The Prelude

This column is the prelude to the 29th or 30th Pazz & Jop Critics' Poll. Unfortunately, and that's putting it mildly, it's also the prelude to an American war on Islam. What does it mean that Islam gave me more albums than the poll?

(Mondo Melodia)
Mixing producers from Natacha Atlas svengalis Trans-Global Underground to jazz-funk hack Narada Michael Walden to several actual Egyptians, risking a Moorish duet with Puerto Rican merengue diva Olga Tañón and countenancing the cornball soul shouts of an unidentified co-conspirator I fear is Walden himself, Hakim could have come up with crossover crap, and without crossing over. Instead he provides an object lesson in world fusion—even when it doesn't translate all the way, Hakim's barely contained enthusiasm and pervasive musical intelligence give you something to take home to mama. Figure that when producers outdo themselves this much, it's probably the singer's fault. A MINUS

The Rough Guide to Ali Hassan Kuban
(World Music Network import)
Situated in that strangely familiar territory between kinda boring and utterly weird, Kuban was modernity's musical ambassador from Nubia, which some—mostly boring Afrocentric weirdos, but that doesn't make them wrong—regard as a prime source of the Mediterranean culture all Americans share. And though it says something about developmental feedback and lineaments of greatness that this wedding singer from an ancient land was known to tip his kufi to James Brown, his funk has always sounded indigenous to me. For one thing, it's melodic in an ancient, pentatonic way—that's the Nubian part. The instrumental sound is Egyptian right down to its big-city horns and accordions. And the vocals would fit into many black African contexts—think flat rather than showy, Wassoulou rather than Wolof. Kuban cut four albums after he began playing Europe in the '80s, and sometimes it's hard to tell whether they're trancelike or soporific. This draws on all of them. The best-of as public service. A MINUS

Emergency Rations
(Definitive Jux)
A funny guy, an angry guy, he sets up a concept album with a concept EP that ostensibly plays off his disappearance, from where he ain't gonna tell you 'cause you really ought to know. In fact, it's an excuse to drop random science about the place of hip hop in the military-industrial complex. A MINUS

The Lost Tapes
Remember that posthumous outtakes CD Bad Boy attributed to Biggie? No? Good then—it was foul, not just ill shit but stupid ill shit. These finalized versions of tracks fans have long bootlegged is the opposite. Where the ex-dealer thought it wise to conceal his brutishness, the fake thug thought it wise to conceal his sensitivity. Surrounding outtakes that were just outtakes is back-in-the-day recommended to Tim and Missy (even has some pronunciation in it) and four autobiographical pieces. The two about his parents are juicier than the mother love gushing from God's Son. The Afrocentric pep song is so much deeper than the mawkish, misinformed new "I Can" that you believe he might yet get politics. And "Drunk by Myself" describes his alcoholism. Pass what Courvoisier? B PLUS

The Complete Recordings
(Collectors' Choice)
You want full disclosure, I'll give you full disclosure: Carola Dibbell and I annotated this reissue of two long-lost early-'80s EPs for $350, below my usual word rate but it was love—I did my part in an elbow cast. Two Georgia girls, 16 and 18 when they started, tiny and childlike and minimalist and sui generis and monumental—read all about it when you plunk down your almost-a-buck-a-minute (and-worth-it) for 10 songs in 22 minutes. Our notes, however, celebrate the official oeuvre, not the 13 live bonus tracks, only one a repeat title and only another—the best, as they knew—previously released. Though a few hold up fine as is, these latter, which I first heard when I got the final, are educational, as bonus tracks tend to be. Their lesson is that the EPs, rude though they seem, comprise recordings, not songs. As songs, the previously unreleaseds would be good enough properly sung, arranged, and balanced, and they also wouldn't be on a par with "Playtime," "Person," or "Such N Such." Lynda and Linda were charming live, you can tell. But on record, it took plenty of artifice to put their naivete across. Docked a notch for conflict of interest. A MINUS

Up until Doolittle in 1989, when the tunes blossomed, I pretty much missed this band. Put off by Black Francis's feyness, I sensed what is now clear, that he's a pomo sociophobe of a familiar and tedious sort. Where in retrospect his philosophical limitations seem harmless annoyances, they portended many regrettable developments in irony, junk culture, sexual eccentricity, and other folkways that deserved better. But that wasn't reason enough to resist the music. In such cases, the recommended m.o. is in the destructive element immerse—understand its attractions from the inside, the better to combat or, what fun, succumb to them. Now Surfer Rosa and the Come On Pilgrim EP seem audaciously funny and musically prophetic. I like the way the elements form a whole without coalescing, and the brushed-aluminum patina they got on their punk-pop-art-metal amalgam. I guess these nine Come On Pilgrim outtakes are a little looser and wilder than the stuff they put on the market, but in retrospect once again they're every bit as much a galvanic hoot. A MINUS

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