Critical thining: Musical musing

Letting Go – Bonnie “Prince” Buster By Stephen R HausmannWill Oldham gets around.Under his commonly used moniker Bonnie “Prince” Billy, he has co-recorded albums with Matt Sweeney (“Superwolf”) and Tortoise (this year’s mildly disappointing “The Brave and the Bold”), released “A Summer in the Southeast” and now anothersolo album, “The Letting Go” all in less than a year. Did I mention he recently completed an east coast tour and revs up a western run in less than a month?Yeah, Billy works hard. “The Letting Go,” is bravely different from his past releases. Usually relying on a staunch less-is-more belief, Oldham this time rushes out of the box with glorious string arrangements (“Love Comes to Me,” et al) andguest drummer Jim White (of Dirty Three) playing odd, subduedpseudo-electronic beats on “Lay and Love.” “Prince” Billy’s voice, as heart breakingly strained as ever, shines on this album and is accompanied by backing vocalist Dawn McCarthy. Her harmonies are the sun to Oldham’s moon, shining brightly even on the darkest tracks, sparking and adding depth to already stunningly written songs.The album, which despite its world weary lyrics and feel, ismarkedly brighter than Oldham’s masterpiece, “I See a Darkness”, and gives the 1999 folk landmark a run for its money as the highlight of the Bonnie Prince’s full and magnificent career. The most strikingly honest album to come out of 2006 thus far, “The Letting Go” is not to be missed by folk, country or really, any music fans-a testament to Oldham’s songwriting mastery. Servants in Heaven Kings in Hell(Babygrande) – Jedi Mind TricksBy Lucas CaressIt might be the return of the Jedi.When Jus Allah left the group following the smash successof 2000’s “Violent by Design,” Vinnie Paz’s lyricism took a definite turn for the worse. The two subsequent albums,”Visions of Gandhi” and “Legacy of Blood,” were lyrically blandand generic, with Paz infusing his verses with homophobic hate and violence against Christianity. But with their fifth and mostrecent release, the duo has begun to diverge from the rampant violence, homophobia and Christbashing that marked their last two releases.The beats are exceptional, with Stoupe crafting layers ofinstruments aided by a plethora of samples. Meanwhile,Vincenzo is at his best when he. Jewels like “ShadowBusiness” and “Uncommon Valor” are close to socially consciousas the group has ever been, the latter even presenting a veiledparallel between the wars in Iraq and Vietnam, with the formerbeing an indictment of sweatshop conditions.The most touching and surprising track of the album has tobe the haunting “Razorblade Salvation,” a reinterpretation ofSufjan Stevens’ “Dumb I Sound.”While Indie rocker Diamond Girl fills the chorus with pain, Paz contemplates ending his life. Of course, the album has more than its share of battle rap songs, but even these are more coherent than in the past.In the end, there are still far too many generic battle raps thatsay the exact same thing: “Heavy Metal Kings” finds Ill Bill (formerly of Non-Phixion) and Paz trading verses about how much they’ll kill you. The Outsider(Umvd) – DJ ShadowBy Lily BottinoMy brow furrowed in excitement as the intro to Outsidercommenced, my thoughts ringing, “This is it! He’s done itagain!” Five songs into DJ Shadow’s new creation, sheer confusionreplaced anticipation. It isn’t a new work of art by an artist whodelivered chills in the past: it is Frankenstein’s musical monster. Infused with pieces of defunct and appalling confusion,the queston begs: What happened, DJ Shadow?While segments of this album exude the familiarsmoothness only Shadow can create by aligning together beatsthat would seemingly clash, the disc is a disappointment for themost part. “This Time (I’m Gonna Try it My Way)” from “Outsider”stirs those familiar old feelings of incited unique energy, andShadow gets credit for courageous mixing it up with stylescompletely new to his name, adding in a flavor of blues guitarwith “Backstage Girl” and “Broken Levee Blues.”The only problem is even in songs like these, raps destroy theflow, as Phonte Coleman’s words of a promiscuous “backstage”chick conflict with the potential in drum and guitar solos.Terribly generic hip-hop tracks ruin this album with awkwardand shallow lyrics that fail to even be catchy-like “TurfDancing” featuring Animaniaks and Federation, which leaves the listener stunned that Shadow would have any part of this.Guests Q-Tip and Lateef the Truth Speaker’s verses on”Enuff” are just that. A whirlwind of a ride without any worthwhile destination, Shadow’s genre-less, theme-less”Outsider” goes everywhere but nowhere, even if he is thinkingoutside the box. Knives Don’t Have Your Back(Last Gang) – Emily Haines & The Soft SkeletonBy Erin SullivanBest known for her involvement with Metric and BrokenSocial Scene, Emily Haines finally made time for her first soloeffort. Haines, known for Metric’s danceable sound, departs fromthis reputation on “Knives,” which is delicately composed,piano-driven, and complimented by soft vocals.Taking four years to complete, her efforts pay off with abeautiful and deeply personal album that does not disappoint.”Knives” begins with “Our Hell,” a moving and delicatesong about despair and helplessness.Though somber, it is a highlights of the album.The theme of loneliness and despair continues on “CrowdSurf off a Cliff” when Haines sings, “I wake up lonely.”On this track, Haines even drops the f-word, but does so in away that makes it tragic rather than vulgar.”The Lottery” and “The Maid Needs a Maid,” are morepolitical with lyrics hinting at sexuality, feminism, and socialclass.Changing the pace yet again, “Mostly Waving” incorporates avariety of horn instruments that make the track more forceful and powerful than the rest.This track, along with “Reading in Bed” was writtenafter the death of Haines’ father, a Canadian poet, and are the most personal tracks on the album.”Knives” is a melancholy and heart-wrenching disc filledwith loss and vulnerability.Haines possesses a certain sadness and angst on her solodebut, but this leaves the listener with anguish and respect for her and her Skeleton.