erasing clouds

19 reviews of music

by Dave Heaton and Anna Battista

Add N To (X), Add Insult To Injury

If you've been wondering for ages how it would sound a musical taken from the book-report Psychopatia Sexualis in which the complete Addams Family starred, then you've finally found the answer. Seductive in the way only electro punk can be, Add N To (X) have created a music made of squeaks, twiddling knobs and videos engaging a robot and a woman having sex. In the spirit of originality, this album opens with the track "Adding N To X," that samples a childish voice and, amazingly, it's jocose in its spookiness. "Brothel Charge", an adrenaline rush of noises follows together with the repetitive pumped up "Monster Bobby", though the best tracks remain the attempt at being dance-y "Plug Me In" and "The Regent Is Dead," in which there's a bit of everything, fuzzed noises, frightening organs, flutes, deep romantic melodies on the background of an apocalyptic tune. If these lunatics of the twisted knobs and other perverted sounds had lived in the Roman times, they would have written a mixed masterpiece between Apuleius' The Golden Ass and Petronius' Satyricon. Well, they live in the third millennium, but this doesn't prevent them from being outrageous and freakishly wicked. Warning: don't feed this to your stereo after midnight, it might turn into a dominatrix with a degree in bondage. ( battista

Afu-Ra, Body of the Life Force (KOCH)

Martial arts references in hip-hop music are abundant. Part of the brilliance of Jim Jarmusch's recent film Ghost Dog was the awareness it had of the connection between the two. The extreme determination and oneness of mind that the samurai espouses in that film ("even if a samurai's head were to be suddenly cut off, he still should be able to perform one more action with certainty"), is something Afu-Ra aspires to in his rhymes. Afu-Ra, who not coincidentally appears on the Ghost Dog soundtrack, sees himself as a combination martial arts warrior, philosopher, spiritual leader and MC. His debut CD Body of the Life Force is filled not only with dynamite hip-hop beats and production, but with nimble articulations of Eastern philosophy, Egyptian mythology and old-school-style battle rhymes. He is both a straightforward, take-no-prisoners MC who thrives on rhyming above all else and a complicated, mysterious figure who refers to himself as "the perverted monk." The best tracks include a dizzying mix of lyrical styles and references (Afu has quite a command on the language), plus music that contains the sense of mystery of RZA's best work and the no-nonsense style of Premier. For a debut, this is quite solid. There's a few of the expected flaws, especially some obvious, ultra-repetitive choruses, but for the most part Afu-Ra demonstrates his skills and spins intriguing word webs. Even when the guest stars threaten to upstage him (especially M.O.P., who have the ability to upstage just about anyone), he holds his own quite well. Afu's obsession with all things mystical leads to no cohesive statement about spirituality or the world or whatever…but this is purely a hip-hop album, and the main focus is on showing off skills and making heads nod.--dave heaton

Danny Breaks, Music For Martians And Other Extra Terrestrial (True Playaz)

Better known as hardkore Sonz of A Loop Da Loop Era and Droppin' Science, whizzkid Danny Breaks, has lately released a collection of meshed ployrhythms. To remain faithful with its Martian evoking title, the first track of the album, "Random", is a mess of eerie bleeps; "Sign" is fast and furious drum'n'bass; "Aquatica" is the sound of an asteroid revolving through the astral spheres and finally scathing the surface of our planet with its thousand degrees core; "Just Chill" engages in scratching techniques whereas the delicately poised beats of "Telefono" hide samples a man trying to date a woman on the phone inviting her to see Fellini's La Dolce Vita. "Guerrilla Tactics", a mayhem of beats and "Invader PT3", a multi-hued track conclude this album. From music carved from outer space, intense, jarring, restless and otherworldly, Danny Breaks has created a breaks-feast made of tasty tunes for Martians and extra terrestrials which, yes, might also appeal you earthlings. Now, I'd like to know who's that green man dancing outside my window while I'm trying to finish this review…--anna battista

Richard Buckner, The Hill (Overcoat/Convent)

Richard Buckner's latest album is a literary adaptation on CD, his musical version of parts of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology. That book is a collection of epitaphs, people briefly giving the stories of their lives. On The Hit, Buckner has taken 18 of those and set them to music that fits his usual style: guitar-based country/folk sung in a powerfully emotional way (some might even say "whiny"). The music here is so typical of Buckner that I could imagine listening without having any idea about the source material. And that's a high compliment, actually; Buckner has taken a well-known literary work and melded it with his style of music. The two on the surface might not be easily compatible, but he pulls it off, making the album 34 minutes of people's stories told through soulful vocals and ringing guitar. The one odd thing is the fact that Buckner chose to make the CD one long track, instead of splitting it up. I suppose it wanted it taken in as one piece, though a CD split into tracks by name doesn't seem too different to me from a book that's separated into chapters by name. Still, this is both an ambitious project, especially for a songwriter who which each album is moving further into the "big time," and a fine musical journey through human lives (and deaths).( heaton

California Oranges (Darla)

The California Oranges' self-titled debut opens with vocalist/guitarist John Conley at home by himself, lonely, seeking comfort with his "favorite crutch": the films of John Hughes. It might sound like the set-up for a pop song soaked in cheese or irony, but it's not, because. Conley sounds as sincerely melancholic and emotional here as he and vocalist/bassist Verna Brock sound on the rest of the album. The song is less about John Hughes than it is about what films do for us, the feeling they give us. Plus it rocks like few pop songs you'll hear, and is as catchy as the catchiest rock song ever sung. Which is why the California Oranges' album is the best thing I've head yet in 2001, a brilliant pop wedding of deep emotions with the most sugar-sweet melodies and upbeat, energetic rock. Falling in the same general neighborhood as power-pop groups like Wolfie and Weezer, California Oranges speed through 10 songs in under 30 minutes. Yet this is a complete, cohesive album, with enough genuine feeling and beautiful hooks to leave you thoroughly satisfied. The band avoids the twin traps of much indie-pop and indie rock music these days: filler and phoniness. There's no extra notes or songs, and they avoid any trace of pretense. Somehow they manage to steer entirely clear of excessive cuteness as well, even with a quirky project like "So Much to Do," where Conley sings from the perspective of Spider Man. That song's not only a sharp shard of pop, but gives a remarkably human voice to a superhero (like an indie-pop version of Unbreakable). The album ends with another potentially goofy moment, Brock's ode to her childhood idol Olivia Newton-John, which is as honest, as moving and (of course) as rocking as everything else here. The two singing/songwriting members of California Oranges, Conley and Brock, were previously Holiday Flyer, a mellow pop outfit I always wanted to like but never managed to fall in love with. As California Oranges they've joined with drummer Ross Levine and pumped new life into their songs. The songs are short, snappy and 100% memorable.--dave heaton

Cinerama - Disco Volante (Scopitones)

After a bunch of singles and the 1998 Va Va Voom album, ex-Wedding Present David Gedge has decided, together with his partner Sally Cleave, to make you swoon and faint with this cinematic album. Produced by Steve Albini, songsmith Gedge has perfected his tracks building a crescendo of epic orchestrated pop melodies. Gedge has truly written a lusty diary and the best thing is that he has put music to it: "146 Degrees" is pure magic; "Lollobrigida" is a sensual, lustful and lewd hymn reminding the Italian movie queen (check the lyrics "You shake I sweat, I ache, you're wet"), "Aprés Ski", is the story of a relationship between an older woman and a younger man; "Because I'm Beautiful" is a divine song whereas the endless supertuned track "Wow" is pure diluted joy. One third peepshow, one third a '60s Italian movie and one third a sensual crash course in soundtracked sugar coated pop, you shouldn't listen this album together with your partner with the lights turned off: you might inevitably end up in being engaged in diverse and more interesting activities. ( battista

The Clientele, Suburban Light (Pointy)

Suburban Light is the first full-length CD from The Clientele, the already highly celebrated U.K. purveyors of atmospheric pop. It follows up the recent A Fading Summer EP on March Records, as well as a series of now nearly impossible to find 7"s. The praise those 7"s have garnered, combined with the rarity of them, is what led the Clientele to make their first CD a compilation of nearly every song they've released thus far (all but two, I believe), instead of a proper studio album. This is, of course, a fabulous thing for those of us too lazy or broke to track down all of the singles. For a singles collection, it also hangs together quite well as an album. The Clientele create gentle, graceful pop songs that deliver both a sense of place and an overriding feeling, without being simplistic or overly straightforward. They take their fondess for surrealism and pump that through their songwriting, using the lyrics to give a sense that something's not quite ordinary, even in the midst of a comforting pop melody and a generally relaxed mood. Plus they've written a few of the most drop-dead gorgeous melodies I've ever heard, especially on "Saturday," "Reflections After Jane" and "(I Want You) More Than Ever." For me, Suburban Light not only helps me catch up on their songs that I've missed, but, in doing so, offers a fuller view of their songwriting skills. While the songs on A Fading Summer make one understand why they're generally compared to Nick Drake, Felt, etc., this collection, by including songs with a wider array of rock and pop elements, makes me understand why singer Alasdair Maclean has said (as he did in an interview for Erasing Clouds) he wishes critics would pay attention to the other bands that they cite as influences, like Galaxie 500 and the Zombies. All in all, Suburban Light is not just a nice collection for your music library, but a further revelation of the pop genius that this trio is capable of. It isn't out in the U.S. (though Rough Trade's price for it as an import is pretty much equivalent to your usual price for a domestic CD), though it will be within a few months, as Merge Records has plans to release it domestically.--dave heaton

Cosmic Rough Riders, Enjoy the Melodic Sunshine (Poptones)

Imagine you're walking up a bleak Glasgow street: the sky is grey, rain is pouring down on your fragile frame, and the only noises you can hear are your own footsteps sadly beating on the wet pavement. And you walk on and you walk on. Then you arrive in front of a building: there's an opened door and you can see a blinding light coming out of it, a spellbinding music blasts from that door and when you pass its threshold you find yourself in another world, another dimension where there's the sun, the temperature is high and the atmosphere is joyous. Please meet Cosmic Rough Riders. After two self-produced albums, Deliverance and Panorama, Daniel Wylie &Co. have finally managed to draw the attention of ex-Creation supremo Alan McGee, who signed them after seeing them playing in a Glaswegian venue. In this album they present their newest jewels: "Brothers Gather Round" is barely a few minutes long, but it already settles the atmosphere of the whole album, which, and this can't be denied, resents of the influences of the Beach Boys and Teenage Fanclub. But their models are reinterpreted in Cosmic Rough Riders' own keys, so the album goes through many shades, from the tweeny "Baby, You're So free" to the stoned "Glastonbury Revisited", a report of festivals, acid inspired visions of angels and making love. Hammond organ, guitars and (gulp) mandolins help Cosmic Rough Riders to reach the perfection of "Revolution (In The Summertime)", of their latest single "Melanie" and of the catchiest track of the whole album, "The Loser." "I'd believe in anyone who promised the sun would shine today," Daniel sings at some point and truly the sun is shining on this band that turns everyday into an endless summer sunny day at a festival. Their sound, a merging of psychedelia, pop, jangly guitars and innocent melodies is intriguing and refined and resembles a cream egg with a sweet yolk as yellow as the scorching sun. ( battista

D, Untitles (Soul Static Sound/Bubblecore)

For his day job, D is a member of electronic innovators To Rococo Rot. On this relatively brief release, he uses a mélange of jittery blips and whirs and bass guitar to set a unique mood, one shimmering with a myriad of odd little sounds. With an enveloping, surround-sound approach, the music is definitely dub(or Pole)-influenced, as a lot of electronic/ambient musicians seem to be lately. But it works well in that direction, setting a complete scene around you, one that isn't necessarily groundbreaking but is also quite individual. It's quite mellow and static, but quite intriguing. This isn't a journey from one place to another but an ambient work, one you can use to give your living space an interesting sonic texture.--dave heaton

Deltron 3030 (75 Ark)

Del the Funkee Homosapien, who has released three albums of off-the-wall hip-hop on his own, plus one with his crew Hieroglyphics, is the perfect choice for lead MC in a sci-fi hip-hop concept album. Here he teams up with Dan the Automator (Dr. Octagon, Handsome Boy Modeling School) and quick-handed DJ Kid Koala for Deltron 3030, a "30th century fox creation filmed in Technicolor." The album depicts a future where a megacorporation is the government, and everything is controlled in the name of corporate interests, from the news media to education. The album is filled with musicians playing various characters, from Beans of the Anti-Pop Consortium as Lorenzo Van Peebles to Sean Lennon as Walt "Clye" Mercado. Most of the guest musicians show up here and there to say a few words (for example, there's an odd bit where Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies does an an for the film Strange Brew), without contributing much musically. There are a few exceptions; Mc Paul Barman does his usual weirdo bit, and Damon Albarn of Blur adds oddly Billie Holiday-ish vocals to one song. the bulk of the artistic work here, however, is done by the central trio. Dan the Automator creates hip-hop soundscapes cloaked in strings and whirls of spaced-out noises, Kid Koala adds his inventive scratches, and Del rules the mic. While the album has a clear concept, it doesn't tell a straightforward story (a la A Prince Among Thieves, the hip-hop movie created by Prince Paul, who also shows here), but rather sets the setting up and uses the tracks to go off in various directions from that central idea. So there's a song about outlaws trying to use computer viruses to crash corporate computer systems, a futuristic rap battle, a jaunt to San Francisco, a few songs describing society in general, and so on. Del is as nimble on the mic as ever; the eccentricity of the project and the looseness of it seem to have freed him up, to do stream-of-consciousness-style raps that go off in multiple directions at once. One of the best of these is "Turbulence," which hits on all sorts of topics to portray a society that, while futuristic-sounding on the surface, could easily be our own. He describes a U.S.A. where true democracy is draining away in favor of corporate power, where freedom of speech and action is hardly defended as an ideal, where militarism is being continually amplified, and where "aliens landed (and) said our planet wasn't worth invading, because all our natural resources are failing." The main achievements of this CD are twofold: creating an enveloping sonic picture out of disparate elements and using a fictional depiction of the future to comment on the present in a sharp, intelligent way.--dave heaton

Various, DJ Hype & True Playaz presents Real Vibes(True Playaz)

Double pack vital release for this intriguing product, which is a bit of a synopsis of True Playaz most acclaimed releases and mixing techniques. Disc One is a clashing of sounds, from the storming "Closer To God" by DJ Hype, to the breathless "Real Vibes" by Pascal, from the fast burning d'n'b "Musically Dope (Ganja Kru Remix)" by Freestyles, to the supersonic "The Big 30h" by DJ Hype. Magic d'n'b is instantly delivered by this radioactive charge of frantic, infectious, mesmerising grooves, which, on disc two, you can find chopped, murdered and mixed by DJ Hype and DJ Zinc. Spectacular like molten gold. Well, more or less.--anna battista

The Fall, The Unutterable (Eagle Records)

1500th release from the band with the most disagreeable, though charismatic, leader around. Fall-o-centric singer Mark E Smith has managed once again to make an astonishing album and The Fall's come back is marked by the genius like track "Cyber Insekt" and the freakish "Two Librans." So, between a track completely made of noises and drunken words such as "Unutterable" and another, there's even a swing jazzy track about Smith's favourite food, "Pumpkin Soup and Mashed Potatoes" and a rant about devolution, though one of the best experiments of the album remains "Octo Realm/Ketamine Sun." Power of meaning and supremacy of quality are the two aims Mark E Smith, or rather "the grumpiest man in pop," as the NME used to call him in the days of yore, has often looked for in his songs. His singing is more an acting in a play, a sort of way of making a sermon, in which sounds cross and multiply counterbalancing the forces of commercialism. And the most astonishing thing is that this album comes out right when you thought that he had disbanded the group forever. Never say never. Especially with angry Mark E Smith.--anna battista

The Gentle Waves, Swansong For You (Jeepster)

Second album from Isobel Campbell, part of the Belle & Sebastian brotherhood, though this time she proves she is not some kind of second-rate B&S and shows off her new found talent for songwriting. In fact the Breakfast at Tiffany's-inspired cover hides swoony melodies and impeccable lullabies, such as the quietly soothing "Let The Good Times Begin," the very Fistful-of-Dollar-like scary and desperate "Partner in Crime," the feminist Northern Soul track "Sisterwoman" with its lyrics, "He don't love you but it's alright/Sisterwoman you're all I've got/When he's got nothing to do/He'll wanna spend some time with you"; "Pretty Things" with a Brazilian penchant, with no saudade, but containing a joyous harmony leading directly to the last tracks of the album, the very "A Place in The Sun" hymn "There Is No Greater Gold" and the semi-desperate but irresistible walk of life from childhood to adulthood "There Was Magic, Then…" So, no more wimpy and subdued wee songs for Isobel, but cotton-candied melodies dripping blood and stories that pierce your heart with their touching themes. Grace be with her.--anna battista

Kim Gordon/DJ Olive/Ikue Mori, SYR 5 (SYR)

While Sonic Youth's sound is based greatly on the interplay between two guitarists, the fifth release in their SYR series is nearly guitar-free. What's not missing, however, is the superb sense of freedom and mystery that permeates every release linked (even tenuously) to their fine name. This release, the first SYR release not featuring Sonic Youth, showcases three talented New Yorkers from different walks of life: SY bassist Kim Gordon, illbient DJ Olive (of We and other outfits) and experimental drummer/"no wave" legend Ikue Mori. The resulting release shows the three blending their own styles into a sound that is thoroughly unique, one which takes all three in a new direction while retaining the experimental nature and high quality of the work they've each done previously. The music has a postmodern, "sounds for the ADD generation" feel, brought on mostly through the constant use of quick flurries of percussion. Every track is built on a rhythmic base of bizarre percussive sounds. Kim Gordon lends the tracks the sort of weird nursey rhymes that she sings on the most dream-like Sonic Youth songs (think "Contre Le Sexisme" over "Orange Rolls, Angel's Spit"). Each installment in the SYR series, and anything associated with Sonic Youth, is anxiously awaited by anyone interested in the more experimental side of rock. This is as compelling and cutting-edge as any of the other SYR releases, yet this is not rock music, though that's not a bad thing. While rock takes rage, intensity and other feelings and pushes them forward like a bullet train, this music takes those same feelings, spreads them out like a cloud , and then keeps pulling the cloud in and out of view; everything is broad and enveloping yet franticly mixed-up. The notes reach around and grab you from all sides, though, and that's an important quality to have in these remote-control days.--dave heaton

Guru's Jazzmatazz: Street Soul (Virgin Records)

As one-half of the legendary Gangstarr, Guru has been working to maintain the lifeblood of hip-hop for over a decade. His "side project," the Jazzmatazz series, is his way of taking the pulse of other genres of modern black music. Never the groundbreaking, genre-melding project Guru incessantly bills it as, the Jazzmatazz series of CDs has been an always entertaining trip through the now sounds in the fields of jazz, soul and hip-hop, with Guru as the tour guide. Jazzmatazz Streetsoul is the third in the series, and by far the liveliest and most consistent. While the first album, with guest spots by contemporary jazz musicians from the past and the present, was a straightforward, enjoyable attempt at adding different musical backdrops for Guru's rhymes, the second album broadened the musical scope considerably. The third album picks up at that point, but this time Guru delivers a tighter, more controlled album, one that's not only an interesting attempt at boundary-crossing but also an accessible, fun hip-hop/soul collection that could and should appeal to mass audiences. Streetsoul showcases Guru's classic MC style (self-described as "monotone") while featuring a lively batch of the freshest R&B singers, including some used often by hip-hop acts these days (Erykah Badu, Macy Gray, Les Nubians), some up-and-coming performers (Kelis, Craig David, Amel Larrieux) and at least one legend (Isaac Hayes). None of the guests slack off, and some put in showstopping appearances that would completely steal the thunder from a less-talented MC; this is especially the case with Angie Stone on the first single "Keep Your Worries" and with Bilal, who adds his subtle, neosoul stylings to the bragfest "Certified." The lyrical terrain on *Streetsoul* is mostly mass audience fare, concentrating on the universal theme of love relationships. Still, Guru also gets across his usual insights into social issues, particularly the criminal justice system and the inner-city struggle to get ahead. All in all, Jazzmatazz Streetsoul is a release that makes you realize how much talent is out there these days, even in the world of mainstream R&B from which some of these singers have arrived. Guru's status as a hip-hop legend has been cemented through his work with Gangstarr, but his Jazzmatazz albums should get just as much attention. Streetsoul is a varied trip through modern music, one that captures the gifts of the musicians involved and puts them to great use.--dave heaton

El Hombre Trajeado, Saccade (Human Condition Records)

Sunny Spanish flavoured name for a rather bleak Scottish band, El Hombre Trajeado. They played with The Delgados, Sebadoh and Nick Cave among the others, and after the usual bunch of EPs they released a first album in 1998, Skipafone. Its follow up, "Saccade" retains the fazed guitars of their fellows Mogwai, still El Hombre Trajeado manage to make their track sound less tragic and doomed than their fellow musicians. Apart from "Shout Out," which has got the proverbial 2 pence of muffled mumbling voices, most of the tracks are guitary landscapes: "I-330" is a very good track gifted with glorious guitars; "Dos" is a stunning piece of music; "Dylar" is a pure hymn, whereas "Chapperon" gets an honourable mention for its atmosphere and "Halo" for being so inconsistently ethereal. It's a bleak world after all, but it's better if you've got some good guitars with you. Hombre Trajeado? Hombres con Guitaras more like. ( battista

Howling Wolf Orchestra, Speedtraps for the Bee Kingdom(Recordhead/Rockathon)

When Guided By Voices captain Bob Pollard started his Fading Captain Series, a series of less widely available recordings on an "indie" label, it was an occasion for fans to celebrate. But what's surprised even diehard fans like me is the speed in which he's the Fading Captain Series has progressed, and the variety of recordings released under that name, including EPs, full-length CDs, vinyl-only albums, a 7" and a 4-disc box set. It seems like it started just yesterday (the first release was Pollard's third solo album Kid Marine), and already it's up to FCS#9. This is a quick one, 8 songs in 14 minutes. It's sort of a cross between FCS#3, the Nightwalker CD, and the three songs on the flip side of FCS#5, the "Dayton Ohio, 19 Something and 5" 7". What that means to non-fanatical types is that it's a mix between abstract, sing-song ditties and freeform instrumental explorations. Simply put, the songs are quick and weird, with Pollard singing bizarre lyrics ("Insane building concepts/You go there to learn/like spiders on acid") over a mixed-up blend of guitar, bass, drums and piano, supplied by Pollard, his brother Jim Pollard and GBV guitarist Nate Farley (former GBV bassist Greg Demos adds some heavy metal guitar to the final track, "Fruit Weapon."). This is a quick psychedelic journey, a trip through the hazier parts of Pollard's creative brain. His songwriting always strikes a balance between arena rock and mad poetry; where the last GBV album Do the Collapse fit snugly in that first place, releases like this one fit in the second place. Personally, I like both places a lot, so this release is a small treat.--dave heaton

King's Ransom, Happy Motherfuckers and Sad Clowns

With a title as simultaneously bratty and poetic as that one, plus a homemade, photocopied cover without any song titles or personnel indicated, it shouldn't be a huge surprise that this is yet another Guided By Voices album. This one is a double LP plus one 7" live album, taken from the final show on the band's Do the Collapse tour, in Asheville, North Carolina. Since GBV changes lineups constantly, it's nice to have a live document of each lineup, to remember the unique approach that particular group of people had to playing Bob Pollard's songs in a live setting. This lineup is the Pollard/Doug Gillard/Nate Farley/Tim Tobias/Jim MacPherson one, pretty much the current lineup except for MacPherson's recent departure on drums. This lineup is possible the best one ever (at least on the nights when they're relatively sober), in terms of having the best mix of power and melody. This recording is of high-quality, both in terms of sound quality and performance. Songwise, they cover a pretty wide range. The set list is somewhat heavy on Pollard's solo releases and on Do the Collapse, but also includes plenty of the "hits," and a handful of interesting covers--some work quite well (The Who's "Baba O' Riley"), some are reputable if not great (The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus"), and at least one doesn't come off too well, at least not for me ("David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust"). GBV live has always been about ROCK, about using the standard elements of the "rock show" to their fullest and just having a great time. In their case, live albums never really capture the energy present at a GBV show, but they're still nice to have.--dave heaton

Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek, Reflection Eternal (Rawkus)

Talib Kweli belongs to an ever-growing legion of young hip-hoppers who celebrate the roots of the music while melding it with neo-soul rhythms and a perspective that is both eternally optimistic and filled with social criticism. Kweli and Hi-Tek, a mighty DJ with an understated but forceful style, are Reflection Eternal, and they've finally released their debut CD. Kweli's already made a name for himself in the hip-hop world, through not only a multitude of guest appearances and tracks on the hottest compilation albums but, more importantly, through his partnership with Mos Def. As Black Star, they produced Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star, an instant classic. Mos Def tends to get the most attention, in part because of his outstanding solo debut Black On Both Sides, but also because his rhyming style has a great deal of flair. But Kweli's just as talented, and while his CD might not be as musically audacious as Mos Def's, it's just as good. Kweli and Hi-Tek's album is packed with both reflection and the eternal sounds of raw hip-hop. Here Kweli's hooked up nicely with a handful of guest stars, including both expected friends (Mos Def, De La Soul, Vinia Mojica) and respected hip-hop notables (Kool G. Rap, Rah Digga, Xzibit). "This Means You," featuring Mos Def, reminds listeners of the magic the two achive every time they appear together, while "1, 2, 3, 4" is a superb showcase of the rhyming talents of Kweli, Rah Digga and Xzibit. The posse cuts hit hard, yet Kweli shines just as much on his own. He's one of the most diverse MCs around, in terms of rhyming style. He's a hyper-articulate MC with a revolutionary's mind and a sensitive poet's heart, but also a world-class battle MC, able to rip other MCs' rhymes apart in a quick second. Lyrically, he also treads more ground than just about anyone else. He'll be making blink-and-you'll-miss-them references to hip-hop classics one minute (notice, for example, the way he quietly reworks the chorus to Audio Two's "Top Billin" on "Too Late"), and then contemplating parent-child relationships or the prison system the next. He manages to cover plenty of weighty topics without ever taking a rest from projecting the fun and celebratory energy of hip-hop. This CD crosses more ground than most recent albums of any genre. Like Mos Def, the Roots, Common and others, Kweli and Hi-Tek aren't in the game just to build up their names as hip-hop legends. Yet in quietly making such a gem of an album, they've taken a big leap toward achieving exactly that.--dave heaton

note: some of dave heaton's reviews above appeared in somewhat different form on

Issue 4, January 2001 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds