Have you Backbeat readers out there been wondering what happened to Playlist? For a variety of reasons, our regular collection of national and local CD reviews hasn't appeared in the published issues of Westword since December -- and as a result, the critiques we prepared for January papers are no longer as timely as they once were.
Fortunately, a new Playlist is slated to appear in the February 8 edition, and to whet your appetite for the feature's return, here's a taste of what you missed: blurbs about four national albums (by Nas, Ghostface Killah, Clinic and Clipse) and two discs by local acts (Witch Doctor and Strange Powers).
Hip-Hop Is Dead
All pop music is ageist, but few genres are more brutal on elders than rap. Young rhymers may occasionally salute musical O.G.s, but most consumers tend to dismiss them. Nas reacts to this reality with bitterness on Dead, while fellow veteran Ghostface Killah responds by going his own wild way, without worrying about commercial prospects.
Given Jay-Z's decision to make peace and sponsor his onetime enemy, Nas should feel lucky. Instead, he fills his new disc's title cut with kids-nowadays-got-no-respect rants like "They forgot where it started." Likewise, "Where Are They Now" is an exercise in empty nostalgia.
As for the Killah, he's too focused on now to worry about then. More Fish is less a sequel to the recent Fishscale than a nutty New Year's bash populated by guests such as Shawn Wigs. Still, the star shines on typically loopy party starters such as "Block Rock," in which he asks, "Is it crazy to illuminate like the son of God?"
Hell, no -- as long as age brings wit and wisdom instead of bitchiness. -- Michael Roberts
The members of Liverpool's Clinic are up to their surgical masks in Nuggets-worthy psychedelic splendor here, from the bass-driven pulse of an opening track that resembles the Yardbirds paying tribute to the Far East, to the dark narcotic haze that hovers over "Gideon." On "Animal/Human," the act sounds like it's covering some Phil Spector girl-group classic, fried on acid, with an unexpected Shaft guitar break. Ade Blackburn slurs every word until you feel like you're on acid, too, while "Paradise" crawls like the Drifters on cough syrup under the boardwalk. But the tracks that flat-out rock are often just as brilliant, if closer in spirit to the Seeds side of the Nuggets tracks -- from "Children of Kellogg" (whose loping bass is pretty much a mirror image of the first cut) to "If You Could Read Your Mind" and the thrashing garage-punk abandon of "Tusk." You'll be hard-pressed to find a more inspired artifact from this, the modern psychedelic era, than Visitations. -- Ed Masley
Hell Hath No Fury
Despite all of the biblical allusions on its 2002 debut Lord Willin', Virginia Beach's Clipse (brothers Pusha T and Malice) probably didn't intend to evoke the Book of Exodus, too. But in the aftermath of the Sony-BMG merger that buried the act at Jive, the duo has wandered for years without a release date for a followup to Willin'. Until now. "I ain't spent one rap dollar in three years," Pusha boasts on Hell Hath No Fury's "Keys Open Doors." (For those not familiar with Pusha's day job, "keys" stands for kilos.) A palpable bitterness courses through Hell, a disc as uncut and brain-tingling as Clipse's purported product. The acidic grain of the rhymes, however, is tempered by the Neptunes' tweaked and avant batch of beats. A vertiginous harp strum pervades "Ride Around Shining," an accordion wheezes like a basehead on "Momma I'm Sorry," and eerie female choirs arise elsewhere. Overall, Hell is terse, sinister and brilliant. -- Andy Beta
(Star Ship Stereo)
If you didn't know any better and you heard Witch Doctor's self-titled album in a record store, you'd think you were being subjected to some bizarre, long-lost Syd Barrett bootleg -- that is, if you hadn't already heard the frenzied sections of atonal guitar lines. With vocals that are decidedly non-melodic and expressive drumming that's more window dressing than rhythm, Witch Doctor makes for a challenging, counterintuitive listening experience. Witch Doctor's music is closer to the more avant-garde no-wave music of the late �70s than anything contemporary (a sentiment seemingly underscored by the disc's cover art, which depicts an Aztec pyramid with a spill of blood down the steps and the severed heads of past rock luminaries). Ultimately, though, listeners who manage to break free from their expectations will be rewarded for their efforts. -- Tom Murphy
(Broken Beaker Records)
Some vocal approaches are more divisive than others -- like, for instance, the one employed by hybrid hip-hopper Josh "Strange" Powers. His delivery is certainly different, but that's not always a good thing.
Whereas most emcees enunciate casually, Powers tends toward formality, often emphasizing the -ers at the end of certain words rather than changing them to -as. But unlike, say, Andy Samberg, Powers isn't shooting for simple laughs with this technique. "Sanctuary" and other tunes here sport a pronounced, and credible, sci-fi edge, and lyrics such as "You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything" (from "All or Nothing") suggest something resembling sincerity. Unfortunately, the elements don't naturally mesh with Powers's rapping, which helps explain why two of the most effective tracks are "Pelicans," which he sings (sorta), and "Fear Killers," in which the rhymes are handled by others.
These last tracks are a lot easier to Dig. -- Roberts
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