Albums of the week | New records from Rocket Juice & The Moon, Paul Weller, Quakers and more
The top five
THEESatisfacation awE naturalE
For many, many moon cycles, Erykah Badu has cornered the market in cosmic Mother Goddess soul-hop. If she is Hera, than THEESatisfaction is Artemis—young, wild and deadly. The duo's debut tackles love, sex and sci-fi in short bursts, with sideways future-loops, drowsy funk ("Sweat") and diced jazz ("Existinct"). Flying Lotus and Janelle Monáe could be influences, but not as great as Octavia Butler ("Earthseed"). This is another winner for Sub Pop, which is injecting hip-hop with alien freshness with this, Shabazz Palaces (who guest here) and Spoek Mathambo. awE naturalE is better than both of those, and one of the best LPs of the year.
Rocket Juice & The Moon Rocket Juice & The Moon
Words you don't often see together: tasteful slap bass. Flea delivers just that in Rocket Juice, squirming and popping in Tony Allen's convoluted, polyrhythmic pocket. Though spearheaded by Blur man Damon Albarn, this is Allen's album. The Nigerian's playing is like a Rube Goldberg device of drums. It's dazzling to chase after the beat, from hiccuping kick to splashy snare. Make no mistake, this is a funk record, at times like the Meters minus guitar, at others like Les McCann dabbling in Afrobeat, and overall like the Beastie Boys' instrumentals with superpowers. You should feel it in a part of the body well below the brain and even lower than the heart.
Albarn lays low, singing on just three tracks ("Poison," obviously, but "Benko" and "Fatherless," too), sitting in the corner, squeezing cool sounds from his keyboard. And he even gracefully lets Cheick Tidiane Seck upstage him in that department ("There"). The two Erykah Badu cuts are wonderful. (Badu again. There are a few degress of separation between all of this weeks records, oddly.)
Paul Weller Sonik Kicks
Those missing any Britpoppishness from Albarn, dig into the latest from the Modfather. Graham Coxon chips in, and "Paperchase" is basically "Beetlebum II: Beetlebummer." Weller has quietly been undergoing a late-career renaissance. Well, in the States. He's atop the charts in the U.K. On the strong Wake Up the Nation and 22 Dreams, he skipped through his record collection. This, his eleventh album also dips playfully into soul, punk, psych and folk—oh, and krautrock, as the press would like to overemphasize. The record's scatterbrained, and I've always found his vocals a bit too burly, but bless the 52-year-old for proving that old farts can still get/give kicks. There's more spark here than you find in the brothers Gallagher combined. But they all need a haircut.
Stones Throw is the leading purveyor of short-attention-span hip-hop. No other label puts out more rap cuts that clock in at under two minutes. Well, make that "beats," not "cuts." Donuts, if you will. The brand is more about the beatmaker than the MC. Listening to Madlib, Dilla, Danger Doom or J. Rocc can feel like flipping through commercials, in the best way. Quakers is a dizzying and jaw-dropping showcase for producers 7-Stu-7, Katalyst and Fuzzface. That last guy is Geoff Barrow from Portishead, who delivers more of his killer steampunk bop. Their semiautomatic debut ratatats 41 bullets of crate-digging gold. The crackling samples come from Radiohead, monk chants, Turkish funk, psych bug-outs, who knows. Quentin Tarantino's going to lose his shit. The perfunctory guest rappers play tough, but this isn't about them.
Georgia Anne Muldrow Seeds
The neosoul mystic picked an overshadowing week to drop her collaboration with Madlib. The similarly short and future-funky THEESatisfaction record does a lot of the same things better, and in unexpected forms. Plus, Madlib has a massive box set and a vital reissue out this week, too. But the dude always delivers wild, gurgling basslines and crisp breaks. What Muldrow offers—on her ode to her man, Dudley Perkins, "Husfriend," on "Best Love"—is a righteous heart.
Reissue of the week
Moe Tucker I Feel So Far Away: Anthology 1974–1998
Of all the members of the Velvet Underground, Moe Tucker gets the least respect as a key ingredient, or as a musician in general. Maybe it's because she's a woman. Maybe it's because she's the drummer. Maybe it's because she carries pickets at Tea Party rallies. Nobody will mistake Tucker for a virtuoso, but much of what subsequent bands copied from the Velvets—the scrappy charm, the naivety, the primitive beat—was arguably due to the mother of five. She invented Beat Happening. All I can say is, leathery Lou Reed never made a song as sweet and low-key as "Pale Blue Eyes" once he went solo. That track is here (with Lou on guitar), as are child-like interpretations of "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "Heroin." Otherwise, the bulk of this collection is notalgic rock & roll and girl-group covers, some recorded in the living room, some with members of Sonic Youth. Make all the Meg White jokes you want. This is an essential playful yang to Reed's black yin.
Stinker of the week
I picked on a covers album last week, so you got off lucky, Macy Gray. No, this week's "Stinker" has to go to the disappointing Madonna, who had it at "Gang Bang." What's most amazing is that her great strength, her marketing savy, has run dry. Every publicity stunt, from M.I.A. to Ultra, has blown up in her weird face. If she won't let her skin grow up, her music certainly won't mature. Read my long review here.