CD Reviews

GILBERTO GIL, Music from the film Me You Them (Atlantic) A common curse among superstars, it seems, is the compulsion to draw on an ever bigger, grander canvas. Elvis Costello launches his career with raw three-minute cuts and decades later is trying to do string quartets. And so on. But the legendary Brazilian singer and songwriter Gilberto Gil sticks with what he does best, creating ever more compressed little pearls of pop, tenderhearted and meticulously produced. His latest disc is a soundtrack to a movie I've never seen, sung in a language I don't know, but the feeling of foolish, determined optimism in the face of life's painful imperfections comes through without translation (and none is provided). Gil is mostly covering tunes made famous by Luiz Gonzaga, the pioneer of a north Brazilian style of samba, whose influence on Gil is evidently so strong that his work feels like Gil's own creation. I'd like to say the songs are deceptively simple, but they are in any case beautifully arranged, with Gil's usual precise palette of campfire accordions, multiple flutes, banjos, triangles, and whipping fretless bass—along with Gil's own gentle guitar patterns faintly in the mix. I'm guessing the movie has a melancholy ending since Gil turns to some of his own more dark and subtle compositions in the last several tracks. It's an overtly somber close to a disc that proves again the complexity of emotion that a pop giant like Gil can draw out of folk anthems and instruments—even without full symphonic accompaniment. —Mark D. Fefer

THE NEW YEAR, Newness Ends (Touch and Go) The brothers Kadane led the now defunct Bedhead, and if you thought the slowed-down, understated indoctrinations of that band possessed quiet powers that magically defied their mellow first impressions, wait till you hear what Matt and Bubba are up to now. While Bedhead songs were pushed along by hushed, blended lyrics and three dueling, atmospheric guitars, the New Year—the Kadanes with Chris Brokaw (Come, Pullman, Codeine), Peter Schmidt, and Mike Donofrio (Saturnine)—give structure, story, and sonic showboating well-deserved promotions. Low, lush currents of guitar ramblings leave room for leisurely interpretation, and in those spaces many a music fan has found supreme absolution. But in the careful, staid hands of the New Year, echoes of marked, metered vocals and sturdy, distinct instrumentation allow for the same ruminations and forehead-slapping conclusions. The title track depicts the pitfalls of giddy beginnings and their almost inevitably sorrowful conclusions with hard, lyrical honesty and relentless rock. The Kadanes sing out their sagacious parallels, "This house is like a bankrupt museum," while the guitars churn with persistent ambition. When the rhythmic charging takes a break and becomes quiet for a tension-building minute, the rug is pulled sharply backwards. The song ends, quick and loud, and it's clear that leaving you naked, cold, and shell-shocked on the linoleum floor is actually an act of generosity.—Laura Learmonth

UNLOCO, Healing (Maverick) Only one thing can stop this tsunami of pimp metal—my sixth-grade English teacher. If she could just sit a class of these seven-string samurai down with journals and coo, "OK, we've established that you're upset. Now let's free-write about why." Sadly, Unloco appear to be lower track material. They iron the familiar, deep-end grooves of Korn, Deftones, and Tool into a rather (sigh . . .) un-loco metal slur. Hate, pain, and fuck appear in nearly every song, but we're a long way from G.G. Allin, baby. Vocalist Jose Duenas always forwards his anger to that mysterious "you," the whipping boy for a lazy lyricist. His band thrives on the "solo guitar farts riff four times, then rhythm section kicks in" dynamic that's all the rage, but can't generate a beat that I don't recall hearing somewhere in the aforementioned bands' catalogs. To be fair, Unloco's anger seems genuine, and pissed-off kids could empathize with worse outlets. Look at it this way: Papa Roach may be some silly-ass shit, but their three wretched singles are clearly about something, respectively suicide, divorce, and avarice. What sort of fucking world is this where I have to suggest Papa Roach as a template?!--Andrew Bonazelli

BIG PUN, Endangered Species (Loud) When Christopher Lee Rios died of natural causes in February 2000, the hip-hop world lost one of its most eloquent MCs, and Loud was deprived a Grammy-nominated, million-selling artist. It might seem superfluous or cash-motivated to issue a best-of-plus-outtakes disc from a guy who released only one album in life (Capital Punishment) and one in death (Yeeeah Baby, just a month after Big Pun died), but Endangered Species offers a novel twist. Besides the usual menu of unreleased tracks, this album compiles just about every major recording Pun lent his tongue to, from his hardcore ciphers with Noreaga and Fat Joe to his mike turn on the remix of Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca." A Puerto Rican from the Bronx, Pun eschewed gangsta and Latino clich鳬 instead infusing each track and each performance with incisive and inventive commentary that encompassed vivid street scenes and witty sports metaphors. Add to this his subtle cadences and clipped delivery, and Pun was that rare MC who thrived as a solo artist and collaborator, all without resorting to lazy grandstanding or reciting laundry lists of semiautomatic weapons. The only weapon Pun needed was his voice, and a sampling of an unreleased track like "Mother" or a high-profile turn like Brandy's "Top of the World" remix is all it takes for the Pun to slay us, in death as he did in life.—Richard A. Martin

 
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