Wu-Chronicles Chapter II
The Wu keep fans sated till the next with an album's worth of remixes, guest stars, and B-sides.
In hip-hop, it seems, there's no such thing as too many cooks. Staten Island's most famous export is already nine members strong, but they still decide to get by with a little help from their friends on Wu-Chronicles Chapter II, inviting the likes of Gang Starr, DJ Spooky, and D'Angelo to ride the Wu train. The result is no 36 Chambers, but it's not trying to be; they've augmented six new tracks with a tight, cohesive collection of collaborations, B-sides, remixes, and songs by their "prot駩s." The spare, menacing beats and Ginsu-sharp lyricism are still there, but members share the mike or step aside entirely with grace. What could have been an overpopulated mess is instead a solid showcase for their guests, and the Wu know how to host a party. Gang Starr's hypnotic "Above the Clouds," featuring Inspectah Deck, sets a high bar on the first track, and most of the record meets the challenge. Even the normally way-over-the-top Jon Spencer Blues Explosion rein it in for the brooding, bass-heavy "Greyhound Pt. 2" with Killah Priest and achieve the impressive status of being perhaps the only white guys to ever share the studio with the Wu. D'Angelo is always and ever himself on "Left and Right," turning out a buttery slow jam even Method Man and Redman can't toughen up, though they give the track faint echoes of a harder sound. None of the group's prot駩s threaten to overtake their mentors just yet, but if the Black Knights' "Only 4 My Niggas" isn't a single with a hook like that, something's criminal. Not exactly blueprints for a new world order, but tasty headphone fodder all the same. Leah Greenblatt
Mine and Yours
A potential pop star for a nation with a healthier attention span.
This kid David Mead's got it all—bright arrangements, melodic ease, and a singing voice that can do more tricks than a desperate magician. The title song is so damn pretty, and his voice so flexible, that I'm compelled to rage against its brevity (and it's more than four minutes long!), while his falsetto gymnastics on "No One Left to Blame" are pure shivery delights. Mead has been favorably compared to Paul Simon and Jeff Buckley, and there is something to that, but he seems far less concerned with making "big picture" music. The songs on Mine and Yours are as sweet and comforting as a dollop of hot fudge on a lonely bowl of vanilla ice cream. His tempos range from the dozy folk of "Flamin' Angels" (which reminds me of something off of XTC's Skylarking) to the pulsing, almost-funk of "Echoes of a Heart"—and he seems totally comfortable at all points in between. If I had to nitpick, it's that he could challenge himself with more difficult material. Here, in the motherly production arms of Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), it's all gentle gossamer. Oh well, he's got a few years in him, I daresay. John Chandler
New Killer America
And the assembly line of dour, faceless moaner rock rolls on. . . .
The tortured vibrato of Layne Staley, the deliberate rhythmic marksmanship of Helmet, and the intentionally misspelled moniker of, oh, seven million butt-awful pimp rock bands add up to another perplexing major label version of metal. New Killer America blows what little load it has early with the chugging one-and-a-two of "What You Say" and "Waste," which, I am only mildly ashamed to say, I banged head to. Stop-and-go palm muting and piercing harmonics are great, great things that improve upon any song (you listenin', Madonna?), and these guys listened to enough decent hardcore coming up to kinda see that. The more accessible songs, like "Isolated" and "I Know," are touched up with clever, atmospheric keyboard work that's similar to what DJ Frank Delgado gives Deftones. "Kill Control" smartly throws a sinister bass line into the mix, before giving way—like practically every track—to a booming chorus siphoned from Alice in Chains' Dirt. Skrape throw an entertaining fit in their derivative bubble. They'd better tour their asses off because their oeuvre has a year-and-a-half shelf life at best. Remember, pimp metal only got a chance on radio after Cobain's suicide. C'mon, Durst, you could at least fake it. Andrew Bonazelli
Skrape play the Tacoma Dome Wed., July 25.
The Time Is Now/Vibes From the Tribe
A couple of hyperkinetic jazz dispatches from the front lines of the cultural revolution (circa 1973-76).
Phil Ranelin looked out from Detroit onto the furthest reaches of the galaxy, and this is what he saw. We are veering into "Space Music" territory here, like Sun Ra and his Arkestra or the middle of one of the Grateful Dead's seemingly endless improvisations. This is not beginners' jazz—it is jarring, challenging music that defies the inclination to ever be pushed into the background. Think Charles Mingus with his four or five melody lines intermingling and counterpunching; think Ornette Coleman, stretching the limits of harmony and variable tempo. A fine line separates exploration and anarchy, which Ranelin's rereleases of mid-'70s studio sets tread with grace. His bluesy trombone leads the way through the discordant jungle, followed by a tribe of sensitive musicians including saxophonist Wendell Harrison, pianist Keith Vreeland, Charles Moore on trumpet, and both Bill Turner and George Davidson on drums. The Ranelin-led collective the Tribe was not just a band or a record label/magazine, but a social salve to heal the planet. On balance, more tracks soar than crash and burn—and that's all you get to ask of art. Manny Frishberg