CD reviews

This week: > N.E.R.D > Cracker > Various Artists: Unwrapped Vol. 1 > Busy Signals > Golden Boy with Miss Kittin > Sleeping Flies > Puckett N.E.R.D In Search of… (Virgin) Once again The Neptunes

This week:
> N.E.R.D
> Cracker
> Various Artists: Unwrapped Vol. 1
> Busy Signals
> Golden Boy with Miss Kittin
> Sleeping Flies
> Puckett

In Search of…
Once again The Neptunes — Pharell Williams and Chad Hugo — put a much-needed spin on hip-hop. Their debut album, In Search of…, showcases the incredible talent these A-List producers possess in an unconventional way.

Ditching the drum machines and other mainstays of hip-hop for live drums, guitars and keyboards, The Neptunes plus one — Shay — mix an array of genres such as funk, hip-hop and rock into a remarkable musical collaboration.

From the opening track, “Lapdance,” and throughout the album, the dynamic and lively beats satisfy the appetite for innovative hip-hop. “Truth or Dare,” featuring Kelis, is a funky track destined to excite and move, while “Run to the Sun” is reminiscent of so many R&B and soul classics.

In “Lapdance” when Williams says “I’m an outlaw/quick on the draw/something you never seen before,” it’s a true description of the novelty in this album. In Search of… is an essential for any true hip-hop fan.
—Carmen Dukes

Believe it or not, Cracker has returned to the scene with their fifth studio album, after a four-year hiatus. Seen by many as a flash in the pan with their 1993 smash “Low” from Kerosene Hat, the band has remained on the Americana radar with cult favorites Golden Age and Gentlemen’s Blues.

But if they’re looking for a return to the commercial airwaves, they won’t realize it with Forever — a lackluster effort that does nothing to distinguish itself as new or innovative. The album is a straight-ahead pop record with sparse soulful and country overtones.

Not only does it lack a commercial radio hit, but it will be lucky to see any critical acclaim. Forever’s 13 tracks run together, and the songwriting is poor at best. “You are so beautiful/You should be guarded by monkeys” is actually a chorus that David Lowery wrote.

Until they get musically creative, and Lowery writes something with meaning, this band will continue to be mired in obscurity, and rightfully so.
—Jesse Chadderdon

Cracker will play the Trocadero on March 29 with Garrison Starr.

Various Artists
Unwrapped Vol. 1
(Hidden Beach)
Buy this album for your parents, they might thank you for it. Do it for all those times they told you to lower your stereo, refused to play your favorite hip-hop stations in the car and when they told you to turn off that stupid “rap crap.”

Hidden Beach Recording’s latest release, Unwrapped Vol. 1, is a mixture of hip-hop tunes and classics with up and coming jazz musicians. It gives some of the genre’s best a new jazzy, funky, laidback sound

Including tracks from Tupac, B.I.G. and The Roots to name a few, Unwrapped is filled with chill vibes, some light scratching, a soothing piano and some thunderous bass lines that might make you appreciate the similarities between hip-hop and jazz.

Instead of lyrics, each track has a different instrument jamming in its place. The staggering bass in “So Fresh, So Clean,” the conversational play between the guitar and the sax in “One More Chance” and the wails from the violin in “Stan” will make your old folks bob their heads in approval.
— Chris Silva

Busy Signals
Pure Energy
(Sugar Free)
Pure Energy is another entry into the obligatory “remix/b-sides album” spectrum, and not-surprisingly the Busy Signal’s third disc is not its tour de force.

In the mediocre collaboration department, Minneapolis’ Triangle gives the bad-trip treatment to “The Freeway.” Har Mar Superstar’s vocals only inject half of a Curtis Mayfield into the lounge-y “Friend of a Friend.”

Overall, the album is too sporadic. “Whalewatch” and “Explorin'” are prayers to the throne of Sukpatch, who produces the title track. Unfortunately, both songs subside before the two-minute mark. At best, they feel incidental.

The meatier “All the Young Designers” and funked-out “Autopilot” glimmer with ’80s new wave and current R&B influences. Main Signal Howard W. Hamilton III should get busy producing some big time studio acts. Anyone have Destiny’s Child’s number?

The Busy Signals is a good idea: mix old school hip-hop/R&B and lo-fi indie rock for a hipster’s jamboree. While this can work well (2000’s “Headphoneworld” single, mid-era Beck), Pure Energy shows how good ideas can sometimes go nowhere.
—Neal Ramirez

Golden Boy with Miss Kittin
(Emperor Norton)
Hailing from Switzerland, Golden Boy is a lounge / Eurodance curiosity. He teams up with Felix da House Kat vocalist Miss Kittin, which adds comedy more than anything else. She sounds like Grace Jones sans the feminist appropriation; she just deals with the cyborg-like apathy bits of Jones’ persona, apparently.

Throughout Or, it is unclear as to what Golden Boy was trying to evoke. On the one hand there are the monotonous instrumental dance tracks (think B-grade Mirwais) and on the other hand we have ridiculous songs like “1234,” which involves Miss Kittin going on and on about different desserts and other types of nonsense. It’s supposed to have a “first thought, best thought” type vibe to it, but au contraire, mon fraire.

If that isn’t enough, “nippin kittin” sounds like a parody of the Pet Shop Boys, but unfortunately, some people might actually find this (and other songs on the album) appealing and unique. If Or is supposed to be a joke, it’s fine. But if it’s not, then perhaps it’s best for Golden Boy to work alone from now on.
—Maureen Walsh

Sleeping Flies
You Are Superior
(Kindercore Records)
True to their name, the Sleeping Flies’ first release, You Are Superior, sounds as though they wrote, recorded and produced their album while fast asleep. With obnoxious, repetitious and out-of-sync beats and sounds, the Sleeping Flies had better wake up before they fall flat on their faces.

The title of the album seems to speak a great deal of truth through many of their tracks, which sound a little too similar to previously released music by acclaimed artists. Not only does their music bear a striking resemblance to Deep Forest and Moby, both in lyrics and sounds, many of their drum solos and intros sound as though they were lifted directly from R.E.M.’s anthology.

Over-use of echo effects, horrible lyrics and no annunciation make for a less-than-appealing debut album. Yet the Sleeping Flies seem to feel it is the essence of good music. For their sake, one can only hope that they realize their mistakes and make rather large changes before releasing their next album.
—Moira Cochran

(Booty Rocka Records)
I like this band. I have to admit that I didn’t give them much credit at first for what they accomplish musically, but after a few less critical listens, I take back my initial conclusion.

Puckett creates a simple sound that resonates with elevated vocals and rhythmic beats that — while seemingly unoriginal — come across with such conviction that it makes for a nice listen.

Throughout the twelve tracks on the album, the quartet accomplishes very little artistically speaking, with simple lyrical content and over-used synthesizer interludes.

However, for some intangible reason, I still keep listening.

The band orchestrates the perfect background music: a mellow sound that doesn’t require effort to like. And while there might be more innovative and enthralling bands out there, no one would go out of their way to change the radio station away from Puckett. Give them a listen, and you’ll understand.
—Ryan Kelley

Puckett will play the Pontiac Grille on March 29.

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