erasing clouds

20 Reviews of Music

by Dave Heaton, Anna Battista

Airport 5, "Total Exposure" 7", "Stifled Man Casino 7" (Recordhead/Rockathon)

There's a fair amount of Guided by Voices fans who have spent ample time over the last 5 years complaining about the death of the so-called classic lineup of the band, the one including Mitch Mitchell, Kevin Fennell and Tobin Sprout. While those fans should have been happy with the four fantastic pop-rock albums Sprout has released on his own (the most recent with his new band Eyesinweasel), some of them might not be completely happy until Sprout returns to GBV. While that isn't ever going to happen, all GBV fans should be anticipating the August release of Airport 5's debut album Tower in the Fountain of Sparks with bated breath, as Airport 5 is the name given to recent collaborations between Sprout and GBV captain Robert Pollard. The recordings are in the vein of GBV's cult classic Tonics and Twisted Chasers in terms of process--Sprout did all of the music himself, and then sent it to Pollard for the vocals and melodies. It's an interesting process, one that weds the more melodic pop sound Sprout works in with Pollard's lyrical and vocal talents. To give fans a taste of Airport 5's sound, they've released two 7" singles, each featuring one track from the upcoming full-length on the A-side and two non-album tracks on the B. The first of the two 7"s indicates that Airport 5's music is less like GBV's recent forays into full-on arena rock and more like pretty little pop tunes. "Total Exposure," the A-side, is an absolutely gorgeous ballad which has a sad overtone (a la GBV's Isolation Drills) and poetic images, with a chorus about listening to children play as the day gives way to night. A truly stunning track, it ups my expectations for the full-length even more. If the rest of the album is like this, it's going to be something special. The B-sides here are less overwhelming but still intriguing. Musically more in the style of Tonics, "Cold War Water Sports" and the shorter "The Wheel Hits the Path (Quite Soon)" showcase both Pollard's talent at using random words and phrases for poetic effect and his old habit of throwing a melody at you and then taking it away just as quickly. The second Airport 5 single kicks off with a super-catchy rock/pop number called "Stifled Man Casino." As soaked in hooks and melodies as any of the best GBV power-pop songs, "Stifled Man Casino" has both that great classic Tobin Sprout guitar sound and Pollard's unique style of lyric-writing. The lyrics make little literal sense overall ("Stifled man casino in a bed of bland facts/wake up for recovery"), but manage to give a sense of the life of a troubled soul, lost in a daze produced by loneliness ("You can feel all the dust in the window/you can feel all the lust in your mind/but you can't have what you want"). The B-sides here aren't as interesting as those on the "Total Exposure" single. "Peroxide" is a quick bit that doesn't make a strong first impression, while "Eskimo Clockwork" is an equally quick minimal instrumental. Still overall these two singles help produce high hopes for upcoming Airport 5 albums---besides the album due out in August, they reportedly have a 2nd Airport 5 album entirely finished. --dave heaton

Alejandra & Aeron v. QT?, split 12" (Fat Cat)

The first side of this split 12" pulls you into the middle of a kitchen, but not your ordinary one. Alejandra & Aeron use field recordings, but process them enough to give everything a sense of the surreal. Waves of near-silence lead into building static, then into the comforting sounds of home, where someone's doing dishes and listening to women singing on the radio. But then these sounds--the faucet, hands at work, etc.--are continually interrupted by loud buzzes and an ever-moving wall of eerie sound. The juxtaposition of drilling and whirring with someone gracefully at work in the kitchen leaves the listener in a bizarre state; the sounds are sort of familiar, but something's not quite right. Everything feels eerie and off-kilter. The flip side is bound to throw you even further off your center. Here QT? orchestrates a symphony of uncomfortable electric sounds. Loud blips, bleets and harsh noises come in and out rapidly, moving from one speaker to the other and back, emerging then disappearing then coming back twice as loud. It's like the merging of the emergency broadcast signal test sound with radio static and kitchen appliance screams. It's attention-getting but not quite harmless. It's extreme noise, but it's interesting noise, at least.--dave heaton

Astrid, Play Dead (Fantastic Plastic)

The four boys from the Isle of Lewis are back with their follow-up to the Edwyn Collins-produced Strange Weather Lately. Recorded in Glasgow, this album witnesses that their imprint, that is their glee and jingle jangle wee songs, hasn't left them, but part of their magic has sort of gone. With a little help from the usual random members of Belle & Sebastian and this time also of The Amphetamines, the album, which shows the affection the band has for Teenage Fanclub, contains the first single "Modes of Transport" which already didn't manage to retain the splendour contained in their first single, "No Reason", released in 1998, the Blues Brothers-like "Crying Boy", and the title track "Play Dead". Astrid are feeling fine, strumming their guitars and singing of sinking ships, a leit motif of the whole album as also the album booklet shows. In Play Dead an attempt at being more rockish, "Fat Girl", alternates with an inconsistent lullaby, "Paper", showing that Astrid's old antidote to stress and sadness seems to have gone for a more bland sound. "Catch a boat, catch a train", William Campbell sings in "Modes of Transport". Hope they don't sink or derail, we might add. ( battista

The Avalanches, Since I Left You ( Modular/XL recordings)

I mean, what's up with Aussie people? Can't they do a normal album? Like experimental San Franciscan band Negativland, The Avalanches, six guys from Melbourne with an intimidating record collection or a second hand vinyl shop shock, have created in their album a mish-mash of sounds and samples. Darren Seltmann and Robbie Chater must have been really bored or in a creative stint when they decided to squash out of the records they owned the most spicy and juicy sounds and to remould them back into a joyful Frankenstein monster which, to tell you the truth, doesn't even show the signs of the scars and stitches which keep it together. Believe it or no, two years ago, in 1999, The Avalanches built a record, Gimix, entirely made from other records, a prototype of this final album. Gimix was then chopped into Since I Left You on which some sample were erased to obtain the license of all the stuff The Avalanches had mercilessly stolen. And fame suddenly knocked on their door: bands started asking them to remix their own stuff (even the Manic Street Preachers), and The Avalanches secured a contract with XL Recordings, home to Basement Jaxx, Badly Drawn Boy and The Prodigy, not bad at all. Tasty little tracks are the result of a record that is choke full of samples (a thousand, more or less) and joie de vivre, as can be heard on tracks such as the horses whining "Since I Met You", the party track "Stay Another Season", the brilliant "Flight Tonight" or the best track "Frontier Psychiatrist" with freaky cut-and-paste lyrics. Sons of the sample da sample era, The Avalanches have disguised so well tracks from Madonna, Kid Creole and The Coconuts and the average exotica records they found lying around that it's almost impossible to spot them all. And if you don't like it you can always use Since I Left You as a spot-the-sample game. Wow, Brion Gysin would have been proud of them. --anna battista

Bardo Pond, Dilate (Matador Records)

Eighth album for a darkish and American version of Mogwai, Bardo Pond, that in 1999 scared us all with their album Set and Setting. Be happy to know that as soon as you put this on your stereo you feel relieved since the first track, "Two Planes," has no psychotic chords and tryptamine-based nonsense. Actually by listening to the first track you start thinking that they have gone more refined and less rarefied and that they're on the path for the Mogwai truth, ready to make you less paranoid like a bad trip. But then something happens and from "Sunrise" on, Bardo Pond relapse into their obscure guitary soundscapes of despair and hallucinations. So, please call your personal therapist and then dive into Isobel Sollenberger laments and let yourself go while listening to the Oriental tasting "Swig" and the brainstorming 'Ganges'. "You're a candy coated pill/I want to take you/such a special treat/you make me feel", Isobel mumbles in "Lb.", while you can't do without wondering what she took to make her sound like the voice of Medusa in a 3-D hallucination. The night is still pitch black for Bardo Pond and perhaps it's better this way. ( battista

The Beach Machine, Companion (self-released)

The Orlando duo The Beach Machine's debut album is an enigmatic new rock puzzle, a lengthy collection of intriguing and evasive creations. The first 50 or so minutes of Companion are filled with noisy, schizophrenic pop/rock. Guitars, keyboards and purposely twisted vocals come together in a wild, all-over-the-place manner. There's melodies, but they've been messed with so they don't hit you right in the face. In essence, everything sounds messed up. It isn't a mess in a negative sense, but everything's busy; sounds are falling over each other in an unsettling but attention-keeping way. The lyrics are there but hard to hear, put that way so listeners have to be active. Vocals are nearly always in echo, or submerged under power chords. You have to do some work to really understand. This first section of the album has a dark mood--the music is a mix of disturbed indie-rock and morose blues. Then everything changes. A track or so before the hour mark, the music first becomes a more relaxed form of pop, and then abruptly switches into a funky electro dance track, almost like house music but with more diversionary drum breaks and bass solos. It isn't just a stylistic change for the sake of diversity, because they sound at least as adept at this kind of music as with the earlier rock. No, there's a purpose here. It's a break into freedom, an upbeat opening up into new sounds and colors. Or as the beginning of one track puts it, right before an especially dynamic bass intro, "It's a turning on of the body to the body and to what's out there." The album proceeds with a few weird but mellow pop songs and some guitar jamming, but by the end the mood is different than before. More positive? Perhaps, but it's hard to tell whether the break into dance music signifies someone releasing their demons or letting them take over. Either way, there's something unique going on here, and it reveals itself more with each passing second. --dave heaton

Belle and Sebastian, Sing…Jonathan David (Jeepster/Matador)

Belle and Sebastian are back, with a new three-song EP and promises of both another EP and a more comprehensive touring schedule by the fall. The current EP, Belle and Sebastian Sing…Jonathan David kicks off with a song called "Jonathan David," a jaunty, very Zombies-ish pop song that's essentially a portrayal of unrequited love and homosocial bonding, using a less-than widely known tale from the Bible as its basis. As explained in the liner notes, it's about Jonathan, the best friend of King David (of David and Goliath fame), and how he feels about David's impending wedding. The front cover art depicts the love triangle, with Jonathan bearing a striking resemblance to Axle Rose. The rest of the EP is filled by two equally fine pop songs. The first, "Take Your Carriage Clock and Shove It," is a gorgeous, melancholy song that uses strings and pedal steel guitar to great effect, supporting Stuart Murdoch singing the tale of a man rebelling in vain against the corporate power structure after uses of being a cog in the system. The last track, "The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner," might be familiar to fans who had the chance to either see them in concert or hear concert bootlegs from the last few years. Classic B&S pop material, it shows off Murdoch's voice wondrously. Any Belle and Sebastian fan should know by now that their EPs are as essential as their albums (with the possible exception of last year's oddball Legal Man EP). Some of their most moving and rewarding songs are found on EPs, and this one is no exception. --dave heaton

Bollywood Breaks (Outcaste)

Look, a gangster has just kidnapped the fair maiden of your heart! Quick! Presto! Run after him! Save the lady and get the villain! Erm, sorry I'm getting too much into this Bollywood stuff, but that's Outcaste's fault. For those of you who don't know, Bollywood is the movie mecca of Bombay where you can heard the soundtracks collected in this sampler put together by Outcaste DJs. Clever guys these Outcaste mates who used to remix into their own set Bollywood's soundtracks and later decided to put them on a proper album to delight you and your decks. So just put on your decks "Cosmic Flute" the opening track of this funk fuelled mantra like compilation which between the exotic harps and tambourines of tracks such as "Tonight My Love" even hides a Spaghetti western in "Temptation" and "Lover's Paradise", in particular the latter might even be the original track from where the Chemical Brothers rebuilt their "Hey Boy Hey Girl" superhit. Movie industry's never been this jazzy, funky and cool. Get down to Bollywood, you won't repent. --anna battista

Bows, Cassady (Too Pure Records)

Hands up those of you who don't hate pluri-talented people who can sing, play, write lyrics and even novels and are gifted by other random blessings. This is the case with Luke Sutherland. No, his previous band Long Fin Killie wasn't enough, so he founded Bows and released in 1999 a first album, Blush, apart from writing a novel. With this second album Sutherland is not far away from the dreamy though nightmarish atmospheres he enchanted his first album with. Danish singer and member of Speaker Bite Me Signe Høirup Wille-Jørgensen appears once again on this album, in particular on the dreamy "Luftsang", on the evoking "Hey Vegas" and on "Sun Electric", though the best track is the funky "B Boy Blunt" and "DJ" sparkles with tales of summer storms in Benidorm. Shame the album doesn't contain Bows' single, "Pink Puppet", remixed by Mike Paradinas and Gonzales among others, which is nothing more than a brilliantly scary story written by Sutherland of course, about a pair of boots and a weirdo the protagonist meets on the tube. Sutherland is the only man who can write something like "I'd been on my way home from work, saw a billboard in a Gucci window. Michelangelo-style Jon Bon Jovi-lookalike all hammed up like a homeboy. Fluffed, puffa'd pretty much pukka but what stuck in my throat was his footwear." Blessed by a hint at drum 'n bass here in "Man Fat" and some gloomy whispers exhaled with a little voice there, such as in "Uniroyal", this album, in which random members of Mano Poderosa, Billy Mahonie and Snowpony also feature, doesn't contain any great epic moment, but still manages to be above the average. Sutherland's melodies are infused with soft velvety voices and eerie murmurs, often annihilated in virtue of the holy ecstasy of sounds. Sensuous, sinuous and subtle Bows' work is a long languid lament also oozing trip hop here and there. Pukka. --anna battista

Bright Eyes, "Motion Sickness" 7" (Blood of the Young)

The cover of Bright Eye's "Motion Sickness" 7" shows rows of snapshots taken during the countless tours the band has no doubt undertaken, and the two songs contained inside are similar: snapshot-style personal observations from a traveling troubadour's point of view. Connor Oberst's folk-ish pop songs always pierce deep into the human psyche, and these two are no different. The first, the title track, is a lonely, "no one knows the real me" type song, with steel guitar and a deep sense of aching. "I want to get myself attached to something bolted down/so these winds of circumstance won't keep blowing me around," Oberst sings in a voice as sincerely emotional as any you'll find. The flip side, the gentle "Soon You Will Be Leaving Your Man," finds the traveling musician peering into the life of a person he encounters, analyzing her behavior and singing about what he sees in it. Both songs do what Bright Eyes does best: they take feelings and experiences and channel them into songs that get at universal human emotions in a raw, honest way.--dave heaton

John Brodeur, Tiger Pop: Songs by John Brodeur (self-released)

The opening noise on Albany, New York musician John Brodeur's album Tiger Pop is radio signals, someone flipping channels, followed by "Infected," a love song with a darker edge that is very much in line with "oldies" radio history, with 50's and 60's pop. The radio signals are pertinent not just because of the song's apparent ancestry, but because this song, and Brodeur's pop songs in general, are straightforward and catchy enough that they'd suit the radio format well…that is, if radio today didn't suck. Over 11 tracks, Brodeur switches styles from dirty rock to pretty ballads, but he's always perfectly within the historical frame of "pop/rock that everybody likes," from the Brill Building to the Beatles to the better "alternarock" of today. Each song reveals Brodeur as a talented songwriter, whether it's a weird funky pop tune like "Confidentiality" or an edgier ballad (with an allusion to VU's "Pale Blue Eyes") like "Easier." He's also quite proficient at guitar (check the solo on "Dying for me") and manages to turn an interesting phrase or two on most songs. With a lyrical perspective that crosses bitterness and romanticism, and an ear for tuneful melodies, Tiger Pop (despite its redundant secondary title "Songs by John Brodeur") is well worth your time. --dave heaton

Captain Soul, Beat Your Crazy Head Against the Sky (Poptones)

You know what they say about music journalists? That they are frustrated musicians. This might be the case with Adam Howorth who was a music journo before forming Captain Soul. Beat Your Crazy Head Against The Sky, Captain Soul's first album, contains some happy intuitions such as "T-shirt 69", "Coming Up for Air" or "Something To Believe In", but the rest of the tracks are just an attempt at being new, rock and hip. Unfortunately this attempt ends up in sounding '60s and recycled. All in all, it's not an unnerving album, but its happy and joyous melodies are not new at all and instead of turning into anthems, they are "Fragile As A Butterfly", to quote one of Captain Soul's titles. .Rejoice, if Howorth will ever decide to quit his band, he's already got his music journo job waiting for him.( battista

Tim Chaplin, The 22nd Floor (Best Kept Secret)

The 22nd Floor, a cassette release from UK rocker Tim Chaplin, is a case study in the effect the recording style can have on the songs. Chaplin writes and performs catchy, relatively straightforward rock/pop songs, with sweet melodies and lyrics from an authentically personal perspective. Guitar and synthesizer are the dominant instruments, but there's a third element that plays an equal importance, the way in which the songs were recorded. This is a "lo-fi" recording if I've ever heard one, but more than that, it's a recording with a uniquely uneven mix of sound. At this point in time, as far as I'm concerned, sound quality doesn't matter that much; a song recorded at home on a boombox can be as emotionally affecting as if it were recorded in a big studio. But here there's an unusual inequality concerning what sounds have which place in the mix. At times the vocals are exceptionally low in the mix, at other times certain instruments are particularly high in the mix, and most of the time this dynamic seems to be changing during the song. The ever-changing mix isn't a bad thing, necessarily, just something that listeners can't help but be aware of. On certain songs, it adds an interesting complexity to the track. For example, on the last track "Back 2 U," a quick, good-time love song, the presence of vocals at several levels and the not-entirely-clean mix of harmonica and synthesizers help give the song more texture. It works also on some of the slower, moodier tracks, like "See You on the Other Side." But there's other places where you have to work so hard to hear the song that it's almost headache-inducing, a quality you don't want for a touching ballad or a melodic power-rocker. Underneath the odd mix of sound, there's some great pop songs. Some of his mellower piano/guitar ballads are especially moving, like "What do I do?" and "Not what I was." You just have to pay a lot of attention to really grasp them--and even that, get used to the fact that an electric guitar might burst out of nowhere and suddenly take over a song. --dave heaton

Cheese, Let It Brie (Pink Hedgehog Records)

Cheese seems like an apt name for a band with such flagrantly sugary hooks and the gall to release an album called Let It Brie. But don't write them off as lightweight; Cheese are the real thing. Their music is guitar-driven power-pop with melodies galore. Let It Brie, a compilation of songs released during the band's original lifespan of 1994 to 1997, is filled with hooks, harmonies and fantastic songs. Kicking off with "Popular Music," a catchy take on the force of pop music with a sarcastic/critical bite, the album then proceeds through 13 other pop/rock numbers and ballads. There's "Late," a slow, sweet melodic number; "Big Hit," which is reminiscent of XTC with more power chords; the snappy "It's Alright, You'll Be Dead Soon" and much more. These are lively pop-rock songs but they also have a take on the world that's both humorous and honest. They're fun songs, but they're also about life and feeling lost in it, about the world and making sense of it, about relationships and getting them right. "We're all experiments god hasn't finished with yet," lead singer Alan Strawbridge sings on "Meaningful Meaningless." That's the attitude lurking throughout: we're not complete, we're not perfect, but hey, things are pretty much alright. It won't hurt your life any to fill your head with songs as tuneful as Cheese's, either; this is good stuff. --dave heaton

The Complete Death of Cool (Leaf)

The self-proclaimed "Stupidest Recording Organization in the World," the Noodles Foundation, the brainchild of Si Begg, has a ramshackle, nothing's sacred attitude to the world that makes it music hilarious, exciting and beyond-diverse. The Complete Death of Cool, the title of which, like everything they do, is a sly subversion of an already existent cultural artifact (in this case, Miles Davis' The Birth of Cool), collects tracks from two vinyl-only compilations. There's 38 tracks here, by mysterious artists with names like The Buttmasters and Cabbage Head. When the veils are taken off, as on the Noodles web site, you'll see some familiar names among the participants (the most famous being Mouse on Mars), but the pseudonyms help add to the wild mystery of this whole thing. Beginning with a track which splices up electronic whirrings, goofy announcer voices, rock star voices, manic beats, cheesy 70's organ music and all sorts of other voices and sounds in under two minutes, The Complete Death of Cool flies all over every map, written or unwritten, before you even know what you're listening to. Throughout there's beats, rhythms and melodies of all sorts, plus a mad collection of samples, some given in straight form and some reworked for effect (like a clip of JFK saying "Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what your country can do for you!"). It's a circus of sound from start to finish, a trip, for sure. But it's also a completely full page, an album packed with more furiously delivered sounds, ideas, jokes and surprises than you can imagine. Dissecting it all would take up volumes of books that no one would read, so don't think too hard, just let them take you on a ride.--dave heaton

The Echo Orbiter, Laughing All the While! (The Looking Glass Workshop)

The Echo Orbiter's second album, Laughing All the While! seems to be a concept album, telling a story…but for me the story's more of an abstraction, touching on certain themes and feelings, than a straightforward plot with characters and dramatic events. The 12 tracks flow together as a piece, and together have the feel of a journey into someone's mind, a glimpse at both the fantastic creativity and the feelings of absolute confusion and aloneness that exist inside. Laughing All the While! is also a hell of a fine pop-rock album, filled with lovely songs that veer from brash, energetic rock to dreamy psychedelic pop and cover plenty of nice places between. The musical feel is vaguely 60's, but it evokes that decade more through the fine Beatles/Beach Boy-ish melodies and harmonies, and through a general mood of creative freedom of the type that seemed more dominant in pop culture during that decade than the ones directly before or after it, than through any sort of "aren't we being retro" self-consciousness. Lyrically Laughing All the While! is sort of an adventure story, a journey through different places and feelings. Yet it also traverses all sorts of wonderful musical terrain, from the fairytale-like laidback dream "Song of the Missing Forest" to the sunny power-pop of "Melody to Accompany a Stroll through a Park," from the psych-ish pop-rock album opener "Aqua's Own Pocketwatchj Odyssey" to the truly psychedelic, trippy lullaby "Blue Stew, Oh the Witches' Brew." Laughing All the While! is a wondrous, melody-packed celebration of unfettered creativity.--dave heaton

Eltro, Velodrome (Absolutely Kosher)

With a swirl of guitar, quietly sweet vocals and playful electronics, Eltro create unique, danceable poetry on their second album Velodrome, an echoing soundtrack for dreaming and waking. From the album's beginning to its end, Eltro manage to cast a spell on listeners through a blend of past and future sounds. They have the electronic-ish sense of style prevalent amongst today's popsters (Stereolab, Air, Beck) but also the minimalist, almost detached artfulness of 70's post-punk bands (like Wire, Gang of Four, the Raincoats). Their sound is at once comfortable and new. Songs like "Say It" and "Three Gorges, Damn" get you moving with a sort of choppy synth-funk, while "Come to Me in Silence" and "Center" create a trance through a mellow winding down. They combine mysterious and at times fantasy-based lyrics with an in-the-present musical liveliness to generate a unique emotional effect--their music brings forth real feelings while remaining relatively oblique. An affair both artful and fun, Velodrome is the perfect backdrop both for lazy Sunday afternoons and hopping late-night parties. --dave heaton

Gnac, Biscuit Barrel Fashion (Poptones)

Italo Calvino's book Marcovaldo includes twenty tales of ordinary changes in the seasons and in the life of the working class hero Marcovaldo. Funny and tragicomic, Marcovaldo goes around the industrial town where he lives with his family, a town choked by the grey factories and by a capitalistic life that ends up in drawing a marked line between the different social classes and ways of life. And yet Marcovaldo searches for a true and natural life in his own tragicomic despair. Now, what has this got to do with an album review? A lot if the album reviewed is Gnac's: apart from taking its name from a story in Marcovaldo, Gnac, or if you prefer, Mark Tranmer, has in fact built in his album not twenty tales, but fifteen tracks and it would be diminutive to say that they would be only the perfect soundtrack for Calvino's tales, because they would be perfect for any Italian movie of the neo-realism era. The opening track, "Annonay", is a good example of Gnac's skills and so is "Biscuit Barrell Fashion" or "Superintendent Battle Arrives" which evoke, at least in my mind, Sicilian landscapes, or Marcello Mastroianni's semi-desperate eyes. Simplicity characterises "The Neen Scene" whereas "Eighteenth Century Quiz Show" is a third millennium minuet that turns into a lullaby and "The Gardens of Brown and Le Nôtre" almost rises to orchestral proportions. Gnac's tracks are short poems diluted in an avalanche of melancholy, but still sparkling with joy. Like Calvino's hero Marcovaldo, Gnac is looking for beauty in our everyday life and he seems to have found it and put it in music for us in his album. ( battista

Hi-Tek, Hi-teknology (Rawkus)

Albums featuring well-known hip-hop DJs are usually more about the guest MCs than what the DJ can do. Hi-Tek's debut (after fantastic work with Mos Def and Talib Kweli, separate and together) is filled with appearances by hot hip-hop and R&B stars and newcomers, but it's as much about Hi-Tek's skills at creating soul-based grooves as anything else. Musically it isn't at all divergent from his work on others' albums in the past, yet it helps to further his deserved reputation as one of hip-hop's fastest-growing talents. He has a knack not only at delivering slamming beats, but at slipping them on quietly, in a way that is both drawing you to the featured MC and taking over your brain and body in its own way. Hi-teknology showcases his talents but also feels like a true collaborative effort, with contributions from a small squad of the brightest artists in hip-hop, plus some outstanding performers whose names aren't as well-known. Even if Hi-Tek's tracks are more than just stages for artists to use, there's still a superb batch of MCs here doing their thing in a major way. The stand-out tracks here let the musicians take elements of their sound that aren't given enough attention and push them to the forefront; Common plays up his philosophical, meditative side on "The Sun God," while Mos Def's duet with Vinia Mojica (who also appears on "The Sun God" and whose name is an instant stamp of approval for an album, given her fabulous work with De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, etc.) matches his soulful side to hers for a sultry little dance number. There's also a strong appearance by Buckshot, formerly of Black Moon, an MC whose hardcore style might on the surface seem to be at odds with the company Hi-Tek keeps), and great tracks with Slum Village, Talib Kweli and a handful of lesser-known talents like MOOD (the crew Hi-Tek got his start with) and Jinx Da Juvy, all of whom hold their own with the celebrities. Hi-teknology is a rich, soulful treat, one that furthers his reputation as one of the top DJs in hip-hop today, while helping show off the talents of his friends too. --dave heaton

HiM, New Features (Bubblecore)

Not being fortunate to live in a city that attracts the cream of the crop as far as live music goes, I often rely on the words of others to get a sense of band's live performance. Based on the HiM music I'd heard in the past, I was a bit surprised to hear that live they filled the house with energy and propelled people to dance the night away. From the first track on New Features, HiM's first album to feature the 7-member band that HiM mastermind Doug Sharin has been touring with, I understood completely. HiM as featured here is a sort of mini-orchestra that crosses the lines between jazz as mainstream America knows it, the more avant garde movements in jazz, and various musics from the rest of the world that use jazz elements in a more celebratory manner. And put it all together, it has a truly funky side that should move listeners to dancing as much as the best James Brown tracks, though musically they have little in common. Him utilizes guitar, drums, trumpet, saxophone and I'm not sure what else to set down an upbeat, tuneful groove and ride it. Musical touchpoints definitely include Fela Kuti's energetic jams and Miles Davis-ish more abstract periods, but there's moments where other styles arise (like one section which blends a reggae feel with a Hendrix-style guitar turn),--plus, the thing has such a fresh, lively feel that it's hard to concern yourself with analyzing influences for long. There's six tracks on New Features, yet it pretty much feels like one long jam. HiM have a free sound, but a unified one; it feels improvised, and at times definitely was, but in the spirit of collective exploration, not players going off in their own directions. That fact is part of what makes it such danceable party music. While there's all sorts of wild solos, including some great sax, guitar and percussion solos, the overall feel is that of a group of musicians getting into a creative groove and using it to wander into all sorts of exciting places. --dave heaton

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