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New Music

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Ms. Dynamite

A Little Deeper

Interscope

For a 21-year-old releasing her debut album, Ms. Dynamite has an impressive resume. After her single “Booo!” (a collaboration with producer Sticky) ignited Britain’s garage scene in 2001, she landed a show opening for Eminem and Destiny’s Child. Meanwhile, A Little Deeper has won the prestigious Mercury Prize.

Just released in the States, it was last year’s best album; on it, Ms. Dynamite makes the crossover from underground garage emcee to dancehall diva. In fact, A Little Deeper only shows its two-step roots on the final two tracks, the offbeat and frenetic “Danger” and “Ramp.” Instead, most of the album offers track after track of MTV-worthy, melodic hip-hop gems. Dynamite’s been billed as the British Lauryn Hill, but this album blows away Hill’s recent self-indulgent acoustic offerings (as displayed on MTV Unplugged).

The album’s consistent quality is phenomenal. Of the seventeen tracks, more than half could be radio singles. Standouts include the autobiographic “Dy-Na-Mi-Tee,” the infectious “It Takes More” (featuring Jay-Z collaborator Keon Bryce) and the attitude-laden “Sick ‘N’ Tired.” Dynamite deals with abusive boyfriends, drug overdoses and black-on-black violence—standard fare on any generic hip-hop album, perhaps, but she rings truer than the bling-bling bragging we are usually fed. Ms. Dynamite only slips when she tries to be an R&B singer; on tracks like “A Little Deeper” she sounds a little like a worn-out Alicia Keys. But when she kicks up the energy just a notch, as on “Seed Will Grow” (with Bob Marley’s son Kymani), the results are infinitely better. In all, it’s an extremely successful debut performance from a young singer with talent, drive and intelligence. Expect Ms. Dynamite to be blowing up soon—just like her namesake.

—Daniel M. S. Raper

Steven Malkmus and the Jicks

Pig Lib

Matador Records

While Stephen Malkmus’s self-titled solo debut may have frightened fans into thinking he had become sedate in his middle age, Pig Lib is a welcome return to form. The new full-length from the former Pavement frontman assures listeners that Malkmus is still the fractured slacker god that made Pavement’s 1992 Slanted And Enchanted the Nevermind for a different Generation X.

Album opener “Water and a Seat” is a case in point, with swaggering choruses that lag slightly behind the bassline, sounding convincingly and beautifully half-assed. Crazed vocals come from every angle on Pig Lib. In this, it represents a return to the frenetic style that has been missing since Brighten The Corners.

The entire album is infused with Malkmus’ presence—freewheeling, nonsensical and fun. The Jicks’ backdrop conforms to his sound and places the emphasis squarely on him. Whereas the members of Pavement extended Malkmus’ off-kilter, eclectic sound onto their own instruments, reflecting his laconic and witty vocals, here he clearly calls the shots.

Malkmus demonstrates wide range, from the traditional nine-plus minute “1% of One,” whose chorus is simply “one percent of one is one,” to his newer side—tender love songs such as “Us,” “Craw Song” and “Vanessa From Queens.” In these we see Malkmus reluctantly fitting into traditional pop song structures, but doing it his way. Like the rest of this excellent new record, the songs are resonant with his inescapable quirkiness and overarching warmth.

—Christopher A. Kukstis

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