J Gabriel Boylan

  • Joell Ortiz, 'Free Agent' (E1/Koch)

    In rap circles, potential is a double-edged sword. And a line like "Never see me in magazines / But I'm the source" is where youthful boasting meets mid-career anxiety. This Brooklyn MC's second proper album (after a raft of mixtapes) refers to his liberation from Dr. Dre's Aftermath imprint, and it's a booming, Chevy-ready, club-averse reintroduction (with production from DJ Premier, DJ Khalil, and others). Ortiz's husky, furiously paced vocals enliven familiar subjects -- gangsta struggle ("One Shot," "Start to Fade"), lyricism ("Nursery Rhymes"), and substance abuse (the perfectly structured motivational tale "Night Train").

  • Jamie Lidell, 'Compass' (Warp)

    Jamie Lidell has managed the neat trick of constructing a solid, distinctive identity out of headlong pastiche: falsetto crooning, post-IDM glitch funk, '90s-indebted R&B beats. That he's become close with Beck is fitting, and here the two share songwriting and production credits. At times, Lidell seems determined to overcrowd his genuinely soulful and lyrically strong music, whether it's with silly, pitched-down vocals ("Your Sweet Boom"), laptoppy clicks, squiggles, and washes ("She Needs Me"), or blasts of aggro rock ("You Are Walking"). The mournful, feed back-blanketed "Big Drift" finds a better balance, and closer "You See My Light" suggests a fresh direction, as Lidell's heartworn, tape-hissy vocal loats over spare piano and weepy horns. BUY:Amazon

  • Phosphorescent, 'Here's to Taking It Easy' (Dead Oceans)

    Singer-guitarist Matthew Houck finds a comfort zone on his fifth Phosphorescent album by allowing his sidemen to shine a little light. The band's sound is still high, the mood still lonesome, but the instrumentation is less freighted with gloom. "I Don't Care If There's Cursing" builds from a bright shuffle to a rumbling piano-led crescendo. And the funereal thump of "Hej, Me I'm Light" is neatly balanced by follow-up "Heaven, Sittin' Down," on which Houck accepts life as a little sad, a little messy, but worth the bumps in the ride. ?BUY:?iTunes??Amazon

  • Nas & Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, 'Distant Relatives' (Universal Republic)

    After a 2005 collaboration on the pensive, pleasant "Road to Zion," from Marley's Welcome to Jamrock album, Bob's youngest son and Nas concoct an entire suite of rap/reggae crossover devoted to black nationalism and African liberation. At times, the results are a bit aimless; even a cute kids' chorus can't save "My Generation" from Joss Stone's wailing or Lil Wayne's awkward motivational turn. When the two principles catch a groove, though, it's impressive, as on the unrelenting organ buzz of leadoff single "As We Enter" and theriotous "Nah Mean." BUY:Amazon

  • Bone Thugs-N-Harmony,'Uni5: The World's Enemy' (BTNH Worldwide/ Asylum/Warner)

    This Cleveland-bred quintet has been around for 20 years, but for the past 15, key members Bizzy Bone and the recently incarcerated Flesh-n-Bone often have been absent. The group's eighth album is a defiant reunion, and up-tempo opener "Rebirth" laments pale imitators: "As we continue to pick up the pieces / They follow us Kings till the sundown." It's also more than seven minutes long, one pitfall of having five MCs. Overall, the pace is slower and reflective, but the classic Bone Thugs elements are in place-rapid-fire rhyming, harmonizing, and a preoccupation with the afterlife, particularly on the ethereal "Meet Me in the Sky." BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Devin the Dude, 'Suite 420' (E1)

    Bug-eyed, perma-stoned Devin Copeland splits his sixth album into halves: The first is all slice-of-life raps documenting daily pursuits, party annoyances, and the danger of mistresses leaving hair in the shower. "Ultimate High," actually not about weed, speaks of roadblocks to ambition (like getting busted for weed); on the second half, Devin croons gloriously cheesy R&B -- smooth guitar solos included -- and offers a PSA (for weed). The goofier aspects of his earlier work are missed here, as are his usual naturalistic beats, which have been replaced by squelching, ominously snaky G-funk. BUY:Amazon

  • Caribou, 'Swim' (Merge)

    Dan Snaith's adventurous music, first as Manitoba and now as Caribou, has ranged from serene, defiantly melodic IDM to backward-looking psychedelia and krautrock. Though Swim is less referential, the artist that does come to mind in these sprawling pieces is Arthur Russell, whose outsider disco and house featured warped cello and ghostly vocals. Similarly, disco and house are the templates here, and Swim builds drama with fluttered flutes, processed strings, skronking saxophone, or a wheezing horn meandering over a defiant, ominous bass. Snaith's favorite later-period instrument is his delicate, high-pitched, echoing voice, which melds perfectly with the flanged circumlocutions of "Hannibal" and the slashing strings on "Jamelia." BUY:Amazon

  • AFI, 'Crash Love' (DGC/Interscope)

    A first-gen MySpace-fueled success story formed in the Warped Tour crucible, AFI know what their fans want: despair, decay, nonstop tours, online scavenger hunts, message-board worlds, Twitter updates, broken hearts, betrayal, and a beat you can (slam)dance to! In that relentless spirit, Crash Love never pauses to take a breath or slows the tempo or eases back on the hypercompressed everything.

  • Mos Def, 'The Ecstatic' (Downtown)

    Within a few verses of thunderous lead-off track "Supermagic," underpinned by a righteous sample of Turkish psych songstress Selda Bagcan, "Cherokee chief rocka" Mos Def more than makes amends for three years away from hip-hop, not to mention his disastrous 2006 Geffen swan song, True Magic. Despite estimable acting chops (The Woodsman, Something the Lord Made), the former Black Star co-captain is among our greatest MCs, and The Ecstatic is easily his finest full-length since Black on Both Sides, his 1999 solo debut. First single "Life in Marvelous Times" builds a furious narrative -- moving from the rapper's project upbringing to the present, where wonders and terrors abound -- over an epic, sticky synth beat (from Ed Banger producer Mr. Flash).

  • Busta Rhymes, 'Back on My B.S.' (Universal Motown)

    One might expect Back on My B.S. -- Busta Rhymes' first batch of songs written since 2006's The Big Bang and the shooting of his friend and bodyguard Israel Ramirez -- to be more sober and confessional. Recently, too, he's railed against the "dehumanizing" aspects of technology. Yet Busta has always mixed deep thoughtfulness with king-size clownishness, and right from the intro ("Back on my bullshit" sung operatically to Beethoven's 5th), he bounces between skittering beats and Dirty South synths, "throwin' money around the room to please myself," and flashing breezily dexterous wordplay.

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