First Impressions of Earth (RCA)
The Strokes were labeled the saviors of NYC's rock and roll scene in 2001. But in the ensuing years, all the tricks that made the fab five so exciting snappy hooks, drunken confessions of love/lust, and off-balance, VU-meets-AOR riffs began to sound just as tired as the endless buzz bands ripping off Gang of Four. In fact, as the hype around Big Apple groups fades, so does the Strokes' appeal or so it seems from listening to the laborious, overly long First Impressions of Earth. Instead of coked-up tempos and sloppy rock rhythms, Earth contains middling-speed songs that borrow ideas from heavy-metal guitar solos, Muse's driving wall of prog, U2's back catalogue, and corrugated dance-punk. Julian Casablancas's lyrics, though never substantial, feel particularly empty this time. On Earth's burbling highlight, "Ask Me Anything," the Rufus Wainwright-channeling Casablancas aptly repeats the sadly prophetic phrase, "I've got nothing to say." And that, unfortunately, is the most honest sentiment on the album.
Wisin y Yandel
Pal Mundo (Universal Machete)
Only a few short years ago, a Wisin y Yandel album would have meant little to international hip-hop playas such as Ja Rule. How quickly things change. With reggaeton now firmly implanted as the musical ambassador of the Latin American world, and Ja's star fading further amid litigation and mediocrity, one could argue that it's Wisin y Yandel who are doing Ja the favor by including him on their "Rakata" remix. And while Wisin y Yandel MCs Juan Luis Morera and Llandel Veguilla have stepped up their game considerably in the past year especially on the mesmerizing "Mayor Que Yo Part 2" most of the credit for Pa'l Mundo belongs to production duo Luny Tunes, who are widely considered the Neptunes of reggaeton. The ADD club anthem "Paleta"(featuring Daddy Yankee) is simply a tour de force, while "Rakata" begins with a typical dancehall beat before switching to hip-hop stomp midstream and ending with a surprisingly melodic techno aside. It's the sort of dance-floor consciousness that makes Pa'l Mundo Wisin y Yandel's strongest album to date.
Almost Famous: Chopped and Screwed (8 Ways Entertainment)
By employing the chopped and screwed mix method a style developed by Houston's own DJ Screw that slows down a song's tempo for a lurching, dizzying effect akin to a codeine-cough-syrup high Southern DJs have produced a spate of slurring, visceral remix albums that often sound better than the originals. If you generally like the Ying Yang Twins' production but can't stand listening to their raps because, well, the sheer ignorance of "Wait" causes your brain to melt, this style is the way to go. OG Ron C's remix of 8 Ball's Almost Famous enhances its forebear a compendium of vague, conventional raps that mostly deal with survival and triumph in the game by deepening the artist's voice and making it possible to hear all the individual percussion sounds. The best tune here is the "Stop Playin' Games" remix with Jadakiss, Keith Murray, and MJG, because lyrics about gettin' brains and flippin' 'caine somehow make more sense when you bring the vocals down a few decibels and make the beat sound like primordial ooze.
Beck's 2005 full-length Guero revealed the folk-rock-rap-whatever artist's usual ironic self-awareness. The title, for one, translates to "white boy," belying a record drizzled with country twang, Mexican slang, grungy hip-hop, orchestral bossa nova, and electronica funk. Out of that mélange comes Guerolito, on which different producers have remixed every Guero track. The result is an album that displaces Beck's blues with a pseudo-dance-floor sheen, and while the former is missed, the latter seems a more natural fit for this premillennial ironist. On "Girl," French electronica duo Octet omits the song's least appealing vocals, which happen to be the hook ("heeeey, my summer girl"), and replaces it with a woeful sigh. John King's "Rental Car" also contains a counterintuitive masterstroke: steamrolling the original song's harpsichord lines, some of the prettiest phrases on Guero, into an indulgent outer-space synth beat that thumps like a danceable phaser fight. At the bottom of the album is a previously unreleased track, "Clap Hands," on which Beck teams with Odelay and Guero accomplices the Dust Brothers. Like so much of Guerolito, "Clap Hands" is good, clean booty-wiggling fun. It is Beck with the corners rounded, Guero as strawberry-lubed gel cap.
Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice
The Flood (Troubleman Unlimited)
Wooden Wand's track doesn't chronicle the flood per se as much as it does the messy, boggy aftermath. A moldy, nightmare glut of tuneless gypsy guitar plucks, one-drum pum-pums, and weak, strangulated woodwind wisps accompanies Satya Sai and Rev. Wand as they wade through the monotonous wreckage: "The purple oceans rich with the buildings and the blood/This kingdom's due to drown." Does this collective's unusually thick and hearty slog refer to Hurricane Katrina or a disaster on the horizon? The reformed hippies in Wooden Wand are spiritualized enough to know but cool enough not to say it aloud.
Ariel Pink Rosenberg
House Arrest (Paw Tracks)
Self-described tramp Ariel "Pink" Rosenberg transforms impounded auto lemons into neutered pop lemonade, sharing a stern, scratchy voicemail from his unwilling-to-cough-up-much-needed-ducats dad before sliding into a rambling, anti-fi netherworld of nut-squeezing, multitrack falsetto pukes and warped, rickety disco axe licks. As usual, the fruit of his labor is a glorious mess, and whether the lyrics are X-rated fantasies or mea culpas is difficult to discern, but just try not to hit repeat. I dare you.
Robags Bobb 2005 für F (Mute)
Germany's Gabor Schablitzki, who sometimes spells his name backward and is also half of the Wighnomy Brothers, might be the sliest producer to beep and blip since the heyday of Aphex Twin. Here Robag flings snares, winks, and then takes quicksilver stutter-steps that recall "Windowlicker," even as a minor-key melody slowly encroaches and overtakes the track, evoking none other than Aphex's Selected Ambient Works II. He'd make a much cuddlier and sweeter boyfriend, though, tweaking "Bobb" specially for his schöne frau.