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May 6, 2008

CD Reviews

Rising DownThe Roots(ISLAND/DEF JAM)    Have you ever walked into a room where a family is in the middle of a knockdown, drag-out fight?That’s where we find The Roots on their 10th album. But wait, the intro, a telephone screamfest, is actually from 1993, before their first album had even been released.Fifteen years later, and all this aggression is released through the white-knuckled, unsettling, disturbing and brilliant Rising Down. The emotional bloodletting is relentless until the haunting, rock-influenced “Criminal,” a brooding cousin of previous hit “The Seed, 2.0.”The Fela Kuti-influenced “I Will Not Apologize” features the highly promising (but unfortunately named) guest rapper Porn. In a break from the past, Down is guest-heavy but not star-driven. The aforementioned Porn nearly steals the album from leader Black Thought, while guests Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common, Styles P and Chrisette Michele all serve as seasoning.Former member Malik B. seems to answer his band’s musical intervention (“Water,” from Phrenology) with a defiant verse on “I Can’t Help It.” The go-go-styled “Rising Up,” a tour favorite in various forms for over a year, attempts to end on a hopeful note, as the song fades into the post-argument conversation of 1993. This is difficult music, but is a masterwork. —Damien McPhersonThirdPortishead(ISLAND)    Having established oneself as an innovator and a misunderstood genius, and then disappearing for a decade, what does one do next?(In my case, I ran off to a small mill town outside of Berlin, where I coached a scrappy-but-determined softball team, drank boxes of rum and wrote the greatest graphic novel about homosexual minotaurs that the world will ever see.)Try, as they do here, to escape from the cliché that the world has boxed them into — Whole Foods, spa weekend background soundtrack for yuppies — Portishead, like all of us, can only change people’s perceptions of who they are to a slight degree.Despite getting the record off to an exciting start with funky, percussion-heavy swinger, “Silence,” the rest of the tunes tend to bend into a relatively tame, mid-tempo pace and offer few surprises. While it’s a nice collection, they’ve done better already, and that’s why so many have been waiting so long for this one.Fans of the ’60s futurists the Silver Apples will hear a big influence, especially in the song “We Carry On.”When the ninth song, “Small,” kicks in and kicks ass, one had almost forgotten that surprise was supposed to be on the menu. It’s a crazy, thrilling ride best heard either on drugs or in a car ride, but hopefully not at the same time. —Peter BerkowitzFriend For LifeErsi Arvizu(ANTI)Friend for Life is Ersi Arvizu’s story spread across a dozen songs, conveyed in a voice that’s not just reliving old experiences but still sorting through feelings. A sound of the past, like gospel or the blues.The singer sounds untouched today, like someone in a time warp, isolated, protected from the world. And quite the past: boxing aficionado, alumni of East L.A. music legends The Chicanos and The Sisters.Musicians include Joey Navarro, guitarist Mickey Lespron (also one of the founding members of El Chicano), percussionist Johnny Sandoval, bassist Rene Camacho and trombonist Francisco Torres; there are also a couple of cameos by her sisters Mary Rey and Rosella Barraza (“Angel de Mil Voces” and “El Arbol”).It’s a collaboration between the East Los Angeles legend and producer Ry Cooder, who tapped her talents for his 2005 album Chavez Ravine. As on that record, Arvizu sings with a voice that is timeless, simple, stripped-down and a reflection of all she’s gone through. Es música gloriosa, para toda la gente. —Mark R. BaconRoll With YouEli “Paperboy” Reed & The True Loves(Q DIVISION)    On first listen of Roll With You, I immediately chalked Eli “Paperboy” Reed up to another ’60s soul-inspired flashback in the vein of, say, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings or Amy Winehouse. It’s hip to be old-fashioned, after all. And then I examined the album’s artwork and discovered that this Paperboy character is a white dude, barely in his 20s, who proves he’s got the chops for channeling Southern blues, R&B, soul and even gospel.    Reed’s catchy, hook-driven songs reek of a life well-worn and slightly tattered — the ingredients necessary for any musician of the blues. The story goes that after doing his time at a Boston high school, he left the East Coast to immerse his musical fancies where blues reigns king — the Mississippi Delta. He observed, played and honed his skill with the best of ’em.    “I’ll Roll With You” channels the effortless doo-wop of a Ray Charles song, while “(Doin’ the) Boom Boom” spits the energy and screaming horn section of a James Brown number. Reed has certainly proved himself a musician to watch with these 11 inspired takes on Motown’s mojo. If his live show has even half the energy this disc oozes, it would truly be something to behold. —Sara HavensBody LanguageMonotonix(DRAG CITY)Tel Aviv group Monotonix can’t play shows in their hometown without being shut down. So, of course, they’re awesome.    It’s also why you can understand the unbridled (and yes, ’70s-inspired) aggression behind the furious cymbal crashes that begin “Lowest Dive,” and the skewed, atonal sludge guitar in “Deadly Weapon,” whose infrequent bleeps and harmonics resemble R2D2 were the trusty robot infected with rabies.    “No Metal” draws some strategies from the crust punk that flourished in Richmond, Va., in the early to mid-’90s, but I don’t think Rorschach or Born Against operated under the same set of circumstances as Monotonix. When you basically live in country under an imminent threat of violence, every piece of art carries with it a hidden commitment to survival. —Mat HerronMaths + EnglishDizzee Rascal(DEFINITIVE JUX)How do you throw mp3’s out of the window of your car?This used to be my go-to method of capital punishment for bad music. Eject tape or disc, roll down window and (close your eyes, Al Gore) toss from vehicle at highest speed possible. Now in this modern age, much of the review material available is in digital form.So not only is there no tactile connection with the music, you don’t have the option of watching it burst into pieces under a semi’s wheels, only the weak sweeping sound as your recycle bin is emptied. I almost burned Dizzee Rascal’s album to disc just so I could destroy it. As a consolation, I write these words.    Dizzee is huge in England. Maths was nominated for the 2007 Mercury Prize. Now, I’ve never claimed to be a big fan of British hip-hop in the first place, but this is nonsense. It’s Soulja Boy with a different accent and labeled high-brow. I can produce songs like these on my cell phone, which is probably where most of the beats originated. A guest verse from UGK’s Bun-B offers a brief respite from an otherwise worthless 57.8 minutes of roadside debris. —Damien McPhersonIdaho, Alaska - Kissin' With The Devilregional flavorKissin’ With The Devil is the self-released debut album from Lexington indie-rockers Idaho, Alaska. And though Idaho, Alaska is far from becoming a household name, these guys rock out with the passion and skill of seasoned veterans.Obvious influences on range from Pavement to early Modest Mouse, but Idaho, Alaska also exhibits a number of qualities that separate them from the greats. They definitely aren’t hesitant to experiment with different recording techniques, which really works to their advantage on the 10-minute jam “Mechanical Wave/What’s The Matter.”There’s a stripped down, early ’90s feel to the recording, and lead singer Chris Soulis’ muffled vocals tend to compliment this well. He touches on several dark themes, including substance abuse and failed relationships, and you can sense his desperation on “Muscle Car.” However, the band has a strange, cathartic side, and by the end of Kissin’, the album is more about hope and progress than anything else. —Aaron FrankThese New Puritans - "Beat Pyramid"accentuationsIf the Killers had cute English accents and tried to cover Animal Collective, they might produce a sound similar to that of Southend, England’s These New Puritans. ON their MySpace page, they call themselves live electronics/big beat/shoegaze, TNP released their debut album Beat Pyramid in the U.S. this March, which contains tracks that may or may not make you want to shake your booty or grind your teeth. If you’re into repetitive jams that are so multilayered you keep thinking your cell phone is ringing, then TNP might be the hip new band for you.TNP offer some danceable tunes with excellent beats and captivating guitar riffs, but some songs such as “Numerology (aka Numbers)” were just irritating. But in all fairness, it just may be a case of the first album jitters. Twin brothers Jack and George Barnett, Thomas Hein and Sophie Sleigh-Johnson make up TNP, and claim that the Wu-Tang Clan is one of their major influences. When listening to this album, RZA and Method Man were the furthest people from my mind, but if an American hip-hop group can inspire British post-punk, I guess we shouldn’t be too quick to judge. —Jane Mattingly