You release an album a few years back—an art thing, kind of, sprawling and chaotic and a little pretentious—that gets jumped on by folks who then go on to canonize an even more sprawling, chaotic, pretentious Andre 3000 album a year later. That same fall, Hova gives you some awkward love on wax, sayin' he'd really like to rap just like you if it, y'know, moved units. Now Jay's tight with this other dude from Chicago who got even more dap on the charts and from the press last year than the sub–Electric Circus "Hey Ya"-plus-filler disc did the year before, so you hook up with this Kanye cat. And you angle for a blockbuster a slightly different way: You do it subtle. West sands down '70s beats to a late-night throb that's slick but that still grinds: "Real People" brings the suavest sax riff since "T.R.O.Y."; a wash of bliss-out chimes turns "Go!" into the mellowest jump-up anthem around; layers of purring bass sustain through the album like a submerged organ chord. You fine-tune your lyrics, offsetting your sharp-toned personally and politically minded frustration with your most fluid phrasing yet—the street-struggle scenarios in the first verse of "The Corner" toy with the long-O vowel sound like a hood Electric Company routine—and deft philosophical acumen ("In the hood love, we was told to run from/That same hood where the guns sung/We holla love, hopin' it would come one," from "Love Is . . . "). Result: a No. 2 Billboard debut and your first top 10. Guess this is that one day it all finally makes sense. NATE PATRIN
Common plays the Bumbershoot Mainstage at 3:15 p.m. Sun., Sept. 4. $28 one-day pass/ $45 two-day pass/$80 four-day pass; $8 ages 5–12 and 65 and over. www.bumbershoot.org
VARIOUS ARTISTS/MIXED BY TRIPLE R
(My Best Friend)
It would be easy to mistake Richard Riley Reinhold's mix for an expression of nostalgia. Flashback could pass for a premature memorial to My Best Friend's back catalog as well as for a fond look back at the disco, electro, and synth-pop that inspire much of the music on the newest label in Cologne's Traum-Trapez family. Of course, we don't really need yet another excavation of tech-house's roots—just as well, then, that what drives this CD isn't quite as simple as an idealistic longing for the past. Instead, it's a mélange of distant and contemporary styles and references that's pleasant and disorienting in turns, both a playful game of connections and a taunting reminder that we can't escape our memories of the past. On the subtler side, Toro's "Phantom Drive" capably digs up late-period disco's hand claps, winding bass, and chugging keyboards, while M.A.N.D.Y. nods toward metal-on-metal-era Kraftwerk with "Naomi." More perplexing is just how dead-on a New Order imitation Reinhold somehow delivers under the guise of Youthanasia with "Mondo Cane"; can we hope the alias is a Megadeth tribute? The most taxing archaeological exercise is "Music Makes You," by Robert Schulze, aka LAX. Is Schulze culling his sample from the mid-'80s original (Hot Streak's "Body Work"), the late-'90s revival (Les Rhythmes Digitales' "Jacques Your Body"), or the latest track to exhume this vocal bit (Missy Elliott's "Lose Control")? Or—given that Schulze has reportedly been DJ'ing for nearly a quarter-century—does he have a closer connection to Hot Streak? And why oh why did Steve Barnes and Riley Reinhold have to build "Someday" around a keyboard riff so much like Hot Butter's wretched "Popcorn," the song with which my elementary-school gym teacher would start each class? Now there's a traumatic flashback. KRISTAL HAWKINS
THE JUAN MACLEAN
Purists are waiting for the other shoe to drop and American underground dance to become a power-riff sausage party led by a pack of tired, rockist curators bent on embalming disco and propping it up like so much taxidermy. And indie-rock nation's offshoot transition from Pavementalism to acid-house love is so radical a shift that I can't entirely blame haters for eyeing the James Murphy army with a bit of suspicion. But not blaming them doesn't mean not pitying them for willfully ignoring former Six Finger Satellite member John Maclean's debut. Less Than Human's title may be a "dig our robosoullessness" nudge-wink, but the music is unmistakably gut level—and on "Give Me Every Little Thing," heart level, one leaping into the other as Maclean retrofits the keytar solo from Daft Punk's "Digital Love" as music for low-rider contests. "Tito's Way" and "Crush the Liberation" cause contusions with similar arrangements conjuring different atmospheres—the former rides The Warriors menace all the way to Coney Island; the latter lets its pearlescent electric piano riff oxidize into gleaming, luxurious rust for a minute-and-a-half coda. And the last track, "Dance With Me," runs nearly 15 minutes, imagining Prefuse 73 and Fischerspooner somehow stumbling into a collaboration on the best ambient electro track of the last five years. Don't think I heard a guitar, either. NATE PATRIN
The Juan Maclean play Chop Suey with the Long Ranger and Daylight Basement at 9 p.m. Wed., Aug. 31. $10 adv.