Von Südenfed Tromatic Reflexxions (Domino)
The Fall’s Mark E. Smith doesn’t seem like the natural kin of Mouse on Mars’ Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner -- yet their teaming on Von Südenfed’s striking debut presents them as compatible members of a memorably nasty family. On tracks such as “Speech Contamination/German Fear of Österreich,” Smith’s declamatory exhortations find effective underpinning in Marsian electro-manipulation that splits the difference between doomy throwback synthetics and modern technocraft. Pleasantly unsettling. -- Michael Roberts
Avishai Cohen After the Big Rain Anzic Records
Cohen is credited with handling trumpet and effects on Big Rain, and both are key ingredients in this atmospheric excursion into dreamy avant-worldbeat. “Patro Forte” blends Cohen’s percolating lyricism with Daniel Freedman’s complex percussion and the hyper-cool vocalizing of Lionel Loueke to create a captivating quasi-jazz soundscape, while “Miryama” relaxes on an ambient bed built by keyboardist Jason Lindner. The players get plenty of mileage out of this smooth-running hybrid. -- Roberts
Daddy Yankee El Cartel: The Big Boss (El Cartel Records/Interscope)
Not so long ago, corporate radio tried to build an entire format around a single song: “Gasolina,” an ultra-catchy (and sorta irritating) smash delivered by Ramón “Daddy Yankee” Ayala. El Cartel, Ayala's attempt to consolidate his stardom, demonstrates why this attempt fell to earth. Despite expensive production courtesy of LunyTunes, the team behind “Gasolina,” and name dial-twisters such as the ubiquitous Scott Storch, Ayala comes across as a one-dimensional party prompter as interchangeable as the disc’s most disposable beats. -- Roberts
John Lee Hooker Jr. Cold as Ice (Telarc)
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The senior Hooker stood out from the blues pack due largely to his matchless voice (so sleepy, so lethal) and a guitar technique that made the most out of open spaces. In contrast, his namesake is, at least thus far, thoroughly generic, hardly straying from the electric blues sound that’s been prevalent for the past three decades plus. Cold as Ice isn’t so much bad as it is thoroughly unnecessary -- and that would be just as true if John Jr. had a different last name. -- Roberts
Various artists Hairspray: Soundtrack to the Motion Picture (New Line Records)
Loved the music in John Waters’s tangy original movie, and enjoyed much of the stage version’s original score -- and some of those songs survive recasting by Hollywood types; “Good Morning Baltimore” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” are so Broadway brassy that they blast past the conservative, underwhelming arrangements imposed upon them by producer/composer Marc Shaiman. But there are plenty of other moments that inspire thoughts of tall buildings, open windows and running starts -- foremost among them “(You’re) Timeless to Me,” an excruciating duet between Christopher Walken and a draggy John Travolta, who definitely deserves a dressing down. -- Roberts