A few albums you may have missed over the summer

Since We Last Spoke
Definitive Jux

Hip-hop seems to have paid no attention to its own evolution. The prickly Definitive Jux record label has retrofitted the staid and impotent faux-ghetto sensibilities of contemporary rap with garnishes of intelligence and left-brained achievement.

RJD2, owner of Def Jux, has been somewhat of a house producer for Rawkus and his own label, garnering the admiration of The Roots’ ?uestlove and becoming a focal point of hip-hop’s elite. Being invited inside such a mind is a privilege, and Summer 2004 saw Since We Last Spoke, RJD2’s second album, become the sort of musical mischief that Kool Keith fans can appreciate.

Bonded by ear to the whim of RJD2, like Eddie Valiant to Roger Rabbit by way of the handcuff, any willing listener begs self-reproach of themselves for ignoring such genius for even a short while. “Someone’s Second Kiss” rewrites the black-letter law of hip-hop with the deft stylus of one with whom Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain rung many true notes.

— Adrian Dowe

Helio Sequence
Love and Distance
Sub Pop

With well-constructed songs and lyrics having at least a minimum of thought, the sound of Helio Sequence smacks of a cacophonous blend of influences, ranging from The Beatles, Smashing Pumpkins and Beck, among others.

Helio Sequence is appropriate on a modest level with catchy hooks, poppy beats and a kitsch aesthetic while being serious about it all. It is the perfect opening band that upstages the headlining band (which happened to the Secret Machines this summer at Orpheum).

Above all, Love and Distance is best when tired of old favorite albums.

— Brad Valentine

You Make Me Feel
Plug Research

Serious music fans come into the crosshairs of two variants of ‘soul’: that which is bitter by way of Neil Young or Elliot Smith, or that which acts as a salve upon the listener’s expectations.

Case in point is Michael Milosh’s auspicious album, which is an extension of Boards of Canada’s Music has the Right to Children. The rumble of dreams is here distilled from populist rock’s Tommy–gun grandiosity to a debut album of serenity.

It is as though the superego and id were in talks to merge wants and needs, and the offspring of those discussions was this beauteous collection of Milosh’s insights regarding his selfhood and our own. There is nary a moment here suited for radio play, but there’s plenty of burnished truths, among them the axiom relating music as meaning in and of itself.

— AD

PJ Harvey
Uh Huh Her

If Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville is womankind’s retort to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, then PJ Harvey’s latest offering should be thought of as a spiritual sister to Bob Dylan’s Blood On the Tracks. Both albums contain aching one-sided confessions in the bitter aftermath of soured long-time relationships. Both albums, especially Harvey’s, stand as self-portraits at a very specific emotional place filled with uncomfortable moments where perhaps too much is revealed.

The album avoids the polish and density of sound of Harvey’s last three records so that we are sure to hear her every word. But those looking for a broad statement on love will be disappointed. Harvey’s albums have always been visceral experiences meant less for philosophizing and more for experiencing, whether it be for her audience, herself or here, maybe her ex.

On its own, Uh Huh Her is highly effective. However, the down beat it dwells on can either be cathartic to listeners or drudge up bad voodoo best left behind. This is the dilemma Harvey presents to fans and casual listeners. Dylan avoided this by off setting most of his darkest lyrics with upbeat melodies, but Harvey’s perspective, at this point in her life, comes across inconsolably.


The Paper Chase
God Bless Your Black Heart
Kill Rock Stars

Tired as the allusion is, Kill Rock Stars is a record label and do-it-yourself philosophy that ‘goes to eleven.’ Akin to the much-ballyhooed Sub Pop imprint, the label’s roster bubbles with iconoclasts ranging from Sleater-Kinney to the band in question. Late to the scene but of no less importance, The Paper Chase will change lives.

Ben Folds and his ilk claimed the same musical territory years ago, and his fans are now among the most accomplished bankers and emotional cripples of the present day. Whereas his piano-driven moans thrived in the wait-and-see of heartbreak, God Bless Your Black Heart is quite opposite. With the ebb of “Ready, Willing, Cain, and Able” and its flowing into “Now, We Just Slowly Circle the Draining Fishbowl,” the ear is bent to the conclusion that The Paper Chase has dropped a concept album into our laps.

Heartbreak is bent into a whitened knuckle within each voice-and-string composition, backed by incisive guitar and the cuckolded cinder of relations lost; herein are the sounds of a life ransacked by another’s withdrawal. What we have is a handbook for the end of any romantic era.


Summer’s Disappointment

Sonic Youth
Sonic Nurse

In terms of aging hipsters, Sonic Youth is the best possible model for future aging artists. Well into middle age, the band consistently releases new material that, far from today’s embarrassing ventures from guys such as Lou Reed and Neil Young, is still relevant to new, cutting-edge rock.

With Sonic Nurse, however, it’s difficult for longtime fans to not hearken back to the more vitalizing albums of the past, such as Daydream Nation, Goo, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, and Dirty. This latest effort has its merits, and that’s what listeners have to keep reminding themselves when listening to the album straight through, because the ‘skip forward’ instinct plagues Sonic Nurse.

The album has its moments of pleasant meandering, particularly on “I Love You Golden Blue,” featuring Kim Gordon’s whispering vocals. Even with this solid track, however, songs such as “Sweet Shine” and “JC” remind fans of Sonic Youth’s epiphanic glory of past albums.

–Harold Valentine