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Rhymefest - El Che (Allido)
"I am not the Soulja Boy/ I'm the flamethrower, man," Che Smith announces at the start of the long-awaited El Che in the opening "Talk My Shit." Is he ever not; Soulja Boy did it himself, and Smith, a/k/a Rhymefest has been stuck uncomfortably riding other people's visions of him for the whole of his signed career. First he blazed with an ingeniously witty (and expensive) debut that nobody bought despite hands-on grooming from Mark Ronson and Kanye West. Too conscious, funny and level-headed to fake a hard attitude, he still shone on inventive, catchy (and expensive) beats that probably weren't his métier.
But banished to the indies after three years of recording limbo and ambitious side ventures (panel discussion at SXSW, meeting with Parliamentary leaders) he flounders. "I ain't shit/ My name's constipate" and "Che's in Israel/Che is real" aren't wordplay up to the standard of "I should be lynched I'm so high-strung" and "Why you giving me head like shampoo?" Kanye's new single "Power" stole a beat back at the last minute, and the music here isn't exactly Just Blaze-level. So the best El Che has to offer, besides the bombastic "Give It to Me" is a tender, Hendrixian ballad called "Chocolates." Maybe he should hook up with fellow Chicagoan softie Common next time.
The Chemical Brothers - Further (Freestyle Dust)
Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons are in that brave-awkward Jay-Z position for techno-few have lasted as long at the head of genre, so they attain the right to shape how the genre grows up. Their brave-awkward attempts to reclaim the old glory were more winning than American Gangster: 2005's "Galvanize" with Q-Tip took their best-ever riff, a bouquet of inward-folding Eastern strings, to the ends of the Earth. But now they're trying to try to grow up. The "mature music" here mostly means classic synths and no guests-all vocals are in-house(!)-and trying to work up more of a sparkling raver-and-comedown than a breakbeat party. Highlights include the chillwaved soul of "Another World" and the M83-like opener "Snow." How often you revisit the nearly 12-minute traditional Detroit techno of "Escape Velocity" depends on how you feel about Detroit techno. The more rock 'n roll rest of us have the spiraling squelch of "Horse Power" and the lovely "Swoon," which peels like classic My Bloody Valentine.
Hot Hot Heat - Future Breeds (Dine Alone)
Hot Hot Heat was an anxious pop band who somehow got saddled with some other genre's burden; people were especially harsh to their major-label albums, Elevator (quite great) and Happiness Ltd. (plop). Now DIY, they undo history and make their first un-pop record since keyboardist Steve Bays took over the mic from an ill fit of a no-wave screamer. Through new abstractions like bleeding-over production and fancy time-signatures the choruses are still spirited. Distorted riffs that aren't quite synth or guitar dominate-"21@12" begins with an imitated siren, and what's that odd squealing solo that splits "YVR"? The proggy interjections are more The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified than Rush though, and while hooks aren't absent they're more fuzzed-over and hiccuppy than ever. If there was ever a band that sounded most at home tripping over themselves.
Devo - Something for Everybody (Warner Bros.)
Robotics with a budget have more fun than droning indies. Just take Devo's first album in twenty years, which brings to mind the Hives and Andrew W.K.-if they were produced by Robert John "Mutt" Lange. Sure the postmodern sheen gives it that LCD Soundsystem touch; Santigold of all people worked on two tracks. But their confusion and satirical cynicism is timelier than ever-the "don't tase me, bro" outro bites "Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)" on the ass because it turns a police-state fantasy into a real happening. Even more allegorical was the decision to let fans stream tracks and vote on what made the record-and then to ignore the poll results entirely and use the band's own tracklist. But on this supposedly Classic-Coke Devo record their bent vocals (chorus of "Sumthin'" bends Mark Mothersbaugh into an oddly frightening minor key lift you'll want to hear again immediately after), surprising hooks (dig the "Runaround Sue" rockabilly harmonies in "Please Baby Please") and the Classic-Coke "Mind Games" bring the pleasure to the fantasy, even if it is a nightmare one.
Laurie Anderson - Homeland (Nonesuch)
The rest is classic Laurie if a bit too sung, with desolate vocoder and violin poking up from her musical deserts and tundras to score Phillip Larkin poems, states of the union and meditations on why we reach for the stars even though "we can't burn them or melt them." But song-of-the-year contender "Only an Expert" sticks up from the muted displacement like a knife. With husband Lou Reed on Frippertronic-style feedback guitar and Four Tet on malleable electronics, Anderson takes on the voice and suit of a male authority addressing his boardroom on the cost-benefit analysis of our overpaid so-called "experts." Over a squirming house beat she rattles off on everything from the bailout to war criminals to uh, James Frey on Oprah. It's horrifying, mesmerizing and catchier than "Cruella Deville," which it sort of sounds like. Cartoon villainy is what frisks up the artfolk these days.
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.
See other articles by Dan Weiss.
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