• DangerDoom, 'The Mouse & the Mask' (Epitaph)

    If expectations are just disappointments waiting to happen, DangerDoom is a white-hot flame of anticipation fated to sizzle your rap-lovin' heart to a bitter char. MF Doom is the underground's masked mic surrealist; Danger Mouse is the creator of the illicit Jay-Z/Beatles mastersplice, The Grey Album. No creative collision between the two could possibly equal the soundprint that rings in the mind's ear of a rabid fan. Raising the stakes to insurmountable heights, Danger and Doom have enlisted characters from the Cartoon Network's snarky late-night programming block, Adult Swim, to lend their voices to songs and between track skits -- an ideal collaboration for a couple of avowed animaniacs. (DM recently produced tracks for 'toon-poppers Gorillaz, and MF is named after the Fantastic Four's arch-nemesis, Dr. Doom.) Yet Danger Mouse never coasts on high-concept gimmickry.

  • Gogol Bordello, 'Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike' (SideOneDummy)

    Boring old black-white miscegenation is so 20th century -- to really freak out tight-ass bigots in the '00s, somebody's gotta take the multiethnic gene-pool reconstruction worldwide. Mustachioed Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz is just the mutt to do it, and your daughter could one day be the honey he does it with.

  • Fountains of Wayne, 'Out of State Plates' (Virgin)

    Glib little show-offs that they are, power-pop whizzes Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood surround the expected covers (a moody version of Britney's "...Baby One More Time") and novelties (the self-explanatory "I Want an Alien for Christmas") on their rare-and-unreleased two-disc compilation with smart original leftovers, many of which meet melodic expectations with thrilling regularity. Ladies who love endearingly jerky nerds will fall so hard for the jangly "Baby I've Changed" -- which promises not just "I'll never throw your mail away," but also "I'll let you listen to Sugar Ray" -- that they'll probably forgive the needy acoustic plaint "I Want You Around," which suggests, "My little darlin' / Don't you cry / It makes you look older." BUY: iTunes

  • System of a Down, 'Mezmerize' (American/Columbia)

    System of a Down's breakthrough album, Toxicity, hit stores on September 4, 2001, and within eight days, the "selfrighteous suicide" mentioned on hit single "Chop Suey!" had a meaning the band never could've anticipated. (No wonder they're not releasing Hypnotize, part two of this "double album" follow-up, for six months -- gives 'em a chance to respond to any world-altering cataclysms in the interim.) But as resonant as these Armenian-American quasi-goth, post-thrash, nu metalheads instantly felt, their Chomsky-setto-Primus program fit as poorly with any unified political agenda as all that hyphenation suggests.

  • Bjork - Medulla

    BjörkMedullaElektra She comes from the land of ice and snow, to subjugate us once more withher whimsical grandeur-just like those kittens on the Internet singingLed Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." But avant-cuteness has always beenjust the tip of Björk's iceberg. At first, her sixth studio album seemslike an electro-dork's take on MTV's old "Unplugged" gambit. With justoccasional swathes of synthesizer to keep it decent, her bare voicewantonly intermingles with tracks created entirely out of noises madeby humans: vocal ensembles Icelandic and British, human beat-boxes,Inuit throat singers, gentle art-rock vet Robert Wyatt, and hard-rocktrickster Mike Patton-plus, chorus upon chorus of Björks, multi-trackedinto infinity. Sure, it's high-concept:Björkapella. But it's no mere gimmick.

  • Steve Earle - The Revolution Starts Now

    Steve EarleThe Revolution Starts?NowArtemis If Steve Earle could sing like Toby Keith, he'd be knocking'em dead at the Kerry inaugural next January. Hell, if Earle couldmuster even a sliver of Keith's well-groomed stolidity, he might beable to save a song like the klutzy, would-be-anthemic title track ofhis 12th studio album, an otherwise canny survey of life duringwartime. Though he may be a man of the people, Earle's never been theman for them--mainstream country fans would've eventually tunedout his pack-a-day rasp even if he hadn't deserted them first, almost20 years back. Yet Earle's demagogic weakness is his artisticstrength: His characters feel like individuals, not archetypes. Twoyears back, on "John Walker's Blues," he burrowed so deeply into thepsyche of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, the 21st century's mostnotorious U.S.

  • David Banner, 'Mississippi: The Screwed and Chopped Album', 'MTA2: Baptized in Holy Water' (SRC/Universal)

    David Banner, 'Mississippi: The Screwed and Chopped Album', 'MTA2: Baptized in Holy Water' (SRC/Universal)

    David Banner is hardly the first college kid to wallow in ugliness as a tribute to his humble upbringing. But few have crafted so fond and foul a grotesquerie as the University of Maryland grad student's 2003 debut, Mississippi: The Album. His truly country hip-hop-cymbals caked with Delta mud, guitar strings flaking rust, bass a windowpane-shuddering rumble from a passing hooptie, and a snare stutter its backfiring engine-made other supposedly dirty Southerners sound like urbane ATLiens. With Mississippi, named after the rapper's home state, Banner was determined to take his time-and to waste yours. He was like the dude who slows down in the crosswalk to nod as you fume behind the wheel, late for work.

  • Iggy Pop, 'Skull Ring' (Virgin) ; David Bowie, 'Reality' (Columbia)

    Iggy Pop, 'Skull Ring' (Virgin) ; David Bowie, 'Reality' (Columbia)

    Iggy Pop may be a perpetually writhing mass of sinew onstage, but no one has ever accused him of busting his ass in the studio.That's not entirely a bad thing -- 1999's gruesomely introspective, jazz-inflected Avenue B proved that he could be less interesting when he put his back into it than when he didn't try at all. Skull Ring flails along the same path as 2001's casually brutal return to formlessness, Beat Em Up, with Iggy's wry disdain typified on the self-explanatory shrug "Whatever." Although Sum 41 sound as out of place here as Medeski Martin & Wood did on Avenue B, the other guest appearances are ace: Peaches outposes her elder on "Motor Inn," original Stooges Ron and Scott Asheton batter and churn like old times, and Green Day add some sprightly spunk.

  • Macy Gray, 'The Trouble With Being Myself' (Epic)

    She tries to say good-bye, then offs her boyfriend's boss. She tries to walk away, then puts a gun to your head. Don't you sometimes think Macy Gray tries just a little too hard? The latest murder ballad from the author of "Gimme All Your Lovin' or I Will Kill You" is "My Fondest Childhood Memories," in which Li'l Macy ices the baby-sitter for "sexing" her daddy, then whacks Mom's beau as well, before closing with a moral even Lynne Cheney could get behind: "My parents are still happily married / Thanks to me." In an R&B universe full of hoochies and ingenues, Gray is perpetually auditioning to play the wacky neighbor in a hypothetical UPN sitcom--or maybe the psycho ex-girlfriend.

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