If you're a die-hard Ani Difranco or Alanis Morissette fan, and are just looking for a bit of a break without actually sacrificing the sound you love, here's your answer, folks: Emma Cook. With a voice similar to Ani or early Alanis, a focus on guitar as a beat instrument, and a thematic choice, for the most part, of "hurt and angry woman," Cook fits the part well, and starts the album off strongly with "Watch Dog" and "The Girl in the Mirror."
However, by the middle of the album, it is apparent that Cook favours the "hurt" side and thus, the ballads. I say unfortunately because where her edgy voice comes off perfectly when she's calling someone out, after a couple ballads, it just starts to sound whiny and annoying.
Cook returns to what she's good at with the superb "Polyester Nails," a powerful admission of the typical woman's hyprocrisy in hating the "perfect" but nonethe- less striving towards it, but then abandons us to the sub- par remainder of the album. Only the moderately less sub- par "Manifesto" and the best of the ballads, "All I Want; Want I All," to sustain us through the rest of the slow bits.
I wish I could recommend this album, because there's a lot of potential here, and because she has created her own record label, in the independent spirit of Ani, and she's Canadian (woot!), But at this point, it just has to be this: download the good stuff, but wait for the next album for your visit to the record store.
by Virgina Harper
Over the summer you may have been enthralled with humanitarian popstar Justin Timberlake's campaign to aid sexy-deficient people by bringing "Sexy Back". What a sympathetic character JT is, fighting for the "sexy" that sexyologists have warned us has been in short supply for years. By the grace of God, JT has provided a concentrat- ed hour's worth of sexy, in all it's ridiculous, greasy, over- astroglided glory. Yay!
FutureSex is the sound of Justin in love. In love with himself, mostly (Timberlake's swagger is Muhammad Ali with superpowers cocky), but also in love with a series of unnamed ladies. Timberlake can be both sweet (such as on the dreamy "My Love") and a bit of a perv (see: the goofy funk stomp of "Sexy Ladies") with his romances, but he is always charismatic. Aided by the Midas producing touch of Timbaland and further assistance from reclusive beardo Rick Rubin, the King of Cracker n' B sprawls across new territory in search of his inner Prince. Musically and pelvi- cally Timberlake reaches that state, but lyrically, JT is more in R Kelly camp of absurdist genital-mashing talk. Consider that to be a minor setback at most for an absolutely jaw-dropping pop record.
Hyper-futurism and hyper-sexuality can be a precari- ous ledge for a popstar to stand on (Billy Idol's Cyberpunk anyone?), but on FutureSex, JT handles himself astonish- ingly well. In fact, it sounds like he might be interested in handling the listener astonishingly well.
Consider the sexy to be properly returned.
by Dan MacRae
Rarely have I heard an album of such high quality back- ground music. It's so light, so simple, and so fluid you're most likely to hear it behind one of Meredith Grey's self- deprecating voice-overs on an opening sequence of Grey's Anatomy. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just seems like a waste to produce an entire album which has so little substance it cannot hold the listeners' attention without the narcissistic ramblings of a surgical intern.
I'm not arguing that all albums have to be an in your face, strap you in by the balls, rollercoaster of musical excitement, but a little bit of attitude -- a certain edge, definitely comes in handy when trying to keep your audi- ence awake.
To be fair, Rae's voice is indeed lovely, it's clear she is not lacking in talent. Opening track "Like a Star" may prove Rae's songwriting abilities are best on their own. If she used her skills to venture towards a more dynamic or hip hop sound like Lauryn Hill, rather than settling in Dido's listless company for her second album, it would prove much more enjoyable and entertaining. Track "Put Your Records On" is bound to be the most popular song of the album with a catchy, sing-able refrain. The third and final song worthy of note is "Trouble Sleeping," which could be considered one of the darker songs of the album with it's down on love theme. It's still about as light as Cheer Bear strung out on pixie sticks.
by Rachel Molnar
It has taken three long years for Montreal outfit The Dears to release a follow-up to their breakthrough album No Cities Left; but if it takes three years for a band to release a record as good as Gang of Losers, then I propose we make it mandatory for bands to take three years off between record releases as an assurance of quality.
Keeping what makes The Dears The Dears, the band hasn't strayed far from the subject matter of No Cities Left (romance, heartbreak) but their execution of those ideas has been revised. Instead of the sprawling pieces on their previous effort, The Dears have cut the fat and released an extremely focused record while still being avant-garde enough to please longtime fans.
People who were turned off by my previous mention that the record focuses on romance and heartbreak needn't worry. You wouldn't be able to lump the lyrical content of Gang of Losers with the clichéd writings of a 19-year old with a side-swept haircut and too-tight vintage t-shirts. Instead, singer Murray Lightburn sings with sincerity that makes it seem as if his soul and heart have been put through the ringer many times.
The obvious pain that Lightburn has been through is enough to make you kind of feel bad that you're listen- ing to the guy pour his heart out. It comes to a point where on "Ballad of Humankindness," Lightburn contin- ually sings "I'm gonna change, I'm gonna change." It sounds selfish but if whatever he's singing about is helping to create music like this, I hope he never changes.
Well, Blackthought, ?uestlove, and the rest of the boys are back with a new album, and one that has been dubbed their most commercial yet. However, this is no radio- ready collection of dumbed-down house jams. The Roots here manage to stay true to their more independent stance and sound while still finding ways to make the music more accessible.
Gone are the most adventurous song structures of the past (Phrenology's fans may be a little disappointed, but let's be frank: should it still go on the album if it's only lis- tenable once?) and in their place are a set of smooth, com- fortable gems, reminiscent of their last album The Tipping Point's "Star/Pointro" or "Stay Cool," with skip button use necessity few and far between.
The Roots have not only retained their aural quality, but also their approach to subject matter; this is no typical hiphop celebration of women, drugs, and money. As always, the Roots are pointing out the hardships that many people endure ("Remember back in the days when the kitchen had eggs/And pancakes chicken and greens and kool-aid?") and the polical hypocrisies of today ("They said one vote equals one voice/But he told you if he can't work to make it/He'll rob to take it").
The songs are good even if you just consider the rhythm, the content, and Blackthought's endearingly mumbly but remarkably smooth delivery. The appropri- ateness of the choice of featured artists like Maimouna Youssef and Malik B. is just icing on the cake. Verdict: pick up the album, cause as the Roots remind us, it's "all in the music."
by Virginia Harper