BECK, Midnight Vultures (DGC/Geffen) Beck Hansen's got a divided soul. Half of him is a folky beat-junkie, a Loser with winning songwriting skills. The other

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Baby got Beck, Mogwai, and others

BECK, Midnight Vultures (DGC/Geffen) Beck Hansen's got a divided soul. Half of him is a folky beat-junkie, a Loser with winning songwriting skills. The other half is a gleeful, Vegas-minded pastiche-monger. He's at his best when the first half knocks the second half down and drags it around by the scruff of the neck. On his latest record, sadly, the glib showman refuses to admit defeat. Beck claims that the songs on Midnight Vultures were inspired by modern R&B artists of the love-you-up-and-down school, but his appreciation of R. Kelly and Montel Jordan sounds about as sincere as a Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker confession. Tricked out with boomin'-system, Teddy Riley-style "lobotomy beats," one of the worst offenders is the parody "Hollywood Freaks," coproduced by the ever-worsening Dust Brothers. They were also at the helm for the falsetto-crooned "Debra," a jokey refugee from Beck's live act that brims with enough annoying, white-boy irony to make Ween gag. Other tracks titillate in an Odelay kind of way. There's the "New Pollution"-ish "Broken Train," and a sassy combo called "Get Real Paid" that balances its humor with musical inventiveness. On "Beautiful Way," Beck drops his hyperpop armor for a twangy slow-dance with typically obtuse lyrics: "Searchlights on the skyline/Just looking for a friend/Who's gonna love my baby/When she's gone around the bend?" Beck's free to churn out the same old goofiness, but the world could use more talented songwriters and fewer funk Liberaces. Midnight Vultures isn't ill, just ill-conceived. —Jackie McCarthy

MOGWAI, EP+2 (Matador) On this year's Come on Die Young, Mogwai cast aside the quiet-to-loud-to-quiet style of its early records and focused solely on deliciously quiet, even pretty, songs. As a quickie follow-up, this six-song self-titled EP continues the gentle overhaul. The compositions revolve around short riffs and swell with lush instrumentation. "Stanley Kubrick" begins the journey with multiple, delayed, and reverberating guitar shimmers, accented with slide guitar, and ending with a buzz of freaky modulated voices. "Christmas Song" counts off the beats with steady piano plinks, then folds in xylophone, strings, and guitar. In "Burn Girl Prom Queen," the guest Cowdenbeath Brass Band's soaring horn orchestrations surround a lonesome guitar melody. The last of the new material, "Rage: Man" flows along on a pleasant track, then builds a droney aggro denouement. As an added incentive to us Yanks, the already excellent disc includes two tracks from last year's No Education = No Future (Fuck the Curfew) UK EP. —Jacob McMurray

Various Artists, The Real Hip-Hop: Best of D&D Studios Vol. 1 (Cold Front) Manhattan's D&D Studios are as closely identified with hip-hop as Sun Studios are with rockabilly or Chess Studios with the blues. It's where New York's finest go to lay down the nastiest beats in the business—most notably Gang Starr's DJ Premier, who produced half the tracks on this compilation. Mixed by former Young Black Teenager DJ Skribble, the 16 tracks—from 12 different labels—on The Real Hip-Hop hang together better than most single-label samplers. Lyrical incisiveness is present and accounted for, with Jeru the Damaja, KRS-One, and Premier's Gang Starr partner Guru shining especially bright. But it's the music that matters: the repeated gospel "Hmmmm"s of Blahzay Blahzay's "Danger," the fire-alarm horns of M.O.P.'s "(How About Some) Hardcore," the squelching bass and weirdly compressed drums of Jay-Z's maddeningly catchy "Ain't No Nigga." Skribble's soundbites, repeated intros, and needle-rubbing segues throw it all into sharp relief, making this a hell of an introduction to a classic sound.—Michaelangelo Matos

 
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