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July 9, 2008

Music Reviews

Jeanius

Jean Grae

(BLACKSMYTH/WB)

<yeah baby>

I love Jean Grae. I want to have her baby, though it’d be easier to do it the other way around. She is easily the best female emcee working today (I see you, Lauryn) and is pretty high on the PC non-gender-specific list as well. This is the official release of Jean Grae and producer 9th Wonder’s long-delayed and massively pirated Jeanius. The music has been completely reworked and is now nearly sample-free, an oddity in and of itself from 9th.

Jean ranges from b-boy (well, -girl) braggadocio to romance (the excellent “Love Thirst”) to cinematic, layered storytelling (the chilling “My Story”). She doesn’t shy away from singing her own hooks, or even breaking into song mid-verse if the feeling hits. Truth be told, her singing voice is as good as her staccato, if she ever felt like switching careers.

There are a couple message boards that’ll call me a bunch of names for this, but the only downside to this album is the somewhat stagnant production. I mean, I love me some 9th Wonder, but it seems, to my ears, one or two outside producers would provide some much-needed color change to an otherwise great record. —Damien McPherson


Nude with Boots

Melvins

(IPECAC)

<kicking, screaming>

The fact that the Melvins still exist isn’t that odd. It seems like pretty much every band that ever made an impact still exists, even if they broke up in 1979 and only reunited last month. Even Krist Novoselic from Nirvana plays bass in Flipper today. What’s odd about the Melvins’ existence today is that they never left, the two founding members still seem to care as much now as they did in 1986, and they still rock, even when they drone for minutes on end.

Kicking out of the gates with the Kiss-esque “The Kicking Machine,” the old boys (and their young partners, Big Business, returning for another collaboration) rock as if it’s all that matters in the world. By track 4, a cover of the eerie classic “Dies Irae,” you’ll forget that rock ’n’ roll has happened yet. Throughout the 11 songs, the band provides a master class in how far four smart dumb guys can stretch the boundaries of what someone might call “heavy metal,” by adding major elements of experimentation, progressiveness and stupidity. —Peter Berkowitz


Watershed

Opeth

(ROADRUNNER)

<beautiful agony>

After waiting for three years, with only the live double-album The Roundhouse Tapes to tide us over last year, fans will be eager to finally have their appetite for Opeth’s mixture of ’70s prog rock and Swedish death metal satisfied (if only temporarily).  

Those unfamiliar with Opeth will do well not to let “progressive death metal” fool them into missing this album. Its three-minute opener might be the band’s most beautifully gentle acoustic song yet, and Åkerfeldt employs his powerful growling voice for less than half of the vocals on Watershed. But make no mistake — the band’s reputation for complex arrangements, stunning musicianship and thundering heaviness is skillfully reinforced.

Death metal at its best can be epically brilliant, as made clear on tracks like “Heir Apparent” and “The Lotus Eater.” And at 11-plus minutes, “Hessian Peel” is like a negative photograph of Opeth’s continual journey into new territory: Long and gorgeous progressive melodies are only sparsely interrupted by brutal genius for a minute or so, reminding us that music can still be exciting. —Derek Knisely


Second to the Last Frontier 

Feral Children

(SARATHAN)

<mesmerize>

It’s not every day — hell, it’s not ever — that one gets to hear an album as stunning and utterly transfixing as the debut from Seattle’s Feral Children, who could also be the best-named band making music today. Their sound is as wild and untamed as their moniker suggests. Yes, buckle your seatbelt — this is going to be a brutal ride. 

“Spy/Glass House” begins the journey pleasantly enough, but like the five-piece is prone to do, they destroy the ear-pleasing “whoo-hoos” with screams, yelps, “yie, yie, yies” and abject, unadulterated, visceral energy that has never sounded so satisfyingly destructive. And this is only the first track.

By track 2, check your pulse. Yes, we’re here now, take a breath, relax, laugh a little — after all, the lyrics are funny: From billionaires who shit on millionaires/Who whine about their view like anyone cares. (By the way, this does nothing to prepare for that curlicue guitar riff that is about to explode overhead like an air-raid siren.)

Not since Modest Mouse has any other outfit reinvented the wheel in such unexpected ways, adding virulent, frenzied punk energy to a rock ’n’ roll ethos with unabashed charm, outright aggression and bittersweet melancholy. That wait is over. —Shawn Telford


Como Te Llama

Albert Hammond Jr.

(BLACK SEAL)

<wilting>

Albert Hammond Jr. should have stuck with The Strokes. The white-hot New Yorkers blazed a trail of minimalist east-coast rock; Hammond’s solo outing is a step above freezing.

The album contains a sense of tedium, both musically and lyrically. A slight identity crisis during the song “Lisa” turns his boring grunge cadence into a confused yet equally boring hip-hop vibe. His lyrics are monotonous, uncreative and unoriginal — while they might contain sentimental meaning for Hammond, they weaken the everyday human being’s ability to control the gag reflex. In true lame-garage-band fashion, each song sounds like the same rhythm over and over again, with the emphasis placed on a different combination of beats. 

If after reading this review you would still like to test your compatibility with the album, go and listen to The Strokes, Keane or one of the other slightly-above-average bands, as every single song in this new album is reminiscent of another. —Jess Mahanes


RZA as Bobby Digital

Digi Snacks

(KOCH)

<blades of glory>

Some people get better with age. Most people who’ve known me would agree, if the discussion is about me, but this one isn’t. Fans of the RZA’s, from 36 Chambers through Ghost Dog to today, might argue that he’s already shocked the world and can never rise to his peak again, but they miss the point. Like the bluesmen of the 20th century, he’s getting deeper as he gets older.

His intensity gets scarier, his sexual digressions (“Good Night”) get more uncomfortable and his weirdness (care to explain Would you rather have a digi or a Scooby snack?) — he still just doesn’t care if you get it. I mean, the dude’s got an El DeBarge cameo on his record in 2008.

To me, who’s heard a few thousand records at least, probably hundreds of them by a Wu Tang Clan member, nothing shows maturity and mastery more than making more bold, cold records long after the cool kids have moved on to the new trend. Long live Shaolin! —Peter Berkowitz