Def Jam/Columbia

Nas’ ninth album is called “Nigger,” even though the word doesn’t appear on the cover art. As Mr. Jones himself put it, “The people will always know what the real title of this album is and what to call it.”

Fittingly, identity politics—what a nigger is, what niggers do and who is or is not a nigger—are at the heart of the album’s themes. And be prepared to hear the N-word a lot. Nas and company spit it out with anger, love, lust and irony. Thankfully, Nasir’s passion about the subject matter is reflected in his flow, which is more powerful and engaging than it’s been since Stillmatic in 2001.

The album kicks off with “Queens Get the Money,” a strange, stream-of-consciousness litany. The production, by internet sensation and super-genius Jay Electronica, loops a soundtrack fragment from I Am Sam, which lends real gravitas to Nas’ non-sequitors. It’s a startling and promising way to begin the record and sets the mood effectively.

Nas has always flirted with politics and history, but this time he’s out to push all the buttons. He dedicates two of the best tracks to Louis Farrakhan (“Untitled”) and Barrack Obama (“Black President”). In one of the album’s stand-outs, “America,” Nas goes off about the 17th century, and on “Sly Fox” he takes a moment to fire a few rounds at his latest nemesis, Bill O’Reilly. (Your move, Bill.)

“Testify” is probably the most daring track on the record. Nas enters talking about burning the flag and choking rednecks before talking directly to his white, suburban audience, calling them out to stand with his cause or stop buying his music. The track is chillingly intimate, as if he’s whispering threats in your ear.

Nas is also out to confound expectations. On “N.I.G.G.E.R.” he turns his ghetto anthem verses into a sad memorial, surprisingly emotional and resigned. And on “Y’All My Niggers,” Nas pairs a thesis on the uses and etymology of the N-word with a bouncy J. Myers beat, the most light-hearted on the album.

Near the end of the record, the beats disappear, and Nas speaks straight to the listener, issuing a call to come together and end racism, elitism and nationalism. It’s a naked, honest moment and another in the long line of surprises.

Whatever you call it, Nas’ ninth album is essential listening. Several tracks will no doubt find their way into hip-hop’s canon, and it’s hard to imagine that any hip-hop or rap record coming out in the next couple years will be able to ignore it.
Matt Slaybaugh

Sub Pop

Cansei de Ser Sexy have quickly lived up to their namesake: they sound sick and tired of being sexy, as well as sick and tired of being colorfully fun as they once were. While their debut wasn’t a groundbreaking fusion of two continents, or intricate and crafted by any noticeable means, it was the summer-glazed party record of 2006 due to a total lack of pretense. They threw caution to the wind, blurring the lines between funk, punk and electro and serving up an absurdist take on rhythm and sex that only madcap Brazilians could provide. On Donkey, they stumble in to the spotlight exhausted, and for that we have to hold them to some standard. They can no longer be viewed through oblivious lenses, especially when we know that they know what they’re doing by now. There’s no longer a fresh-faced innocence to their songs or erotic come-ons lost in translation. For Donkey they’ve moved on to bigger budgets and bigger heads, unfortunately ballooning into slick, studio electro-generics and radio-ready shtick.

If it weren’t for Adriano Cintra’s recent adoption of his youth—buzzing mid-90s guitar tones, Pixies melodies, Dinosaur Jr. dour—the record would be a total bust. His shredded backbones range from the inspired (“Rat Is Dead (Rage)”) to the all-too-familiar (“Left Behind”), making for a flashback survey of modern alternative rock. (CSS has been known to cover L7 and the Breeders.) Often times, though, those inspired moments are ruined by Lovefoxxx’s childish coos and vapid lyrics. For her, the party never ends and neither do the awkward exclaimations over pre-fabricated dance tracks that lose their luster before a chorus comes around. Only a few tracks are pleasurable jaunts, particularly “Let’s Reggae All Night,” where the synths and vocoders are cranked. Still lines like “You are so fast. I am so slow. Because that’s the way I like to roll,” remain to spoil the festivities. It’s apparent Lovefoxxx still doesn’t have total command of the English language, and the endless rounds of Jaeger Bombs aren’t helping. Perhaps Cintra should sail out by his lonesome and leave the bar behind for a spell.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Rat Is Dead (Rage)”

Bodies of Water
A Certain Feeling
Secretly Canadian

There’s a fine line between compositional high art and indulgent indie rock spectacle. If it weren’t for the quasi-religious fervor soldered on to every note of A Certain Feeling, the Secretly Canadian debut from Los Angeles’ Bodies of Water, we’d rightfully be talking about the latter. Led by husband-and-wife team David and Meredith Metcalf, this gypsy caravan is versed in a rich tapestry of influence, making each song an excursion through many twists and turns, all singing to an omniscient power. Nine members strong, the band trades Arcade Fire bombast for gospel truths about love and death and the ever-changing earth, volleying male/female vocal leads, riotous choruses and naturalist poesy into an enthralling opera for the senses.

There’s obviously a tea-sipping intelligentsia at work here, which might become churlish in the more awkward movements of A Certain Feeling. Here Wagner collaborates with Whitman, tales about “the nettle’s barb” and the “knotted pines” are told in gilded orchestrated huzzahs. Tempered in byzantine arrangements and cultish prose, Bodies of Water do know how to add the right amount of play, evident on the fuzz-inflected, semi-precious metal of “Darling, Be Here” and the taut funk that evolves out of the lurching sea shanty “Water Here.” For the most part, though, this is an album that demands a certain feeling, as the title suggests, one in which the listener must be prepared for a barrage of instrumental Beefheartian quirks and hymnal waltz/schmaltz with equal aplomb.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Under the Pines”

Buffalo Killers
Let It Ride

Cincinnati’s Thee Shams always seemed just one small step away from something big, making a blend of R&B shake and rock rattle that should have set well with the garage rock sect of the early ‘00s. So it is perhaps with the Buffalo Killers that former Shams Andrew and Zachary Gabbard—along with drummer Joseph Sebaali—are making that leap. That the band is opening for the Black Crowes would be indicative of that, as well as the direction the Gabbard brothers have taken with the Killers. The band’s headed down the well-worn road of Dixie inflected, blues rock, seemingly never looking back now that they’re two albums into it.

Let It Ride is that second album, produced in-state with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, but firmly entrenched in the Southern-fried, canabis-smoked sounds of the ‘70s. That stylistic choice is an inherently hard hurdle to jump, a genre that’s continued to plague the earth long after punk et al. supposedly put the hatchet to it. And despite getting off to a good start with the laidback groove of “Get Together Now Today,” the band isn’t up to clearing the pitfalls left by the Allmans, Skynyrd, Grand Funk, .38 Special, etc. Cuts like “If I Get Myself Anywhere” and “On the Prowl,” are lazy retreads of dusty guitar twang-and-doodle, unupdated versions of things never warranting updating in the first place. Sure the “heard it all before” critique is a tired one too, but the problem here is that the band’s sources of inspirations were less than inspired to begin with. Time to put it to bed, man, and don’t bogart that joint.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “If I Get Myself Anywhere”


Coming to Negativland’s newest release uninformed of the group’s history would lead a listener to the sad conclusion that main songwriter Mark Hosler set out to meld the quirky jangle of Magnetic Fields—minus the literary lyricism—with the sparkle folk of Animal Collective—sans pervasive echo or organic bombast. Inoffensive, passable pop songs, chortle-worthy lyrics (the first time around), obtrusive samples and glitchy beats: it may be the soundtrack to a basic cable children’s show or an attempt at modern relevance from an aged sound-collage collective.

On closer inspection of the Negativland brand history, the latter is true. They pasted together that-one-song-with-Casey-Kasem-over-that-one-U2-song. They have been broadcasting the Over the Edge weekly, found sound radio show since 1981, and have been vocal proponents of open source sampling. Whether this is posturing in order to cover their asses legally after a few copyright infringement lawsuits or a genuine artistic ethic is open for debate. Negativland are more concerned with anti-commercialist, postmodern pranks and dredging up lost recordings of famous voices and running them through an electronic meat grinder than they are in proving the legitimacy of their artistic choices to the legal system.

Included in the booklet for Thigmotactic are collage works (available for sale) corresponding to each song. As representations of the songs, the collages speak to the general inanity of the lyrics. Rendered visually as a broken framed picture of the former president next to a smiling photo of his younger self, “Richard Nixon Died Today” is led by a 50-gallon drum, samples of his speech as he leaves the White House for the last time juxtaposed over a wistful crystalline acoustic guitar. “Your Skin Is Gelatin” obliges the interlocutor to “let the vagina fill with light,” underneath a sneaky synth line entwined with squishy paper-scrape sounds. Visually depicted, “Gelatin” is collaged, blacked-out crotch shots outlined by cracked wheat cereal and plastic hearts.

As a complete package, Thigmotactic achieves visual and aural unity through sophomoric whimsy. As a record, it, like most of Negativland’s discography, will be filed under the “oh-yeah-that-song” category.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy