Damian 'Jr. Gong' Marley

Also: Queens of the Stone Age, R. Kelly, Bigg Jus, Blood on the Wall, and Criterion/MPLD.

DAMIAN "JR. GONG" MARLEY

Welcome to Jamrock

(Universal/Tuff Gong)

Welcome to Jamrock is not a strictly dancehall album; nor is it a reggae LP, though it's certainly Rastafari-inspired. Like 2002's Grammy-garnering Halfway Tree, Jamrock lays down the "digital Marley" aesthetic: squeaky clean, seamlessly layered live instrumentation and rhythmically diverse, canyon-expansive arrangements that amalgamize reggae, dancehall, dub, R&B, hip-hop, and lite-rock along with Damian's fearless flow. This acoustic refinement makes his highly political tirades go down cool and calm ("Welcome to Jamrock," the firecracker of a lead single, has a style that's more b-boy than rude bwoy)—and like most pop, the music makes you want to sing along or dance, even to the excerpts of political speeches from Haile Selassie I and Marcus Garvey that we hear in "Confrontation," a symphony-driven trancehall track doubling as a pulsating African battle cry. Even if his name isn't on the cover, though, Stephen Marley's work on Jamrock, as well as on brother Ziggy's albums with the Melody Makers, is key here. His September solo release might have been overlooked, but its title is an understatement: Got Music. Stephen does, and with his backing, Damian's serious, sophisticated, and rock-steady lyrics help place Welcome to Jamrock at the pinnacle of mainstream radio's growing Afro-Caribbean explosion. MAKKADA B. SELAH

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE

Over the Years and Through the Woods

(Interscope)

It'd be foolish to suggest that this new CD/DVD concert document generates the same sort of flash-point excitement as the straight-to-tape Desert Sessions that birthed some of main man Josh Homme's craftiest musical ideas. Still, it goes a long way in satiating those of us alienated by the overly deliberate night moves of the last Queens of the Stone Age record. Take it as a goodwill gesture, and as a reminder that we had Homme pegged all wrong as an inhuman hit machine after the contact highs of Songs for the Deaf. While we pissed away eight months grading Lullabies to Paralyze with an Ashlee Simpson checklist and praying for more cowbell, our hero quietly yanked the tablecloth away and recast himself as the bastard offspring of Neil Young. It really doesn't matter who's been sharing the stage since Homme drafted a new fantasy-league team; thanks to the stunt cinematography on the accompanying DVD, current drummer Joey Castillo morphs into Dave Grohl and back and—disturbingly enough—Mark Lanegan's head gets superimposed on top of Homme's during "Song for the Deaf." As to be expected, the DVD portion of Over the Years and Through the Woods captures the full set and kills with quantity, while the heavily edited CD captures most of the peaks and provides an extra showcase for previously unreleased tracks. The Motown goof "I Wanna Make It Wit Chu" tickles the ribs a little, but the best moment on either disc belongs to Homme's gleefully profane takedown of a heckler. The fun machine is back in effect. NICK GREEN

R. KELLY

Remix City Volume 1

(Jive)

The word "remix" means something different to R. Kelly than it does to most people. Sure, sometimes he adds a rapper when he reworks his songs, but he never simply drags the beat out with sound effects. A remix for him is about putting the chorus hook in a barely recognizable context, adding denser, more ecstatic verses, and yelling the word "remix" a lot. This disc of examples splits his career into thirds: new-jack priapism, tales of romantic regret and dead homiez interrupted by the occasional demand that you "get your ass in this tuubbbb," and the post-indictment genre exercises of recent years. At least five of these remixes can be found on the original albums, and not all the B-sides are as astounding as "Feeling on Yo' Booty (Hypnotize Mix)"—see the previous tub reference—but it's nice to have so many examples of his out-loud rethinks and frivolous asides in once place. The only real complaint about Remix City Volume 1 is that it doesn't include one of his many collaborations with Jay-Z (blame the suits, I guess) or any of the guest appearances he's dropped on other people's tracks. Twista's "So Sexy Chapter 2" ("You ain't never had a remix like this"), J.Lo's "Baby I Love You" ("I love you, too!"), and Ginuwine's "Hell Yeah" ("I'm so drunk I'm just drooling at the mouth . . . It's the remix!") would all be welcome here, and great releases like Pitbull's M.I. Still A.M.I. show just how revelatory and exciting a Kelly collabo comp could be. ANTHONY MICCIO

BIGG JUS

Poor People's Day

(Mush)

Here is possibly the most confrontational, dense, depressing, and indecipherable rap album of the year—and as a 45-minute exegesis on America as poverty-creation machine, it'd have to be. Bigg Jus, former member of Company Flow and presumable current member of an FBI watch list, is one of the few MCs out there who seem dedicated specifically to decrying the power structure instead of usurping it. It's hard to find any hip-hop analogues that come close—the sometimes-stilted way Jus rattles off flow-defying sociopolitical struggle dispatches is on some D. Boon shit, brainy sloganeering as lyricism and vice versa. Leadoff nonskit cut "Supa Nigga" is the red herring: Sky-bound R&B beats bolted onto a funeral march accompany some vaguely nonspecific badass-geek exhortations ("You need blueprints to construct a Stargate to escape the ass-whippin'"), but the accessibility gets dead-bolted from there on in. "Energy Harvester (Swallow the Sun)" heaves like a nuclear reactor with asthma under Jus' puzzle-box warnings of environmental decay. "This Is Poor People's Day" hiccups with fusion-jazz autism and an endless stream of anti-imperialist agitation straight out of any random issue of Workers' World; "Night Before" merges anarchistic visions of a coup d'état ("That's what happens when you start to feel immortal/The chickens come home and people feel like they need some kind of vindication/To reach out and kill the harbinger of doom") with lonely slow-jam delicacy. As obtuse and frustrating as it can be sometimes for listeners just coming down off a Kanye high, it's still all too necessary. In the meantime, you can curse the fact that this album has to exist while eagerly awaiting the day it sounds completely outmoded. NATE PATRIN

BLOOD ON THE WALL

Awesomer

(Social Registry)

At midnight, a voice summoned Thurston. "Twenty-eight days, six hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds," it said, "and you will sign to Geffen." The next day he was awakened by Michael Gira. "Son, are you all right? You're on my lawn." Thurston walked home to find his Lafayette Street apartment smashed, Kim crying: "Thank God you're alive. I thought I was going to have to finish The Whitey Album myself." After a flood at their producer's apartment, the couple decided to halt the project and try something else, something Awesomer: a trad Sonic Youth album with some twists. Moore liked Ian's new band, Fugazi, so he did a more nasal screech vocal, and Kim started singing in tune, sort of like Georgia from Yo La Tengo, on songs called "You Are a Mess" and "Stoner Jam." J Mascis was around anyway, so he lent some guitar to "Reunite on Ice," while Steve Shelley channeled some tight little Yo La tom-toms. It was beginning to sound like the best album of the year. The only catch was their lyrics started to suck. On the eve of the final studio session, they decided to break in to Jayne County's house to record piano on "Going to Heaven," but when they found Steve Albini already there, they ran away screaming. Glenn Branca biked by, 99 cyclers following furiously, and mowed over Kim. Moore carried her lifeless body to the steps of St. Marks, and walked downtown to embrace his fate. He crawled into bed with the finished record, laughing as a plane fuselage came crashing down. "Byron would have loved that sound," he thought as his life drained away. Coley's name conjured a wrinkle in time, zipping Awesomer from Moore's corpse to the Social Registry release schedule 17 years later. DAPHNE CARR

CRITERION/MPLD

La Ciudad

(Br0klyn Beats)

Digital pigeons peck and coo around a skeletal, tom-tom–dominated breakbeat that swells and deepens, forming a citywide conga line, as Criterion Thornton's titular ciudad—New York—assumes its everyday series of positions. Factory rhythms, snorkly synth, and a spectral choir come and go, enhancing the sense of ebb and flow typical of any polyglot metropolis. Then the bottom drops out, leaving only an undulating whine that signals a big rupture in the urban-routine grid. At first, the high-pitched cries and madly buzzing double reeds that follow might be mistaken for simulated field recordings of a particularly wild party. But they're not, as a second, louder salvo of screams fading into masses of marching feet indicates all too well. Originally planned as a collaborative celebration of city life with video artist MPLD (also featured on the disc), La Ciudad's sonics slipped into something considerably less comfortable after tragedy struck globe-trotting- squatter-punk-turned-Brooklynite Thornton's adoptive town on Sept. 11, 2001. (As Thornton and co-founder Heather Leitner explain at broklynbeats.com, the label's mission is "creating experimental electronic music with some relevance to the problems of the world without the use of political sloganeering and the ultra-preachy tones prevalent in other politically driven forms of music.") Colorful, concise (exactly 19 minutes and 30 seconds), and rhythmically compelling as hell—despite the gravity of the event that spawned it—Thornton's tone poem stands tall among the most eloquent responses to 9/11 in any field, politics included, a Guernica for the ears that only gains power from active listening and repeated playback. ROD SMITH

 
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