With the crack trade making its hip-hop comeback, Ghost fashions a trend record that ranks with any Biggie or Wu CD. Morally, it’s a retrospective—there’s no attempt to convince us that he’s still in the game or wants to return. But neither will he countenance doubt that he knows whereof he speaks. The stories are as vivid, brutal, and thought-out as any noir, with details that both encompass and surpass the wisdom of “pyrex scholars.” This is a guy with a bald spot who likes cranberry Snapple,
Larry King Live, and women who work for JetBlue. When he asks his boo to turn the flame down a little, he says thank you. His high wail renders extreme anxiety beautiful. And before the music settles into a powerfully souled and sampled Clan-type groove, its screeching intensity has a
Nation of Millions feel.
Pick a Bigger Weapon
Boots Riley’s live-in-the-studio funk is as retro as his Afro, and when Talib Kweli percusses next to him you’d think his flow was straight out the Watts Prophets. So call him corny if his Marxist talk makes you nervous. Fact is, the brother’s some writer, with his own Oaktown sound. Marxism fans should start with the two love songs: “Ijustwannalayaroundalldayinbedwithyou” lays out the rationalization of the capitalist workday, while the Silk E. feature “BabyLet’sHaveABabyBeforeBushDo Somethin’Crazy” speaks for itself. Plus the Chomskyite “Head (of State)” also has sex in it, the sponsored “Ass-Breath Killers” will help cure your bootymouth, and “I Love Boosters!” is merely the warmest of many shout-outs to a criminal community he’s too busy to join. Riley understands as well as any songwriter in America how the black poor and other barely employeds get by, and he also understands who’s taking their money, and how. His lesser songs would be dookie gold on an ordinary undie-rap album. And he’s no moralizer: “I’m here to laugh, love, fuck, and drink liquor/And help the damn revolution come quicker.”
LOVE IS ALL
Nine Times That Same Song
(What’s Your Rupture?)
A minor, female-fronted Swedish band who may have something to tell us about love when somebody posts the lyrics, but probably won’t, and yes, they sing in English, as in “I know we like the same kind of cheese.” What they can tell us about is the persistence of punk. Unlike the Hives, who I bet they look down on, they’re avant formalists as opposed to pop formalists, twisting funky drumming and weird guitar. Love them for getting excited about these time-honored usages.
I’m Not Dead
With American Idol rampant, it’s nice to have this emotional hipster sticking her celebrity cred in the stupid world’s face. She overdoes the ballads, but what kind of teen idol could she be if she didn’t? She’s got turf to claim before dropping “Dear Mr. President,” which assumes, correctly, that Bush did coke and teens care about the homeless. If there’s a Bono song like that, the stupid world missed it. And if stardom slips through Pink’s cleavage, she’s got an answer: “You don’t have to like me any more/I’ve got money now.” No, she doesn’t mean it—that’s just a smarter than usual woe-is-stardom song. Much smarter than usual.
It could be argued that music this masterful waives all claim to the sound of surprise—until you pay attention. Sure “Love” and “Satisfied” and “Fury” constitute a standard sequence, keyb funk to torch r&b to u-got-the-rock—but only by genius standards. Sure he overdubs all the time, but he risks letting the Other play bass and drums on the over-under-sideways-down title tune—and then immediately prefabs the cockeyed “Lolita” by himself. The dubiosities he induces NPG fans to collect prove only that geniuses know who their friends are. I’m back to suspecting that, at 47, the Abstemious One can keep laying top-shelf stuff on the public for as long as he’s in the mood. Even if he gets on your nerves, treat him nice.
They’re more Wire fans than Wire imitators—looser and louder, comfortable with their middle-class roots in a time when identifying middle class is just a fancier way to point out that you’re oppressed. Nevertheless, a fuller sound can be a problem for a band that sounds something like Wire. Suddenly dynamic tension alone won’t do—you start aiming for rock, for songs, for anthems like “22 Grand Job,” more universal than the immortal “I Am the Fly” itself. Unless you’re way too big for dynamic tension, you won’t nail all that many. But you may get close, like on the U.S.-only “All Too Human.” And for sure you’ll be dynamic. “T Bone”! “Terror!”! One after the other!
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO BHANGRA DANCE
(World Music Network)
Punjabi-based dance music has accrued formula since Rough Guide’s first bhangra comp, and this one pumps identical hyperdrive from boy group, Anglophone pop queen, and subcontinental elder. Only it’s really great hyperdrive—if that’s the same hook again (it is, right?), bring it on. Eventually, soft or folkloric sounds do enter the mix, and how about that? The letdown is a respite if you happen to be tired and does itself proud if you’re not. More more more.
Estudando O Pagode
This exploration of a sexism fueled by the more blatant injustices of class and race doesn’t cohere, but what “rock opera” does? Anyway, Zé prefers the term “operetta,” and with his avant-garde credentials is free to embrace episodic method. Much of the songs’ philosophical punch is lost i
n the superb translations, a shortfall that probably reflects Zé’s special interest in the male chauvinist samba subgenre “pagode,” the emotional resonances of which can’t impact those who haven’t lived with them. But no other Brazilian composer defies cultural boundaries so eloquently. Whether or not I absorb these songs’ meaning when I read along, at any level of attention I feel the way they straddle pop and avant-garde, natural and mechanical, Brazil and the rest of the world. Those not-quite-metallic scraping noises you keep hearing? They come from one of Zé’s inventions, an instrument crafted from the leaf of the ficus trees that grow all over São Paolo. You blow into it.
Dud of the Month
Juvenile gives better interview than former N.O. labelmate Lil Wayne and appears to be a better guy, but he’s also one more bore whose idea of entertainment is threatening to kill people. A few moments seem real enough—not just “I Know You Know,” in which he reminds his wife that, actually, he doesn’t fuck all those hoes he raps about, but the street-mystique primer “Way I Be Leanin’.” And even there Mike Jones, Paul Wall, and Wacko provide welcome relief from the nasal, constricted, humorless flow he’s gotten on. Later, Fat Joe does the same. I mean, really—Fat Joe?
You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker
He owns the title tune now too (“Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age,” “Dusty Skies”).
YEAH YEAH YEAHS
Show Your Bones
I dig her new Middle America affect, but still don’t wish she was my girlfriend (or daughter) (“Phenomena,” “Turn Into”).
A Blessing and a Curse
Includes title song directed at a trust fund baby I personally am sorry they ever met (“A World of Hurt,” “Goodbye”).
BUILT TO SPILL
You in Reverse
Like Uncle Neil says, “It’s all one song—except for that flamenco thing” (“Conventional Wisdom,” “Mess With Time”).
Club carnaval of the mind (“De Dar Dó,” “Azougue”).
Alive & Wired
Their rough and rowdy ways—two CDs worth (“Time Bomb,” “Barrier Reef”).
Sees all the colors of the Cadillac at the Golden Gate Park Botanical Garden, hitchhikes on the Stinson Beach road (“My Baby Love the Western Violence,” “Link Wray’s Girlfriend”).
(Putumayo World Music)
Sweet and stretchy in its commercial version, just like the taffy (Bendeniz, “Kirmizi Biber”; Nilgül, “Pis Pisla”).
Live in Los Angeles
The live album Billy Zoom and their songbook have long deserved (“Johny Hit and Run Paulene,” “Beyond & Back”).
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO URBAN LATINO
(World Music Circuit)
A noisy mess from rock to ska to hip-hop, with catchy politicos prominent and a German for spice (Zona Marginal, “No Mas”; Yerba Brava, “Sos Un Cheto”).
The best of these songs are so perfectly put they thrive solo acoustic—but could still use a band (“Ballad of Bitter Honey,” “I Wasn’t Really Drunk”).
THE NEW ORLEANS SOCIAL CLUB
Sing Me Back Home
Mix winning sincerity with formal nostalgia, much like the Cuban franchise holder (Cyrille Neville, “This Is My Country”; John Boutt “Why”).
Never mind the wimp beats—if he were my son I’d be so proud (“Internet Relationships,” “Download This Song”).
The B. Coming
Scared straight enough to rap about being paranoid (“I Can’t Go On This Way,” “Feel It in the Air”).
Music for some occasions (“Workingman’s Palace,” “Lost in America”).
HANK WILLIAMS III
Straight to Hell
“Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from”—and, oh yeah, “if you thought so goddamn you’re fucking dumb” (“Pills I Took,” “Thrown Out of the Bar”).
“Something Clicked and I Fell Off the Edge”
(Retreat, Dim Mak)
“Keys,” “The Cool Thing to Do”
(Things Go Better With RJ and AL, Rhymesayers Entertainment)
(Symbionese Liberation Album, Disgruntled/Amalgam Entertainment)
“There Stands the Glass”
(Pay the Devil, Lost Highway)
En Este Momento
This Old Road
The Minstrel Show
RAY PARKER JR
Crammed Discs, 43 Rue General Patton, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, crammed.be;
Epitaph, 2798 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood CA 90026, epitaph.com;
Horris, c/o Nettwerk America, Suite 304, 8730 Wilshire Boulevard,
Beverly Hills CA 90211, nettwerkamerica.com;
Hyena, 250 West 57 Street, Suite 725, NYC 10107, hyenarecords.com;
K, PO Box 7154, Olympia WA 98507, krecs.com;
New West, LLC PO Box 33156, Austin TX 78674-0156, newwestrecords.com;
ROIR, PO Box 501, Prince Street Station, NYC 10012, roir-usa.com;
SpinArt, PO Box 1798, NYC 10156-1798, spinartrecords.com;
What’s Your Rupture?, whatsyourrupture.com;
World Music Network, 6 Abbeville Mews, 88 Clapham Park Road, London SW4 7BX, England, email@example.com;