The Beastie Boys are musically all grown up.
It was a big deal when the New York trio played their own instruments on 1992's "Check Your Head," rather than relying on the hip-hop, rock and soul samples that made up their first two records.
The Boys have come so far that on "The Mix-Up," their seventh studio effort, they leave samples - and words - behind. Instead, Adam Horovitz (guitar), Adam Yauch (bass) and Michael Diamond (drums), along with percussionist Alfredo Ortiz and "Keyboard Money Mark" Nishita, groove through a dozen funky instrumental tracks reminiscent of those on "Check Your Head" and "Ill Communication."
Their instrumental style is a hybrid of jazz, funk and rock, heavy on bongos, organ and wah-wah guitar. There's the spacey, almost ambient "The Gala Event," with its haunting piano refrain, and the rocking "The Cousin of Death," all drums and distortion. A wah-wah riff tops a walking bass line on "Electric Worm." Organs dominate several tracks, including the conga-laced "The Melee" and opening track "B For My Name," which sounds like it could be background music for a '70s drama.
The album has a loping, groovy vibe, but like a just-for-fun jam session, it doesn't really go anywhere. It meanders around then blends into the background. There's no question Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D. have grown musically, but they're at their best when they use words, too. Their crafty, smart-and-silly lyrics are a big part of their charm, and a few rhymes might have made "The Mix-Up" more than background noise.
CHECK THIS SINGLE OUT: The Beasties mix a surf rhythm with organs and bongos on "The Rat Cage." (Sandy Cohen)
There should be a warning label on the Bad Brains' new album: "Caution: Contents are Volatile."
The first album in five years from this hugely respected punk-dub band is explosive.
Produced by the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch using analog tape and equipment, "Build a Nation" delivers a potent mix of speed, wicked riffs, and HR's powerful vocals. It's a full-frontal assault. Your ears may start ringing just by holding this CD in your hands.
Guitarist Dr. Know and bassist Darryl Jenifer are in top form with their deft, bewilderingly fast riffs, and drummer Earl Hudson holds it together for the wild range of vocals erupting from his brother, HR.
That is, when the Brain's have their switch turned to rock. On the other hand, "Build a Nation" is also a mellow dub reggae album built on a rich brew of textured rhythms and sounds.
While past Brains' albums have been largely hardcore (such as 1986's seminal "I Against I," which has one of the heaviest rock intros ever recorded) or intoxicatingly dub (2002's "I And I Survived"), the 14 tracks on this collection swerve between the two genres, or weld the two into a wicked creation, such as on the opening track "Give Thanks and Praises."
Be warned: You may be coming off a mellow groove like "Jah Love," but if the track switches and you hear Hudson make a quick, sharp click with his sticks, you better either turn the volume down fast or be prepared to thrash your head.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: The album's dub cuts are each exquisite, but you'll be playing "Natty Dreadlocks 'pon the Mountain Top" over and over as you sing along with HR's vibalicious vocals. (Michelle Morgante)
The title of Ryan Adams ninth album draws on a familiar retort meant to slow someone down. The notoriously hyperactive Adams seems to have heeded the advice: The 13 new songs show an attention to detail his albums have lacked in recent years.
Maybe it's because he's newly sober; maybe it's because he took time to finish songs instead of trying to prove how frequently he could write and record new work. Whatever the reason, "Easy Tiger" finally capitalizes on the promise that made Adams such a cause celebre when he released his first two solo albums, 2000's "Heartbreaker" and 2001's "Gold."
Although Adams doesn't credit his band, The Cardinals, "Easy Tiger" is also the most cohesive and intricately arranged album he's ever created. In particular, the rhythm section of drummer Brad Pemberton and bassist Chris Feinstein shadow the singer's emotions with remarkable resonance and fluidity.
Adams sings with a subtlety and range he's only shown in flashes, lending a sweet-soul flavor to arrangements that embrace tender folk-rock ("Two," "Rip Off") and a more dynamic, theatrical style reminiscent of Jeff Buckley ("Goodnight Rose," "Halloweenhead"). The dreamlike imagery and poetic twists remain, only now everything comes together at once, instead of in fits and starts.
Just as some fans were about to give up on him, Adams pulls it altogether. Way to go, Tiger. (Michael McCall)