Phife Dawg Ventilation: Da LP (Groove Attack) Ventilation is the solo debut from hip-hop’s legendary MC Phife Dawg, formerly of A Tribe Called Quest. After that group’s break-up and the release of former Tribe member

Phife Dawg
Ventilation: Da LP
(Groove Attack)

Ventilation is the solo debut from hip-hop’s legendary MC Phife Dawg, formerly of A Tribe Called Quest. After that group’s break-up and the release of former Tribe member Q-Tip’s album, many were interested to see what Phife had to say.

The album leads off with “Flawless.” Here Phife takes shots at Q-Tip as well as his former record label, Jive. Phife raps about every thing from Jive’s signing of Britney Spears to Tip’s new jiggy appearance (“Go ahead and play yourself with those ho-like hooks/sing ballads if it’s all about the Maxwell look”). Aside from these references, Phife also talks about what is wrong with the present state of hip-hop. With a head-bopping beat, “Flawless” is the album’s standout.

With top-notch producers including Pete Rock, DJ Hi Tek and Jay Dee, you will definitely stay stimulated musically. Another standout track is “4 Horsemen,” featuring the group No Name. “Ben Dova” is Phife’s take on Tip’s “Vivrant Thing.”

Overall, Phife combines straight MCing with conscious rhymes. Though the album lacks lyrical execution, Phife does himself a favor by keeping the CD short. Let’s just hope in this fickle game of hip-hop people still remember the name Phife Dawg.

Grade: C
–Dawan Malik McAdams
Richard Ashcroft
Alone With Everybody

Many are weary of ex-lead-singer solo efforts. This is understandable when thinking of people such as Belinda Carlisle and Ian Brown. Heck, let’s face it, John Lennon was better off with Paul McCartney, no? The problem always ends up being that they want desperately to run away from their old band’s image and end up sounding just that: desperate.

God bless Richard Ashcroft, formerly of the British ethereal band, the Verve, for keeping it real. On Alone With Everybody, he enlists Chris Potter, the engineer and co-producer who worked on the Verve’s last album, Urban Hymns. Alone echoes the same sweet ballads and sound structure of that album with Ashcroft’s voice soaring over the lush orchestrations. The most amazing thing about this album is how Ashcroft comes across as so intense and yet sings some of his most romantic songs to date. Instead of utilizing old rock cliches about women, Ashcroft isn’t afraid to treat the subject of his love songs (most likely his wife, Kate Radley, of Spiritualized) with respect. Like I said, God bless him.

Grade: A
–Maureen Walsh
Joseph Arthur
Come to Where I’m From

This up-and-coming folk rocker is, musically and lyrically, one big mood swing, which makes for quite an interesting album.

“Ashes Everywhere” is a great post-love song whose somber mood and reverbed-out production build on the lyrical theme of solitude. This contrasts heavily with the next song, “Chemical,” a poppy, up-tempo number.

Later, the mood comes back down again with a dark number called “Invisible Hands.” Musically it is trip-hop based with vocals recalling Tom Waits, an odd pairing that works well.

The album’s culmination is the fierce opus “Creation or a Stain,” carried by break beats performed by a live drummer. The lyrics build, getting more and more pissed off.

The album’s only shortcomings are lyrical. For the most part, Arthur’s lyrics work on some level. But the chorus of “In The Sun,” a repetition of “May God’s love be with you always,” gets tepid quickly. Also, the Pixies-esque “Cockroach” is a tad silly, opening with the lyrics: “Now you’re a cockroach crawling on bones.”

But the shortcomings are just that: short. On the whole, Come to Where I’m From is a very promising sophomore effort from Arthur. I can’t wait to see how he sounds once he graduates.

Grade: B+
–John Vettese
Johnny Cash
American III: Solitary Man

Johnny Cash transcends all musical boundaries with American III: Solitary Man, the latest in the Rick Rubin-produced acoustic trilogy. The album features Cash performing cover songs and new original material with such guest artists as Tom Petty, Merle Haggard and Sheryl Crow.

Cash says in the liner notes: “I worked on these songs until it felt like they were my own.”

Cash’s voice sounds tired and weary on a few tracks, but his familiar baritone is strong for most of the album. Many tracks deal with the subject of death, such as “Wayfaring Stranger” and a beautiful cover of Will Oldham’s “I See a Darkness,” on which Oldham guests.

On the lighter side, Cash takes the century-old Vaudeville tune “Nobody” and infuses it with his wry humor. The Man in Black also takes pride in his Southern heritage with the self-penned “Country Trash.”

Other standouts on the disc are the original “Before My Time” and “Solitary Man,” a Neil Diamond cover featuring Tom Petty on backing vocals.

Johnny Cash’s appeal is evident in the variety of songs chosen for this album. With his first new studio album in three years, Cash brings the lost art of sincerity back to music.

Grade: A+
–Lana Cooper
The New Amsterdams
Never You Mind
(Heroes & Villains/Vagrant)

The most annoying thing about most emo bands is that they sing about girls and flowery emotions against a backdrop of macho power chords.

Even some of the genre’s better acts, like the Get Up Kids, have committed this sin over and over. Whatever feelings they are trying to convey, as trite as they may be, get lost.

That’s what makes The New Amsterdams, the disguised solo debut from the Get Up Kids’ singer/songwriter Matthew Pryor, so interesting. Instead of being loud and melodic, Pryor unplugs and lets the songs speak for themselves.

The result is addition by subtraction. Unlike his work with the Kids, Pryor explores subtler emotions on the waltzy “Lonely Hearts” and the straight-up “Proceed with Caution.” The earthy “Idaho” and “I Won’t Run Away” sound almost Guthrie-esque. Pryor even gets a little poppy on “Make Me Change My Mind” and “Never Treat Others.”

Lyrically, Never You Mind is your typical emo fodder: short, sweet and all about the opposite sex. But if anything, Pryor’s songwriting shows that this Kid is definitely maturing.

Grade: B
–Terry Dugan

Many bands attempt originality with their music, and very few are able to succeed. This band’s album is part of the exception. You will be floored when you realize what you are hearing.

The band, including Matt Mahaffery (lead singer/guitarist), Mac Burrus on bass, Chris James on keyboard and Jason Rawlings on drums, blends the Doobie Brothers’ hit “What a Fool Believes” with hip-hop undertones and popping melodies in creating Self’s fourth album.

Whether you’re into the alternative sound or not, Gizmodgery’s 12 tracks have a sound anyone should enjoy. The album may be overlooked at first, but once people realize all the music is done with toy instruments, yes toys, they are sure to be impressed.

“The only rule of recording: no cheating by using anything that would be considered a ‘real’ instrument,” said Mahaffery, the album’s mastermind.

Borrow the CD from a friend and good luck trying to pick out all the toys. Your favorite childhood toy might be somewhere in the background. Enjoy listening.

Grade: B
–Jessica Schwartz
Toshack Highway

Simply put, Toshack Highway–the offspring of Swervedriver’s Adam Franklin–offers up 12 tracks of dreamy shoegazer rock. But like most other shoegazer bands (My Bloody Valentine, Lush, etc.), it’s got its ups and downs.

Many of the tracks show an influence from current French sensation Air, especially in the vocals and melody on “I’ve Lost the Feeling” and the moog-heavy “Board the Bullet Train.”

However, there are some tracks that just delve into obnoxiousness. The opener, “Harlem,” fuses some jangly piano and German poetry, a combination that doesn’t exactly mesh. “Man in the Middle East,” a raga-based tune featuring sitar, tribal drumming, and some spooky vocal sampling, is sure to somewhere, somehow, induce a bad trip.

But some brilliant instrumentals make up for the weaker tunes. “Just Landed” is peacefully reverbed out, and features some astronaut sampling a la The Orb and Enigma to hammer home the “spacy” mood. The dense “Waking Up” is great as well.

“Man in the Middle East” notwithstanding, the album’s biggest problem is its exceedingly peaceful and serene nature. Chances are you’ll be asleep before you hear the entire thing.

Grade: B
–John Vettese
Dream Signals in Full Circles

While a majority of listeners would classify instrumental rock as boring, lackluster music that your parents would listen to, Tristeza, a San Diego-based group, breaks this stereotype on its newest release.

The five members formulate an interesting, atmospheric sound that borders on New Age, marking a departure from their previous melodic, rock-based style. The dual lead guitars create lush, detailed melodies that build on one another. Humming synthesizers and gentle keyboard melodies provide an interesting musical backdrop to the progressive drumming and guitar riffs.

On “Aurora Borealis,” the crystal clear harmonies and glowing, climatic tone will make you feel like you are sitting beneath the Northern Lights. The group also incorporates keyboard echoes and other various sounds in the moody, depressing “Are We People.”

Dream Signals in Full Circles reads more like a book than an album. The textured, impressionistic style creates an image for the listener that changes with each song. So if you decide to give that “lackluster” instrumental rock a listen, Tristeza’s newest offering should be your first pick.

Grade: A-
–Brendan McCarthy
Junior Vasquez
Twilo: Vol. 1–Junior Vasquez

Imagine having a New York City dance club in your own living room. All you need is Twilo: Vol. 1, the latest DJ set by Junior Vasquez. Twilo is a New York City dance club at which Junior spins. The man who gained attention with his remixes of Madonna, Whitney Houston, the Spice Girls and Kylie Minogue among other dance music “goddesses,” really needs no introduction.

On this CD, Vasquez give us a little of everything: house-diva numbers (Donna DeLory’s “On and On” and System F’s “Cry”), techno (Mind Trap’s “Hypnotism”), Eurodance, and an awe-inspiring remix of Shannon’s ’80s dance anthem “Let the Music Play.” His style is almost Phil Spector-esque as he assaults your ears with big, incessant beats. He establishes dramas with intense build-ups. If you want to get your dance on, this CD is sure to do the trick

Grade: A-
–Maureen Walsh
Clan of Xymox

Clan Of Xymox are goth-rockers who achieved some moderate degree of success in the mid-’80s, and have spent their career ever since trying to recapture their former glory.

With 1999’s Creatures, the first release on Metropolis records, the band finally started to get there. So what better to do then release a double live album and get cracking on some new studio work?

How much you like Live depends on your tolerance for goth-rock. Two CDs, 19 tracks, 110 minutes…that’s a LOT of somber mopiness. The sound quality of the recording leaves much to be desired; the cheers of the crowd can often be heard on the same level as the music. On the other hand, the band’s performance is on point, especially the resonating tones of the ’80s single “A Day,” and the Sisters-esque “This World” and “Obsession.” While fans of the band are probably going to like this, it’s not likely to garner Clan of Xymox any new listeners.

Based on Liberty, their current single, the next album they put out might do just that. The single tries to hark back to Clan’s early days by echoing some of goth’s old guard.

“Liberty” soars with lush, Love Spirals Downwards-esque keyboard lines, and “Number 1” and “At Your Mercy” are both far more up-tempo, with a vocal vibrato recalling the melodrama of Christian Death. A weak remix of “Liberty” closes off the single, which, while it might not sound too original or innovative, sounds good and stands a fighting chance of resurrecting this overlooked goth-rock act.

Live Grade: C+
Liberty Grade: B+
–John Vettese

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