• Kidz in the Hall, 'Land of Make Believe' (Duckdown)

    Only two years after their breakthrough 2008 album The In Crowd (and single "Drivin' Down the Block"), Chicago hip-hop duo Kidz in the Hall seem torn, celebrating guilty pleasures ("Bougie Girls") and wondering, "Do you ever feel alone in a room full of people?" But save a few deft meditations on the stresses of blog-rap fame ("Flickin'," "L_O_V_E"), rapper Naledge and producer Double-O also sound uninspired, squandering their boyish Ivy League enthusiasm on clichéd odes to nightclub decadence. BUY:Amazon

  • k-os, 'Yes!' (Crown Loyalist/Universal)

    "I don't really care 'cause I'm burning some bridges / We don't need no water, let it burn to the ground," harmonizes k-os on his fourth album. As if to prove the point, the Canadian iconoclast tweaks his pop-suffused hip-hop, mingling orchestral strings, acoustic strums, and contributions from Metric's Emily Haines and the Dears' Murray Lightburn with his own reedy vocals and eloquent rhymes. Hooks abound, but nothing recalls the tender simplicity of "The Love Song," the breakout single from 2004's Joyful Rebellion. Instead, Yes! sounds like creative chaos, for good and ill. BUY: Amazon

  • Galactic, 'Ya-Ka-May' (Anti-)

    For Ya-Ka-May, New Orleans brass-funk combo Galactic recruit a cross section of local luminaries, from the great R&B singer Allen Toussaint to bounce rapper Sissy Nobby, for a dip into the city's dark waters of sin and salvation. Odes to liquor and cocaine (Josh Cohen and Scully's "Liquor Pang") rub against testaments to personal fortitude (Irma Thomas' "Heart of Steel"). Galactic struggle to accompany all these signifying voices, sometimes resorting to hard, strident rhythms that don't really augment the performances. But you never get the sense that they're tourists -- they can blow, sway, and dive as well as any N'awlins marching band. Mosi ReevesBUY: Amazon

  • The Whitefield Brothers, 'Earthology' (Now-Again)

    Jan and Max Weissenfeldt are part of a German collective that has released late-'60s-inspired raw-funk excursions under an array of pseudonyms (Poets of Rhythm, Karl Hector) for the past decade-plus. On Earthology, their second album as the Whitefield Brothers, they journey into Afrobeat, exotica, and fusion. While some of the instrumental workouts (like "Safari Strut") are loose and inspired, it takes a handful of appearances from backpack-friendly rappers Percee P ("Reverse") and Mr. Lif ("The Gift") to keep Earthology from fading into lava-lamp background grooviness. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Strong Arm Steady, 'In Search of Stoney Jackson' (Stones Throw)

    Between his psychedelically twisted beat tapes and quirky collaborations, Madlib occasionally reminds us that he's not only a stoned production genius, but a ranking member of Southern California's sprawling street-rap scene. With Strong Arm Steady's MC trio of Krondon, Phil Da Agony, and Mitchy Slick (plus extended fam like Planet Asia, Phonte, and Fashawn) dropping lyrical barbs ("Telegram") and creatively reheated thug-isms ("Needle in the Haystack"), Madlib chops up loops bubbling with quirky humor and analog soul. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • RJD2, 'The Colossus' (RJ's Electrical Connections)

    The Colossus should remind everyone how talented DJ-producer Ramble John Krohn was before he crafted the award-winning Mad Men theme. It's his finest album since 2002's instrumental hip-hop classic Deadringer, balancing punchy funk ("Let There Be Horns") with soul ballads ("Games You Can Win," featuring pensive vocals from Kenna). And yes, RJ is singing again; but unlike 2007's self-indulgent The Third Hand, here he wisely picks his spots, chirping a few modest ditties. Four albums deep, he's found his comfort zone. LISTEN: RJD2 album preview BUY: Amazon

  • Little Dragon, 'Machine Dreams' (Peacefrog)

    With nods to synth pop, electro, and funk, Sweden's Little Dragon fill their second album with bleeping keyboards and jazzy arpeggios, recalling both Howard Jones and Saint Etienne (with some jittery Hot Chip grooves thrown in). But what sets Machine Dreams apart is frontwoman Yukimi Nagano's alternately yelping and cooing voice. Spinning wryly romantic tales of "Thunder Love" and "Fortune" over eerie melodies and Fairlight synthesizer washes, she's consistently captivating. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • BlakRoc, 'BlakRoc' (BlakRoc)

    This unlikely jam session between blues revivalists the Black Keys, executive producer Dame Dash, and a smattering of Dash's homies sounds as breezily superfluous as you'd expect. Raekwon spits crack rap ("Stay Off the Fuckin' Flowers"), Mos Def contemplates life ("On the Vista"), and Pharoahe Monch and the RZA flip snappy freestyles ("Dollaz & Sense"). The Keys' Dan Auerbach adds guitar squalls and warbling, tuneless vocals. BlakRoc has its quirky moments, particularly when Ludacris jumps on an Ol' Dirty Bastard outtake for a "Coochie" romp. But as a memorable exploration of the intersection between hip-hop and the blues, it ain't much. WATCH: BlakRoc trailer BUY: iTunes Amazon

  • Souls of Mischief, 'Montezuma's Revenge' (Hiero Imperium)

    Older fans who grew up loving Souls of Mischief's joyfully voluble '93 'Til Infinity probably won't have much patience for Montezuma's Revenge's plainspoken raps, even with Prince Paul behind the boards (the legendary mischief-making producer is decidedly restrained here). Nearly two decades after the Bay Area quartet's debut, disillusioned backpackers are either force-feeding themselves Lil Wayne mix tapes or mourning hip-hop's death like B-boy Chicken Littles. But there are plenty of small pleasures to be heard on the Souls' fifth studio album, from the tipsy flows of "Home Game" to the buttery jazz vibes of "Tour Stories." WATCH: Souls of Mischief, "Proper Aim" BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Edan, 'Echo Party' (Five Day Weekend/Lewis)

    Boston-baked weirdo MC-producer Edan Portnoy has kept silent since his 2005 indie-rap masterwork Beauty and the Beat, and Echo Party, a trussed-up mix tape copping old-school hip-hop and disco tracks (and no original material), seems burdened by expectations. Edan drowns his fanciful edits of Funky Four Plus One and Spoonie Gee with too many turntable scratches, squealing noises, and echo effects, transforming the grooves into the equivalent of a Pink Floyd laser light show. As Jay-Z might say, "Let that bitch breathe." BUY: iTunesAmazon

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