life because he's come to terms with moderate success, the amenity that affords him opportunity to look around. Neither resentful nor driven, he doesn't feel sorry for himself, doesn't overrate himself, doesn't think the world owes him a promotion budget. Metaphoric tough talk aside, he doesn't bitch about r&b or bling, either; sure he wants more, but he's got too much pride and too much self-knowledge to waste emotion blaming the system. His one obsession is unrequited love, which he analyzes with such thoughtless candor and penetrating introspection that I not only believe the someone exists, I think it's possible her name's really Lucy. He raps like a man thinking, over strong, simple beats that put his thoughts in order and his body in gear. If Lucy says he's ugly, he's too good for her. A MINUS

BHUNDU BOYS The Shed Sessions (Sadza import)
Where the stoned undertow of Thomas Mapfumo's chimurenga remembered struggle, the light, bright jit of Zimbabwe's Bhundu Boys was pure liberation music. Leader Biggie Tembo named them after his role as a runner in Mugabe's army, but that was over, and did they ever sound happy about it. Revving mbira guitar into soukous flights as they loosened intense Soul Brothers harmonies, they caught Britain's sole Afropop wave in the middle '80s and concocted an English-language crossover album nobody found as accessible as the two Shona LPs that made it possible. A decade later four of them were dead—three of AIDS, the long-departed or -ousted Tembo a suicide and Mugabe was a certified tyrant. In historical perspective, the ebullience of this two-CD set, everything from the first two albums plus half a dozen nonfiller extras, is pop innocence at its most poignant. They're not faking a thing—they were young, and they'd known triumph. But soon enough they would be. A MINUS

THE CAPRICORNS In the Zone (Paroxysm)
Two girls and two Casios play Cadallaca to Delta Dart's Sleater-Kinney. Formed 2002 in a town between Chicago and Milwaukee. Recorded their second album/first CD in Athens with an Elephant Six guy. Heterosexual, but not religious about it—the kind who threaten to steal an annoying boy's girlfriend. Like young stuff, as in "Teenage Boyfriend." Also like new stuff, as in "The New Sound." Their sound isn't new. But it gains pep from their belief that it is. A MINUS

COLOMBIA (Putumayo World Music)
The excellent World Circuit and very good Rough Guide cumbia comps are narrow not only genrewise but labelwise, leaving plenty of room for the pop exotica Putumayo hawks up. In fact, only four of these 12 tracks are even cumbias. Instead we get reclaimed mountain beats and bastard salsas, ambitious neofolkies and singing TV hosts, '90s hits and anthemic oldies. And hooks, always hooks. You could learn as much about Colombia at a restaurant in Woodside if its jukebox measured up. And have a darn good time doing it. A MINUS

DJ SHADOW The Private Press (MCA)
Accusing Josh Davis of repeating himself is like bitching that Between the Buttons came after Aftermath—or that Light in August begat Absalom, Absalom! Sui generis masterpiece—which for all its influence has never been replicated, much less topped—then excellent effort in the same sui genre. The overall effect is less grand than that of Endtroducing six years ago, popper and rocker and r&ber. But an overall effect there is, grounded in Shadow's trademark-tremendous bass 'n' drum, which, among many other things, recontextualizes small-timer big talk from the prophet rock of Colonel Bagshot's "Six Day War" to the gangsta rap of Hollywood's "Gangster Rap." If only those schmos had taken their music higher, Shadow believes, we might have glimpsed the beauty and profundity within them. He's wrong. But he mounts quite an argument. A

Unlike Music Club's '50s-focused Township Jazz 'n' Jive, this is an educational tour rather than a stylistic overview, with jaunty 1939 stride-boogie piano representing legendary marabi to begin and misplaced 1978 soul guitar heralding attempted disco at the end. And as on the more sloppily organized Mandela soundtrack, it's the '50s stuff that stands out. Start with one of the two tracks it shares with Township Jazz 'n' Jive, the Solven Whistlers' "Something New in Africa," a pop moment whose big-band pennywhistles could get a Martian patting his pseudopods. Then backtrack to Nancy Jacobs & Her Sisters' "Meadowlands," on which if you knew Zulu or Sotho you would hear Jacobs praising the razing of Sophiatown, the 1954 debacle that signaled the cultural triumph of apartheid, and if you knew the thug pidgin Tsotsitaal you would hear the same singer condemning that debacle. Cue over to the insouciant strut of the Elite Swingsters' "Thulandavile" and wonder what kind of debacle could leave such a rhythm alive. Segue directly to "Midnight Ska" and doubt skank is purely Jamaican. Not a rhythm nation, a vocal nation. But somehow its groove snakes or lopes or bunnyhops all the way to mbaqanga. A MINUS

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