Heads, Future and Past

Finally a chance to catch up on all those new bands. Well, maybe not bands exactly . . .

PETE ROCK & C.L. SMOOTH
The Best of Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth (Good Life)
(Elektra/Rhino)

I missed these guys—too smooth and insufficiently rock, I guess. That was deaf. In this distillation, Smooth's rapping rivals Rakim's, and Rock is an all-time DJ. Credited samples are few, but the music's pure rhythmic pleasure returns us to those thrilling days of yesteryear before property rights trumped art: as dense with borrowed, distressed, and performed elements as the Bomb Squad's sometimes, only flowing rather than explosive. Smooth recalls a wiser time as well: conscious not self-righteous, ghetto not thug. A MINUS

THE VULGAR BOATMEN
Wide Awake
(No Nostalgia)

Between their flat rhythms and their undemonstrative vocals, this long-running hobby band have to hit it just right to hit it at all, which on this retrospective happens most of the time: if not sweet tunes, then sharp lines or even driving grooves. So cannily generalized they make the polite romantic disconnections of academia stand in for those of all white middle-class America, their songs sound like what Ricky Nelson might have sung if he'd grown up to be a manager in the conglomerate that bought the Emporium rather than the wastrel who pursued a musical career. A MINUS


Dud of the Month

CHERIE
(Lava)

The subject of a painstakingly hedged 2003 John Seabrook profile in The New Yorker, she's a teenage Whitney-Celine-Mariah wannabe who's more fun than Hilary Duff and less fun than Ashlee Simpson. Two and a half years and several million bucks in the marketing, her debut album failed to chart after its modest dance hit skyrocketed all the way to 99 on the Billboard Hot 100. In principle, this is an ideal time for an American idol who is both French and—ooh la la—Jewish. But her flop feels like a victory nonetheless. C


Additional Consumer News
Honorable Mention

GWEN STEFANI
Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
(Interscope)

Turns out the problem wasn't ska per se—it was No Doubt ("Bubble Pop Electric," "What You Waiting For?").

SAUCY CALYPSOS VOLUME ONE
(Ice import)

Trinidadians and their filthy sex habits risk Jah's wrath (Lord Canary, "Dr. Beckles Clinic [Tent]"; Mighty Sparrow, "60 Million Frenchmen").

NEW YORK DOLLS
Live From Royal Festival Hall, 2004
(Attack)

They haven't slowed down, the world's speeded up, but though it's good they're more together, it's bad they're more dead ("Human Being," "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory/Lonely Planet Boy").

ENJOY EVERY SANDWICH: THE SONGS OF WARREN ZEVON
(Artemis)

It wasn't just Schmeagles who envied his sarcasm and gusto (Jordan Zevon, "Studebaker"; Adam Sandler, "Werewolves of London").

LE TIGRE
This Island
(Strummer/Universal)

Taking leftism pop—that one's tough to pull off ("Viz," "I'm So Excited").

SUFJAN STEVENS
Seven Swans
(Sounds Familyre)

Pretty battles evil in the service of kind ("The Dress Looks Nice on You," "In the Devil's Territory").

DANGER MOUSE
The Grey Album
(no label)

It's tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time—it's tricky, tricky, tricky, tricky ("99 Problems," "Change Clothes").

BRITNEY SPEARS
Greatest Hits: My Prerogative
(Jive/Zomba)

Her heart, her soul, her aesthetic maturation ("Oops . . . I Did It Again," " . . . Baby One More Time").

ANUBIAN LIGHTS
Phantascope
(Rhythmbank)

Twice removed, Adele Bertei contorts herself ("Wild Winter," "Way Gone Man").

LIF UP YUH LEG AN TRAMPLE
(Honest Jon's import)

Hard dancehall soca surrounds improbable nominee for best Iraq II song extant (Andre Tanker, "Food Fight"; Dawg E Slaughter, "Trample").

ASHLEE SIMPSON
Autobiography
(Geffen)

The real Avril Lavigne ("Autobiography," "Lala").

JET
Get Born
(Elektra)

The juice and talent to make their retro happen without the brains or vision to run with it ("Rollover D.J.," "Look What You've Done").

LUNA
Rendezvous
(Jetset)

Confidence, languor, fatigue—having established all three, they average them and say goodbye ("Speedbumps," "Astronaut").

THE DONNAS
Gold Medal
(Atlantic)

Next stop, matrimony—either that or their own line of porn flicks ("It's So Hard," "It Takes One to Know One").

AFRICAN GROOVE
(Putumayo World Music)

Ethnotechno from the ethno side (Badenya Les Frères Coulibaye, "Boroto"; Madeka, "Mokoto").

SHIYANI NGCOBO
Introducing Shiyani Ngcobo
(World Music Network import)

A generation late, South Africa gets its postcolonial neotraditionalist ("Isothothobala," "Yekanini").


Choice Cuts

WILLIAM SHATNER
"Common People"
(Has Been, Shout! Factory)

STUART RUSH & THE GENIUSES
"When the Words Won't Come"
(Accept No Substitutes, Winged Flight)

THE WRENS
"Bus Dance"
(The Five Mod Four/The Wrens, Split CD, Contraphonic)

MERLE HAGGARD
"Goin' Away Party"
(Unforgettable, Capitol)


Duds

CHET BAKER
Love Songs
(Columbia/Legacy)

COHEED AND CAMBRIA
In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3
(Equal Vision/Columbia)

DAARA J
Boomerang
(Wrasse import)

HILARY DUFF
(Hollywood)

IRON & WINE
Our Endless Numbered Days
(Sub Pop)

JAY-Z/LINKIN PARK
Collision Course
(Warner Bros./Machine Shop/Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam/MTV)

DAVID KILGOUR
Frozen Orange
(Merge)

MARAH
20,000 Streets Under the Sky
(Yep Roc)

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