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New Music

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Aesop Rock

Bazooka Tooth

(Definitive Jux)

Bazooka Tooth, the star of Aesop Rock’s fifth album, embodies modern humanity’s dark side with mechanical precision. He’s a cyborg with “diamond-cutter spine” and “armadillo armor that bends around the blades,” an arrogant pimp who rocks Timbs and spits “low-life game.”

Aesop has been known to approach a topic so obliquely that he seems to rap nonsense. What does he mean when he says, “Embargo piggy-backers navigate SimCity backwards”? Probably nothing, but it sounds dope. Bazooka Tooth contains more nonsense than ever, but at the same time it’s lyrics highlight one of Ace’s longtime preoccupations—the relationship between man and his machines. The subject is embodied in the title, which juxtaposes animal and metal, and in the music itself.

Ace’s production—digital and gritty in contrast to the warm sample-driven beats of long-time collaborator Blockhead—enact the simultaneous symbiosis and struggle between Western culture and technology. Though all hip-hop does this in a sense, Ace brings the topic into relief. The title track is a distorted dirge complimented by the arrhythmic plucking of an acoustic guitar. Before long the beat skips and stalls, as if some digital demon in the stereo were trying fervently to spin the disc the other direction. Later, over a beat that features an incessantly ringing cell phone, Ace warns, “Don’t get cooked by the pilot light / I can smell metal in the air tonight.”

Maybe it won’t surprise anyone that Aesop Rock has crafted another album long on artistry and skill. What is truly impressive is that Bazooka’s fanged edges still manage to make your head nod, even as your brain throbs. —Michael S. Hoffman

Drums and Tuba

Mostly Ape

(Righteous Babe)

Don’t be fooled by their name—Drums and Tuba feature minimal drums, even less tuba and little in the way of musical innovation. Mostly Ape mostly keeps to the same song structure, alternating stretches of pared funk basslines with indulgent, Zeppelinesque electric guitar solos.

It’s in these moments of improvisation that the band’s potential for creativity emerges. Guitarist Neal McKeeby’s sparer moments—utilizing echoes and often random syncopation—add mystery to otherwise formulaic songs, and his penchant for experimentation shines on the jazzier “Clashing” and in “Goose Geese.” In the latter, his strumming actually resembles electric cello.

Still, Drums and Tuba never break away from the funk/jam mold, precisely because they underuse their titular instruments. Tony Nozero’s fluid beats are more of an undercurrent than a driving rhythmic force, too often overshadowed by McKeeby’s love affair with sliding on the electric guitar. Those excited to hear the tuba will be disappointed, as Brian Wolff’s instrument mostly fades into the background as a barely audible walking bass. In Wolff’s few moments in the spotlight, his lower register booms while higher notes often slide out of tune with flubbed attacks—though this may be intended as jazz technique, the result is too often the sound of a beginner on the instrument.

In their brightest moments, Drums and Tuba’s underproduced sound and musical incongruities are refreshing amidst today’s overproduced music. But the album never rises beyond a live jam session, its repetition and lack of balance making it just like the demo from the rocker boys next door. —Rebecca M. Milzoff

Various Artists

Kill Bill

(Maverick)

Coming from Quentin Tarantino and RZA, the geniuses behind Pulp Fiction and the Wu-Tang Clan, one would expect the Kill Bill soundtrack to be unequaled in recent history. Indeed, the album is a great companion to the film, with songs that are vivid enough to nearly recreate the script.

However, the music is clearly meant to complement the movie’s kung-fu schlock. Without the movie’s visual hi-jinks, the collection of songs comes across obscure and often bizarre: take Zamfir’s four-minute flute rendition of “The Lonely Shepard”, or “Crane / White Lightning” by RZA and Charles Berenstein, which sounds like the street fighter version of an Ennio Morricone piece.

This is often frustrating, considering that Tarantino’s previous soundtracks have been largely comprised of American popular music. But the producers still manage some ear candy—Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” uses guitar reverb and slow, deliberate whispering to imbue a story of destroyed childhood love with striking grace. Luis Bacalov’s “The Grand Duel – (Porte Prima)” instantly rockets listeners back to their childhood dreams of being the good cowboy in the final gunfight. “Green Hornet” swings in a way that recalls the glory days of Benny Goodman, and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is a ten-minute epic that leaves us feeling as if we’ve gone through an entire romance within the song’s borders, with all the high and low points.

For better or worse, RZA’s presence has made the soundtrack’s ethos more Ghost Dog than Reservoir Dogs. Sonny Chiba should be proud that his legacy has paid off so handsomely. —Scoop A. Wasserstein

Mojave 3

Spoon and Rafter

(4AD)

If they sounded any more bummed, they’d only be good for salving broken hearts. Mojave 3 sound like Elliott Smith might if he had been dumped by his girlfriend somewhere below the Bible belt—swoony folk with a country bent. Yet despite the relentless heartache of their lyrics, Spoon and Rafter is an undercover upbeat album, suffused with an insistent gleam of sunshine.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly where this gleam comes from. Frontman Halstead’s vocals are as whisperingly fragile as on his recent solo album, Sleeping on Roads. The instrumentation is a sort of chamber country affair, with pedal steel and keyboards filling out the central piano and guitar. The key may be the inspired use of space—the music never builds to more than a jaunty bounce (as on “Billy Oddity”). A plangent line like “It’s hard to miss you,” sung repeatedly over a simplistic piano progression, would sound like a botched Coldplay outtake in anyone else’s hands, but Mojave manage to steer it from the brink.

Part of the secret is the surreptitious highlights in the music. “The Battle of the Broken Hearts ” subtly blends chimes into the folksy piano, while the band brings a juicy Hammond organ along for the ride on “Tinkers Blues”. But the fact is that this is good songwriting: these could be played as rock songs at double the tempo and still sound good. It’s just that Mojave 3 like the swoony sound. If you feel the need to swoon, or simply sigh enigmatically, check this out. —Andrew R. Iliff

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