Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo V„nsk„, "Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6" (BIS)
The ongoing, widely praised cycle of Beethoven symphony recordings by the Minnesota Orchestra and its Finnish music director, Osmo V„nsk„, arrives at a pivotal point with this disc of the First, Beethoven's clearest echo of the abstract, symmetrical classicism of Mozart and Haydn, and the Sixth ("Pastoral"), which anticipates the tonal paintings of scene and mood produced by later romantic composers.
V„nsk„ tilts to the classical side of Beethoven interpretation, favoring crisp articulation, sharp accents and unwavering momentum -- an approach that suits the First Symphony just fine. But what about the Sixth music that invites the listener to loll in lush meadows, savor scents and breezes, and do a bit of bird-watching? Demanding, along the way, more care in instrumental balance and voicing than any other Beethoven symphony?
This "Pastoral" is a brisk but keenly observant stroll through the countryside, rhythmically precise without turning tick-tock metrical, technically almost flawless in performance. Sound is warm and spacious; the super audio digital recording enhances the intimacy of solos and underscores the ferocity of the fourth-movement thunderstorm, which on a high-end sound system may make you duck and cover.
This set narrowly trails a previous pairing of the Third ("Eroica") and Eighth symphonies on the must-have scale. The Fourth and Fifth are desirable but not standouts, except in sound quality. Skip the Ninth: Clipped note values and finicky diction make the choral "Ode to Joy" sound like Gilbert and Sullivan in German. Still to come from Osmo & the Minnesotans: the Second and Seventh symphonies. Clarke Bustard
Pylon, "Gyrate Plus" (DFA)
In the '80s heyday of alternative college radio, a number of Southern bands emerged that deserved more attention years later. Originally released in 1980, this spiky debut from Athens pogo rockers Pylon is a lost gem now finding reissue by DFA, the independent label that LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy co-founded.
Resembling a cross between Gang of Four and the B-52's, the four-piece of former University of Georgia art students (who took their name from Faulkner) is led by deadpan vocalist Vanessa Briscoe Hay, who shouts and barks over bouncy bass lines, angular guitar and a powerfully strident backbeat, an altogether driving, garage-dance sound that prompted R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry to admit they were better rockers than his fast-rising band the "other" big Athens group at the time.
One of the more aptly named debuts, "Gyrate" is filled with pulsating, rhythmic numbers sure to work in noisy clubs, whether or not one can understand the humorous vocals. Gritty, minimalist dance punk songs such as "Human Body" and "Stop It" (featuring the classic refrain: "Hey kids! Don't rock 'n' roll now!") still sound fresh. The legendary club band had a knack for taking rudimentary musicianship and gelling into a haphazard groove, while Briscoe seduced the listener with simple chants and ecstatic calls to dance. This definitive CD also includes the seven-inch single, "Dub," the 10-inch EP "Pylon" and a sloppy, unreleased track from 1979, "Functionality." Brent Baldwin
Scarface, "MADE" (Rap-A-Lot Records)
When Scarface was asked over a live radio broadcast whether T.I., the now irrelevant Lil' Flip, or Scarface himself should be considered the "King of South," the legendary rapper bowed out of controversy, claiming he was "too old" to be bothered with such titles. Nevertheless, Scarface's "MADE" reminds us there is something to be said of those who toil in the shadows. With this first studio album in five years, Scarface does a respectable job maintaining the ashy-knuckled, bloodshot-eyed intensity that made him hard to shake with the Geto Boys.
The storytelling still chills to the bone on the moving "The Suicide Note" and social commentaries such as "Who Do You Believe In?" which considers the masters we serve. "Girl You Know" bumps with a head-nodding loop from Lenny Williams' "'Cause I Love You," the beat drawing you in as Scarface runs through the downsides of relationships with ruthless candor and nicotine-seasoned vocals. "Go" is more of the same, coupled with a sympathetic chorus by singer Nina, one of the few artists Scarface works with on the album. "Never" appeases Scarface enthusiasts with a manifesto on his life and philosophy, but for those who have heard such tales from other rappers, "MADE" runs the risk of fading into the background. This album is vital for Scarface connoisseurs, but his last solo album, "The Fix," may be a better cop for those newly in the know. William Ashanti Hobbs