Sonic Youth, Goodbye 20th Century (SYR) Forget about Sleater-Kinney's claim to the title: Sonic Youth have been the band from the end of the world

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Sonic Youth, Sheryl Crow, and more.

Sonic Youth, Goodbye 20th Century (SYR) Forget about Sleater-Kinney's claim to the title: Sonic Youth have been the band from the end of the world for nearly 20 years now. Or at least the end of the century, if not the millennium. On the new Goodbye 20th Century, which tops even the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs for conceptual panache, the post-punk Fab Four pay homage to modern classical composers whose theory-heavy approaches to music creation have long been a touchstone for the group's own: Sonic Youth's famous tunings, for instance, would be unthinkable without the prepared-piano pieces of John Cage, whose "Four" and "Six" are presented here. The results are plenty abstract—even after watching the band members hammer nails into a piano on Disc A's CD-ROM video, George Maciunas' "Piano Piece #13," still comes across as unconnected aural clutter. But Kim and Thurston and Lee and Steve have been responding to each other so long that in their hands the "compositions," often just written instructions without notation, cohere, especially when they're given room to stretch out: The two longest selections, Cage's 30-minute "Four" and Christian Wolff's 16-minute "Edges," are the double-disc's highlights, creating enveloping, smartly rendered soundworlds that, like the rest of the album, are full of a palpable sense of adventure and good humor. —Michaelangelo Matos

VARIOUS ARTISTS, The Temple of Hiphop Kulture (Reprise) After his early success with Boogie Down Productions, rap pioneer KRS-One (a.k.a "the Teacher") took on a more political stance and focused on unifying the hip-hop community with his Stop the Violence project. It has evolved into the Temple of Hiphop Kulture, but its theme of unity has stayed constant. On an album subtitled Criminal Justice: From Darkness to Light, the Teacher has assembled a dynamic mix of East and West Coast artists, sewing them together with narrative interludes about hip-hop's cultural philosophy. Opening with Siahnide's "We Gona' Ride," a smooth tale of revenge steeped in California G-Funk, the album quickly progresses into raw, rhyme-driven tracks like "Up From Da Underground," which features Xzibit, KRS-One, and Rass Kass laying down hardcore lyrics over a stuttering old-school drum machine's sparse beat structure. This flavor continues with United Crowns' inspired "The Odyssey," with its rattling harpsichord and undulating battle-drum beat topped off with a call-and-response war chant. A more mellow sound returns with the playful first single, Thor-El's bouncy, horn-backed "Patiently," before Big Daddy Kane's punishing, nearly a cappella freestyle, "Live at the Temple," sets the tone for the tracks that dominate the remainder of the album. "The Refinitions," the final track, serves as an urban primer, with KRS-One defining hip-hop elements like DJing and MCing, and stressing responsibility. Because as the album explains, the stability of hip-hop culture is in the hands of every participant.—J.C. Coyle

SHERYL CROW AND FRIENDS, Live from Central Park (A&M) After hearing "All I Wanna Do" one time too many following Tuesday Night Music Club's release, I dismissed Sheryl Crow without ever having listened to one of her albums. When I'd run across her on VH1 or in magazines, I'd quickly turn the channel or flip the page. Too mainstream, I concluded. That was until I worked at a job with a CD player and a fellow employee who was a diehard Crow fan. I heard Tuesday Night Music Club, Sheryl Crow, and The Globe Sessions repeatedly, and I was hooked. Sure, a few of Tuesday Night and Globe Sessions' tracks leave me cold, but Sheryl Crow, composed after the singer experienced a nasty split with her fellow musicians, is a dark, haunting, and honest album that confirms my faith in Crow as an artist. There's a depth in her voice that tells the story of a woman who's been raked over the coals of life but come out kicking with a sparkle in her eye. I was pleased to discover a voice just as resilient, if not more so, on Sheryl Crow and Friends: Live from Central Park. Even though she's arrived at a dizzying peak of success, playing Central Park with such superstars as Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, Chrissie Hynde, Bill Murray, Sarah McLachlan, and the Dixie Chicks, she still sings with the enthusiasm of a woman who must perform to put food on the table. Her tag-teams with the legends on covers of the Stones' "Happy," Cream's "White Room," and Bob Dylan's "Tombstone Blues" are enjoyable for nostalgia's sake, but Crow shines the brightest on her own tracks, like "Leaving Las Vegas," "It Don't Hurt," "If It Makes You Happy," and, yes, even "All I Wanna Do."—David Massengill

 
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