Quasi, Mobb Deep, Macha, DJ Spooky

Quasi Field Studies (Up) A winning formula of soaring melody, bitterly wry lyrics, and Sam Coomes' chiming Roxichord keyboard, a Quasi song is instantly identifiable. On their latest record, Field Studies, Coomes and drummer Janet Weiss add some new variables, but the results are still unmistakably Quasi. The arrangements are slightly beefier (two songs even get a small string section), the keyboard doesn't honk and wheeze quite so much, but the hard nut at the center—Coomes' songwriting skill—remains. Apparently, he's just as lovelorn as he ever was, and he proclaims it over and over in songs like the psychedelia-tinged "The Star You Left Behind" and the Velvet Underground-echoing "Under A Cloud." On each of the duo's past two records, Weiss (also of Sleater-Kinney) contributed one song, and Field Studies continues this streak with the melancholic "Two by Two." Coomes and Weiss were once married to each other, so her lyrics—generally of the "don't blame me for your unhappiness" variety—come across as a riposte to Coomes' tart humor. His other great topic is the commercial quagmire of modern life, articulated so well on last year's "California." He revisits the battle between integrity and solvency on the piano- and horn-laced "A Fable with No Moral," in which Satan whizzes along in a Land Rover. The record's overall mood of sparkling fatalism never flags. By track 14, you fear for Coomes' mental health—and your own, since you're singing along with a grin on your face.—Jackie McCarthy

Mobb Deep Murda Muzik (Loud) This is not your father's Sugar Hill Gang. Murda Muzik, the fourth album from New York's Mobb Deep, again finds MCs Prodigy and Havoc on the streets of Queens, talkin' about the daily routine of the dealers, thugs, and hustlers that populate their 'hood. Lyrically, the latest disc is as hard as the bullet-chipped walls of the duo's infamous Queensbridge housing project, with rhymes like "Mike Tyson style/ . . . We live wild/too many ways to die/we alive for now." On "Allustrious," Prodigy and Havoc lace together pop culture references and hand out bombastic beat-downs with classic skill: "Move over bacon, it's time for somethin' meatier/your shit's weak/your best songs mediocre." Production-wise, the tracks are loud and dirty, with classical piano samples sliced up and looped into broken music-box melodies that crackle with analog noise and add Mafioso-style grandeur and urgency to the tales of streets boiling with drugs and urban combat. Like 1996's Hell On Earth, Murda Muzik features guest appearances from some of the biggest names in East Coast rap, including both Raekwon (from Wu-Tang Clan) and Nas. This album is perfect for driving—play it with the windows down and set your attitude on stun.—J.C. Coyle

Macha See It Another Way (Jetset) The 36-minute follow-up to Macha's self-titled 1998 debut, See It Another Way blends traditional Indonesian music and American indie rock, sounding something like an artsy backpacker's audio journal of a trip abroad. While this Athens, Georgia, band's first (double-) disc was heavy on the indie on one side and a comprehensive recording of field-recorded Indo sounds on the other, the new record takes the integration a step further. It offers a combination of brief, mostly instrumental tracks ("Riding the Rails," "Man Wants to Be Bird"), tracks that fuse Indonesia's gamelan and string sounds with Western instrumentation such as cello, violin, and drums ("Until Your Temples Are Pounding," "Submarine Lover") and tracks that are mostly of the strictly Amerindie variety ("Sally"). Macha's greatest strength is connecting the cultures instrumentally; vocally, the band doesn't assimilate well with Eastern sounds (unlike Cornershop, for instance). For all his apparent knowledge of Indonesian music, frontman Joshua McKay's singing can't bridge the cultural gap. It also doesn't help that Macha's vocals make them sound like a slew of bands from Austin to San Diego. These annoyances are minor, however, as they quickly melt into the fluid, melancholic atmosphere of an album that speaks like a treasured stack of postcards.—David Massengill

DJ Spooky vs. The Freight Elevator Quartet, File Under Futurism (Caipirinha) It's been some years since NY illbient pioneer DJ Spooky has been subliminal, as his name would suggest. With his cult of personality firmly intact, he's gratuitously branched off into other excursions, taking on instrumental hip-hop with last year's Riddim Warfare and now dabbling in a hint of classical-meets-breakbeat for this collaboration with the Freight Elevator Quartet. Affiliated with Columbia University's Electronic Music Workshop, the Quartet has been dabbling with strings, samplers, and didgeridoos for years, reaching a peak with last year's Jungle Album. The collaboration is at its strongest when the vestiges of that work pop up here, as on the title track, where the classical influences are hinted at rather than emphasized didactically. Conversely, on the unimaginatively titled "The Revolution Will Be Streamed" (oh, word?), the orchestral maneuvers in the dark belabor what is otherwise a relaxed ride. "Infrared" smacks of repetitiveness, but once the drums break down, all is redeemed. Like all of Spooky's work, this album is best read as an experiment, dabbling in chance and serendipity as often as structure and form. Ultimately, it's the percussive understandings of the Quartet that shine through here, while Spooky's illbient blend steps aside like polite, unobtrusive tapestry.—Jon Caramanica

DJ Spooky plays RKCNDY Saturday, September 18.8

 
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