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[critic]al thinking


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An album to sink your teeth into

Record Review Andrew DeTullio

Vampire Weekend

s/t

(Xl Recordings)

4.5 Stars

With the rising critical power of the blogosphere, Internet hype can now either make or break a band before they even release a record.

Already, 2008 has one of these highly coveted and hyped bands, Vampire Weekend.

Comprised of four Columbia grads, VW has managed to blend Afro pop styles with indie rock into what they call “Upper West Side Soweto,” giving them a sound not far removed from Paul Simon’s “GraceÂland.”

On their self-titled album, they deliver a beautiful and perfectly crafted pop record.

While musically it may not be mind blowing, it’s the type of album that warÂrants repetitive listening.

Unfortunately, this album lacks lyrical strength but is carried by its upbeat, airy and complex musical style.

Lead singer Ezra Koenig’s relaxed voice floats over the various and diverse instrumental arrangements.

The thundering piano countered by elegant violins on “Walcott,” and the fast paced drumming on “A-Punk” is blended nicely with Mellotron riffs, giving the album a contrasting yet full sound.

The sublime “I Stand Corrected,” is slower paced yet still mildly haunting.

But yes folks, believe the hype, VW delivers an extremely solid debut that few bands can replicate and instills hope for great things to come from these guys.

It’s noisy. It’s offensive and offputing. It’s art?

Xiu Xiu

Women as Lovers

(Kill Rock Stars)

3.5 Stars

Record Review Connor Boals

Crafting an album to access an audience usually involves a filtering process that takes the twisted thoughts of the artist and waters them down for the masses.

Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart never had the notion of a filter. “Women as Lovers” is unrefined, underdone and grubby. Its soiled sounds are a return to the nausea of 2004’s “Fabulous Muscles.”

“Women as Lovers” will most likely turn the majority of listeners off – and do it quickly. Xiu Xiu is not the kind of music you can “get into” on a first listen. But for some, this latest effort will strike as an epileptic revelation, bursting with luminous hallucinations. It’s weird, lyrically (“laugh at your son / a child is nothing without hate”) and musically (the binary of whiny Morrissey-like sorrow and rampantly free laptop-jazz).

The sound is varied from furiously tense silence on “In Lust You Can Hear The Axes Fall” to the fairly accessible pop horns on “No Friend Oh!” There is a horrific crash of old (gongs, syrupy back-up vocals, acoustic strumming) and new (layers upon layers of hissing tape, loads of distortion and dissonance and all too creepy lyrics).

Xiu Xiu is ugly and “Women as Lovers” is no respite from the tradition. However, in the hideousness comes a touching reality, a beautiful portrait of tortured art and raw, confused lust.

Experimental music needs a new generation, and Xiu Xiu is the perfect seasoned veteran to give birth to a generation of anxious, inspired weirdos.

It’s so ugly, it’s beautiful.

Not illustrious enough to return to the mid-’90s

Illustrious

Illustrious

(Koch Records)

1.5 Stars

Record Review Magdalena Jensen

“This is for my hustlas”: predictable intro line for an equally predictable album. Big Noyd’s fifth album, “Illustrious,” sorely lacks the luster he was shooting for. Best known for his contributions to Mobb Deep’s albums, Big Noyd’s not exactly famous.

Big Noyd has talent, he proves that he can lay some chill raps, but the lyrics are as repetitive as the shallow beats that loop endlessly. That said, there are a few decent tracks.

“Things Done Changed” expounds upon the woes of ghetto life. It brings the listener back to the days of wack-crack mamas without teeth and times when MCs just loved to toss rhymes.

Big Noyd makes sure we know that the industry’s “done changed”: “It’s a check-chasin’, diamond-encrusted, Hemi-filled lifeÂstyle.”

There’s intelligence evident behind that: hip-hop has become commercial and boring.

The album ends on a slightly higher note. Surprisingly, the last track, “Get It Poppin'” was the most intense: a minute and nineteen seconds of fierceÂly spit rhymes that dare the listener to get in Noyd’s face.

Overall, the album is decent. If you like dull, repetitive rap reminiscent of the late ’90s, “Illustrious” delivers.

If you’re looking for innovation, you’ll be disappointed and bored.

Contemporary bluegrass band drives it home

The Steeldrivers

s/t

(Rounder / Umgd)

4.5 Stars

Record Review Steve Hausmann

Imagine if, instead of being brought up in Southern California, Tom Waits was born and raised smack dab in the middle of the Bluegrass State.

Instead of listening to Bob Dylan and jazz, he fell in love with Bill Monroe and his ol’ Kentucky home.

In this alternate reality, The Steeldrivers were born.

This description is slightly misleading; instead of a sharp, perfected Waitsian snarl, Chris Stapleton sings with a broken, rusty twang – grungy, but not quite raspy. His harmonies with fiddler Tammy Rogers make the vocals on their eponymous debut a pleasure to listen to.

In this unfair world where contemporary country is symbolized by Ford trucks and blind flag waving, The Steeldrivers strike at the roots of their genre.

“Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey,” an early album highlight, says it all – these songs are about fun and hard times, love and losing it, just as the best country music always is.

The moods range from rollicking bluegrass to subÂlime slower numbers and not one is a throwaway. Musically, there’s often an angry energy to the banjo and guitar that matches Stapleton’s harsh voice, which ends up the star of the show.

Even in Vermont, the backyard of liberalism and headquarters of jam, country music has a place. Throw away notions of Rascal Flatts and give The Steeldrivers a listen. Do it for your own good – StapleÂton sounds like the type to kick your ass if you don’t.

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[critic]al thinking