SYNDICATE
Posted by: Dave on December 6, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Them Crooked Vultures.jpgNote: Them Crooked Vultures is Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss) on vocals/guitar, John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) on bass and Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana) on drums.
Sound: Riff-heavy, rhythm-driven, hard-hitting rock with progressive, psychedelic and stoner tendencies and falsetto, hooky melodies. At times, their mix of psychedelic blues and falsetto vocals are reminiscent of Cream, but mostly this sounds like the kind of music we’ve come to expect from a Queens of the Stone Age album.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Scumbag Blues”; “New Fang”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Bandoliers”; “Interlude with Ludes”; “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I”; “Gunman”; “Caligulove”; “Elephants”
Recommended: It’s easy—and kinda lazy—to call Them Crooked Vultures a supergroup when, really, this is the next Queens of the Stone Age album. After all, QOTSA has always kind of been a “supergroup” anyway, with Josh Homme at the forefront (and for awhile Nick Oliveri was his co-conspirator) and marquee names like Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan, plus a variety of supporting members from other big-name acts rotating in and out the group. So in the QOTSA context, Them Crooked Vultures is their strongest album in years. It’s not quite as solid as Songs for the Deaf (my #13 album of 2002) or Rated R (my #11 album of 2000), it lacks a monster standout single like both of them had (“No One Knows” and “The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret” respectively), and it can get slightly indulgent at times. But this is a strong effort that gets the blood pumping and the brain thinking simultaneously.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on at 10:04 am

Shakira She WolfSound: American electro pop with flavors from around the world (Latin, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Indian) created by some of this decade’s biggest hitmakers (Pharell Williams produces 4 tracks, while Wyclef Jean and Timbaland contributed a track each. Plus, The Bravery’s Sam Endicott co-writes two songs).
Heavy Rotation tracks: “She Wolf” (Top 20 Songs of 2009 Candidate); “Long Time”; “Men In This Town”; “Spy” featuring Wyclef Jean
Medium Rotation tracks: “Why Wait”; “Gypsy”; “Good Stuff”
Recommended: Shakira’s over-the-top, sex-crazed wackiness is always attention-grabbing and entertaining (even if you’re chuckling and thinking “what a nut” at the same time). Matching her up with this cast of top-notch songwriters and producers makes for some pretty compelling pop music. Exotic sounds, strong melodies and creative lyrics abound on She Wolf.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on November 10, 2009 at 9:13 am

NoisettesWildYoungHearts.jpgSound: A major departure from the raucous, arty London punk of their 2007 debut What’s The Time Mr. Wolf? Wild Young Hearts is much softer and sweeter. Nearly every track has a throwback vibe—either ‘60s Motown, ‘70s disco or ‘80s electro pop—with a slight modern twist—beefier guitars, fuller production or hints of the reckless attitude that spilled out all over their previous work. No matter what era they tackle, there’s one constant that holds everything together—frontwoman Shingai Shinawa. As the Noisettes jump from genre to genre, she shows off her multi-faceted range and power as a vocalist.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Atticus”; “Wild Young Hearts”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Never Forget You”; “Every Now and Then”; “Sometimes”
Recommended: After you get over the initial shock of hearing this significantly tamer and more pop-friendly version of The Noisettes, you may find yourself thinking that Wild Young Hearts is a better, more interesting way to showcase the band’s talents—particular Shingai’s voice. Like their debut, this isn’t quite a stunner from start to finish, but there are several worthwhile highlights.
Grade: B+

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Posted by: Dave on November 1, 2009 at 9:40 am

Zero7Ghost.jpgSound: A rotating cast of mostly female vocalists delivers soulful, seductive and memorable melodies as the backdrop jumps from groovy electro pop to breezy folk to danceable indie rock to easy listening. Then, on the last two tracks, the veteran production duo largely ditches the vocals in favor of lengthy atmospheric soundscapes—the kind of stuff that put Zero 7 on the map in the first place.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Pop Art Blue”; “Everyhing Up (Zizou)”
Medium Rotation tracks: “The Road”; “Medicine Man”; “Mr. McGee”
Recommended: It’s definitely a surprise to hear something this snappy and radio-friendly from Zero 7, but it works…for a while. What’s strange is that they end the album with two long tracks that barely resemble the rest of the music on here, leaving you a little confused.
Grade: B

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Posted by: Dave on October 13, 2009 at 9:42 am

Anti-PopFluBlack.jpgNote: This is the underground hip-hop crew’s first official album release in seven years.
Sound: The three MCs trade rapid, rhythmic, cerebral, stream-of-consciousness verses over a host of spacey, digital beats that can be creeping, funky, smooth, pounding, robotic, hard-banging, freaked-out and more.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “SuperUnfrontable” (Top 20 Songs of 2009 Candidate); “SHINE”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Timpani”; “NY to Tokyo”; “New Jack Exterminator”: “Volcano”
Recommended: If Fluorescent Blank ended after track 13—the riveting standout “SuperUnfrontable”—it would easily be Anti-Pop Consortium’s strongest, most focused album to date—not to mention one of the most exciting and surprisingly good indie hip-hop albums of the year. The beats and rhymes find APC at their best. Unfortunately, though, the album goes on for another six tracks—none of which are of the same caliber as the previous 13—which slowly drags the festivities into mediocrity.
Grade: B-

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Posted by: Dave on October 11, 2009 at 4:32 pm

BasementJaxxScars.jpgSound: A return to the up-tempo, club-friendly, big-sounding, electro dance tracks that launched their career a decade ago. Elements of jazz, reggae, dub, acoustic indie rock and r&b work their way into the production, and the wide array of vocal performances introduce everything from blue-eyed soul, bluesy soul and Auto-Tuned soul to rap, grime, pop and exotic spoken word.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Gimme Somethin’ True” featuring Jose Names; “Twerk” featuring Yo Majesty
Medium Rotation tracks: “Saga” featuring Santigold; “She’s No Good” featuring Eli “Paperboy” Reed; “Raindrops”; “What’s A Girl Gotta Do?” featuring Paloma Faith; Day of the Sunflowers (We March On)” featuring Yoko Ono
Recommended: Scars is nearly as fun and hard-hitting as their classic debut Remedy and as deliciously eclectic as their releases since. But very few of the ideas on the album sound like new innovations for Basement Jaxx. This is more of a step backwards for them, but it’s an entertaining and satisfying retread with an abundance of quality guest vocals to look forward to.
Grade: B+

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Posted by: Dave on October 4, 2009 at 11:07 am

BrotherAliUs.jpgSound: Like many hip-hop albums, there’s an abundance of funk and soul—blaring horns, groovin’ basslines, wicky and bendy guitar—but the majority of these sounds are created with live instrumentation—instead of samples—which gives the album a fresh and invigorating energy.
Vocals/Lyrics: As usual, Brother Ali grabs the mic as a fiery preacher delivering inspiring sermons, entertaining anecdotes and sobering facts. But his hearty and heart-felt vocals sound more uplifting and inspired than ever before, and much of the reason seems to be that his life is in a better place—re-married, new child, homeowner, successful rapper—which he occasionally touts. He also, though, tackles many heavy, larger issues with impressive dexterity, including slavery and its impact in the U.S. today, the confusion of growing up in a broken family and being bussed into the suburbs for school, inner-city violence and domestic abuse.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “The Travelers (Top 20 Songs of 2009 Candidate); “The Preacher”; “House Keys”; “Babygirl”; “Fresh Air”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Bad Mufucker Pt. II”; “Tight Rope”; “Slippin’ Away”
Recommended: Brother Ali’s been one of the strongest underground MCs of the past few years, and he’s made his best album yet with Us. In fact, it’s one of the best hip-hop albums of the year. His lyrics always run the risk of being overbearing and preachy, but his conviction, insight and riveting flow make him far too captivating to ignore.
Grade: A- (Strong Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on September 29, 2009 at 6:00 am

MonstersofFolk.jpgNote: Monsters of Folk is an all-star group consisting of three of this decade’s finest frontmen/singer/songwriters (Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and solo artist M. Ward (also known for his work with Zooey Deschanel as She & Him)) and one of indie rock’s premier producers/multi-instrumentalists (Mike Mogis, known best as a bandmember/producer in Bright Eyes).
Sound: Despite the fact that every track was a collaborative effort, and you hear all three frontmen’s voices on nearly every song (either in a lead or backing role), most of the tracks sound distinctly like they originated from one of these masterminds—which they did, each of them brought ideas to the table and they molded the songs from there. So the end result sounds like a collection of Bright Eyes/Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket and M. Ward outtakes from some of their most recent releases—which certainly isn’t a bad thing. These guys have been responsible for several of the decade’s best albums.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Magic Marker”; “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)”; “Say Please”; “The Right Place”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Baby Boomer”; “The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me”; “Ahead of the Curve”; “Whole Lotta Losin'”; “Map of the World”
Recommended: If you like what these artists do, Monsters of Folk will definitely be a pleasing, quality batch of new tunes representing each of their signature sounds. There are even a couple of standouts that are nearly in the same league as their best work. But on the whole, it feels like these elite artists held each other back a bit (which, of course, is very common in the supergroup or all-star band). If left to their own devices—with their usual bands or collaborators—they seemingly would have charted bolder, less predictable courses than the ones they chose for this album.
Grade: B+

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Posted by: Dave on September 28, 2009 at 4:45 pm

KidCudiManontheMoon.jpgSound: An electro, spacey hybrid of hip-hop, r&b and pop that favors cosmic, somber meditations with a digital pulse, but also–particularly in the second half of the album–jumps into, lighter more upbeat sexual romps and spiritual affirmations.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Day ‘n’ Nite (Nightmare)” (Top 20 Songs of 2009 Candidate); “Alive (Nightmare)” featuring Ratatat; “Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)” featuring MGMT and Ratatat; “Solo Dolo (Nightmare)”; “Make Her Say” featuring Kanye West and Common; “Up Up and Away”
Medium Rotation tracks: The rest
Recommended: For a debut album, Man on the Moon is awfully fearless and innovative. The Cleveland-born, Brooklyn-based rapper/singer/songwriter/Kanye West collaborator shows off his angsty soul searching and oddball creativity throughout the disc and ushers in new possibilities for mainstream-accessible but indie-minded music. This isn’t an easy listen, though. The album is a bit long and disjointed, and the majority of the easier-to-digest tracks appear in the second half.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on September 23, 2009 at 7:13 pm

RaekwonCuban2.jpgSound: A collection of ominous, drama-fueled soundscapes; neck-snapping, head-nodding street bangers; mystical, hypnotic grooves, and solemn, soulful reflections—basically exactly what you’d expect from a Raekwon/Wu-Tang album, except for the Dr. Dre-produced, piano-driven, gangsta bouncin’ track “About Me.”
Lyrics: As usual drug-pushing and a violent, dangerous life of crime inspires the majority of the rhymes as Raekwon shares the mic with fellow Wu-Tang Clan members Ghostface Killah and Inspectah Deck frequently and Method Man, Masta Killa and GZA to a lesser extent—making Linx…Pt. II feel very much like many Wu-Tang group and solo albums and not too different from 1995’s Pt. 1. Solid guest verses from non-Wu MCs like Busta Rhymes, Beanie Sigel and Jadakiss, and a memorable hook from r&b man Lyfe Jennings do provide the album with a healthy diversity.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “About Me” featuring Busta Rhymes; “Catalina” featuring Lyfe Jennings; “10 Bricks” featuring Cappadonna and Ghostface Killah; “Surgical Gloves”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Black Mozart” featuring Inspectah Deck; “The New Wu” featuring Method Man & Ghostface Killah; “House of Flying Daggers” featuring Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah & Method Man; “Penitentiary” featuring Ghostface Killah; “Gihad” featuring Ghostface Killah
Recommended: There are few surprises on Cuban Linx…Pt. II. If you like classic Raekwon and Wu-Tang material, particularly the stuff from their mid-‘90s heyday, there’s plenty to like on here. They still do what they do quite well. And despite having a bloated 22 tracks, there are very few weak links on here. But there aren’t that many essential standouts or groundbreaking new ideas either.
Grade: B

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Posted by: Dave on September 21, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Jay-Z Blueprint 3.jpgSound: Overall, the production (Kanye West contributed nearly half the tracks, plus heavyweights Timbaland and Pharrell Williams delivered a few tracks, too) is decidedly synth-heavy with either bouncy gangsta strings, bangin’ digital beats or hypnotic cosmic atmosphere. But the first three singles (“D.O.A.,” “Run This Town,” and “Empire State of Mind”) are made up of somewhat more organic elements including guitar riffs, clarinet runs, militant percussion and an elegant piano melody.
Lyrics: The legendary rapper spends most of the album reminding listeners how great he is as he trashes artists who rely on Auto-Tune production, represents for NYC, and flaunts his sexual prowess.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” (Top 20 Songs of 2009 Candidate); “Reminder”
Medium Rotation tracks: “On to the Next One” featuring Swizz Beatz; “Venus vs. Mars”; “Hate” featuring Kanye West; “Off That” featuring Drake; “Run This Town” featuring Rihanna and Kanye West
Recommended: Jay-Z’s original Blueprint album (my #3 album of 2001) remains one of the best albums of the decade—it was Kanye West’s coming out party as a producer and the rhymes were handled largely by Jigga himself, so it had a consistent sound and lyrical focus. Conversely, Blueprint 2 was a bloated and scattered double-album mess that attempted to cross-pollinate too many genres and yielded extremely few worthwhile tracks. Blueprint 3 has elements of both of its predecessors. It tries to appeal too many different mainstream audiences, and Jay-Z yields the mic to guest rappers and singers more often than he should. But it does have several quality tracks, even though don’t necessarily feel like they belong on the same album. Blueprint 3 is a substantial improvement from the previous release in the trilogy, and it has more to offer than Jay-Z’s last two releases, (2007’s American Gangster and 2006’s Kingdom Come).
Grade: B+

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Posted by: Dave on September 15, 2009 at 8:51 am

Thrice Beggars.jpgSound: Over the last few years, Thrice – and their frontman Dustin Kensrue as a solo artist – have been fearlessly expanding their capabilities. Progressive, melodic aggression, reflective, atmospheric rock and folky, country-flavored folk have been major components of their releases this decade and demonstrated possibilities far beyond their punk/hardcore roots. On Beggars they effectively shift back and forth between all of these recent developments in their sound.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “The Great Exchange”; “Doublespeak”; “Beggars”
Medium Rotation tracks: “All the World Is Mad”; “In Exile”; “The Weight”
Recommended: Though the stylistic shifts on Beggars can be a little jarring, this is their most accomplished, engaging and consistent album to date.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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Posted by: Dave on September 8, 2009 at 10:08 am

Black Crowes Before.jpgNote: The latest release from The Black Crowes is essentially a double album of new material (and a Stephen Stills cover) that was recorded live in the studio in front of an intimate audience. Before the Frost is the official album release and Until the Freeze is a free bonus disc that purchasers of the physical CD can download using a code. However, if you buy the album on iTunes, you get all 20 tracks at once—the first 11 are Frost and the last nine are Freeze.
Sound (Before the Frost…): As usual, the Crowes’ music pays a heavy debt to the past, particularly the late ‘60s and ’70s output from artists like The Rolling Stones, Faces, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. They bounce between loose barroom boogies, thick blues jams, country/folky reflections and—the curveball—a disco rocker.
Sound (…Until the Freeze): Far more acoustic, country-tinged (lots of fiddle and pedal steel) and mellow, but it starts with a psychedelic hoedown jam. With this disc, there’s really no hint of modern music. This is a true time warp to the eras of old timey hillbillies and idealist hippies.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Houston Don’t Dream About Me”; “And the Band Played On”; “Good Morning Captain”; “Garden Gate”; “Shine Along”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Appaloosa”; “What Is Home”; “I Ain’t Hiding”; “Shady Grove”; “So Many Times”; “Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)”
Recommended: Before the Frost borrows vintage sounds and styles more than any other Crowes official release—so you can’t commend them on their originality here—but the songwriting and performances are stellar. The band sounds inspired and invigorated, and recording the album live in the studio definitely helps gives these songs a contemporary freshness and energy. Until the Freeze digs even deeper into the past and serves as an enjoyable celebration of 20th Century American music styles.
Grade: Before the Frost…A- ; …Until the Freeze B+

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Posted by: Dave on September 5, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Arctic Monkeys Humbug.jpgSound: On their third album, the snappy Brit punkers tone down the in-your-face riffs and basslines considerably. Humbug is a woozy, dark and mysterious journey that favors mood and tone over memorable songs. The two exceptions to this rule—“Cornerstone,” a classic, peppy poppy ballad, and “Pretty Visitors,” a heavy, spooky rocker—are two of the stronger and most accessible tracks.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Cornerstone”; “My Propeller”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Pretty Visitors”; “Crying Lightning”
Recommended: It’s commendable that Arctic Monkeys challenged themselves—and certainly their audience—on Humbug. After two exceptional, energized albums—Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (my #20 Album of 2006) and Favourite Worst Nightmare (my #16 Album of 2007)—it makes sense for them to mellow out and explore their weirder tendencies. This isn’t their most exciting collection of tunes, but it’s strong and strange enough to make you quite curious about what they’ll do next.
Grade: B

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Posted by: Dave on August 31, 2009 at 11:14 am

JackPenateEverything.jpgSound: Romantic, anthemic, danceable Brit pop that incorporates Afro-beat and Caribbean rhythms and soulful vocals. The music can feel grand, proper and sophisticated, while simultaneously capturing a raw, visceral energy.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Pull My Heart Away”; “Be The One”; “So Near”
Medium Rotation tracks: The rest
Recommended: Fans of The Cure’s bubbly, worldly, radio-friendly work will find plenty to like on the latest from Jack Peñate. At times, his moans and wails are almost too reminiscent of Robert Smith. But Jack stands head and shoulders above nearly all of the Cure imitators that have emerged this decade thanks to the bold eclecticism of his music, his exceptional vocal skills and his stellar pop songcraft. Everything is New showcases his latest, previously unreleased work, but it practically feels like a greatest hits.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)

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