Busta Rhymes, "The Big Bang" (Aftermath Records)
Goes well with booty-shakin' and keepin' it real.
Busta Rhymes may have cut off his signature dreads and ties to J Records, but his recognizable rhymes are fully intact and fierce on his first release since 2002. Teaming up with Dr. Dre has resulted in a pristinely produced disc that fuses thick beats, snaps, hi-hats and the occasional dash of old soul.
The legendary Stevie Wonder lays down a velvety chorus amid tinkling keys and dramatic strings on "Been Through the Storm," while Busta delivers the tale of a disillusioned American dream. The scorching single "Touch It" is one of several club-hoppers that warrant a shift to the dance floor. The Brooklyn native teams up Missy Elliot on "How We Do It Over Here" and with Kelis on "I Love My Bitch," dropping insane, booty-shakin' grooves.
The album's all-star roster also includes heavy-hitters Nas, Raekwon, will.i.a.m, Q-Tip and the late Rick James. There is no shortage of explicit lyrics, so the easily offended should be forewarned. But for the most part, the rawness is in context as Busta plays street-sage and keeps it real. These distinct tracks are indeed big, bangin' and worth the wait. **** Hilary Langford
Thom Yorke, "The Eraser" (XL Recordings)
Goes well with a C-SPAN congressional hearing with the sound turned off.
Radiohead is playing a few shows this summer to escape long stretches in the studio working on a new record. Meanwhile, lead singer Thom Yorke has released his low-key solo debut. Everyone knows by now that Yorke is a huge fan of meticulously textured electronics, and "The Eraser" indeed sounds like it was born of a computer's motherboard, all skittery digital beats and woozy, disorienting synths. Despite the approach, it's a very song-oriented album all tracks feature vocals and could conceivably be played by a guy sitting at a piano.
The opening title track, in fact, begins with the sound of acoustic keys, but is chopped and diced in a way that suggests nothing that follows will be quite as it seems. Most tracks hinge on how you feel about his familiar croon. The straight reading over the spacious guitar-and-drum machine in "Black Swan" is a tad dull, while his ethereal falsetto on "Atoms for Peace" is gorgeous. It's certainly not Yorke's most melodic batch of songs, but "The Eraser" effectively conjures a mood: the usual mix of dread, yearning and confusion. He hasn't made a Radiohead album, but it is an intriguing interlude. *** Mark Richardson
Robert Jospé and Inner Rhythm, "Heart Beat" (Random Chance)
Goes well with a lime slice in a tall glass with a paper umbrella.
Robert Jospé's new CD attempts to strike the nearly impossible balance between ambition and accessibility. It succeeds, but only after a cover of Mario Bauza's "Mambo Inn" so overpolished that it seems the Charlottesville drummer's warm, wood-and-skin sonorities are going to be lost in the gloss. Fortunately, the spirited solos keep the precision from becoming precious and the rest of the recording moves from strength to strength.
Everyone on the session has played extensively with everyone else. Pianist Bob Hallahan, soprano/tenor saxophonist Jeff Decker and percussionist Kevin Davis played on the three previous Inner Rhythm releases; bassists Randall Pharr and Elias Bailey are veterans of the local scene. The long collaboration is reflected in a high level of interplay.
After "Mambo," "Heart Beat" follows Jospé's proven recipe: evenly divided between originals that quickly sound familiar and standards drawn mostly from the classic Blue Note era. Heather Maxwell's two assured and unpredictable vocal contributions add even more multicultural flavor. But the central axis is Jospé's drumming, energetically commenting everywhere without ever getting in the way. *** Peter McElhinney
Peaches, "Impeach My Bush" (XL Recordings)
Goes well with bearded women, strip joints and riot grrrls.
Electro-punk diva Peaches (real name: Merrill Nisker) has made a career out of inverting sexual stereotypes with raunchy dance floor numbers and in-your-face head-bangers. The 39-year-old Berlin-based musician keeps it horny on this, her third album. While feminists may argue whether it's constructive, at least it's funky.
Obvious influences abound: from minimalist, blip-happy dance numbers indebted to Missy Elliott to snarling rockers that call to mind another strong female artist, PJ Harvey. Bass-bumpin' modern disco tracks are the clear winners here: the catchy, "Tent in Your Pants" ("The tent's so big in your pants, baby, gonna bring my friends for a dance, baby") and the Euro-trash "DownTown," which could be an outtake from Beck's "Midnite Vultures" (Beck cohort Mickey Petralia co-produced this album).
Perhaps the most outrageous track sure to send frat boys running from the dance floor is "Two Guys (For Every Girl)," wherein Peaches reverses the typical male fantasy and asks to see hetero guys make out ("I wanna see you do your little nasty brother") before getting graphic with a "marmalade" reference. While the rock tracks tend to gum up the works even with guest spots by Joan Jett on the raw "You Love It," Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and Feist thought-provoking dance numbers keep the album flowing. *** Brent Baldwin
The Knife, "Silent Shout" (Mute)
Goes well with black on black and your dancing shoes (black).
This album by a Swedish brother/sister duo was praised to the skies earlier this year in its import version, and now Mute brings it to North America at a domestic price. The group's MO is gothic dance music that retains its melodic poppiness even while veering off into club-friendly territory. One journalist coined the appropriate term "haunted house" (we love a snappy label) to describe a vibe that's dark and spooky while remaining sleek and accessible. And accessibility is key. While it has crisp dance beats throughout, Silent Shout works quite well as a home-listening album, with tracks that don't outstay their welcome (many are only three or four minutes long) and tunes that stick in your head. The heavily accented vocals can be a little strange, particularly on "Captain," when Karin Dreijer Andersson channels her inner Björk and slips into a caterwaul vaguely reminiscent of Chinese opera. But each of these moments has a polished counterpart like "Neverland," which is electro-pop as hypnotic as anything Depeche Mode or Yaz ever wrote. Highly recommended. **** M.R.
Jewel, "Goodbye Alice in Wonderland" (Atlantic/Wea)
Goes well with coffee shops, fed-up starlet, and "Chicken Soup for the Soul."
Erudite lyrics reunite with naked strings and intermittent slides and twangs on Jewel's first CD in three years. While the sixth disc by the folk songstress has a keen sense of observation and charm, it still fails to meet the standard set by her unparalleled "Pieces of You" debut. But it's a refreshing return to her singer-songwriter roots and a far cry from the pop-encrusted dance loops of her last album.
She damns stardom, craves normalcy and is clearly over the spotlight. Unfortunately, a majority of the 13 tracks are still muddied up by overproduction and studio polishing. Despite having pure vocals, Jewel's range never shines on a recording, and this disc is no exception. "Good Day" is plagued by annoyingly childish vocals that dole out self-help like an hour with Oprah and verge on Hallmark hokey. Longtime fans will be pleased to see that previously unreleased but widely circulated tracks like "Satellite" and "Fragile Heart" have made the cut (though they may wince at the song's revised incarnations). Jewel's exit from Wonderland is a journey of good intention, but she's not out of the rabbit hole just yet. *** H.L. S