Zion I & the Grouch
Heroes in the City of Dope
"The beat knocks from my head to my cheap socks," the Grouch declares on "Hit 'Em"; MC Zion proclaims he's "rough and rugged, how you love it, with no budget"; and the Crown Prince of Hyphy, Mistah F.A.B., makes a bid for lyrical respect with "my mindstate define great, the crime rate got me irate." Hmm. Let's see. Bay Area all-stars, check. Illmatic production, check. What's not to love about Heroes in the City of Dope?
From the intro, "Noon Time," which interpolates Led Zep's "No Quarter," to the closer, "Badlands," which mixes Yay Area slaps with exotic-sounding melodies, HitCoD disproves the theorem that the only thing Bay Area hip-hop does well is make thizz faces. Anchored by Amp Live's production, the album's well worth listening to from a musical standpoint alone. If you've heard previous Zion I/Grouch collaborations like "Silly Puddy" and "Flow," then you know their microphone chemistry bubbles over; guests F.A.B., Chali 2na, and Esthero add a bit of glamour and variation to the disc. Occasionally overly precious in an almost-emo way, HitCoD nevertheless offers plenty of classic "conscious rap" moments, like "Kickin' It," a discourse on drugs and civil liberties based around the Clash's "Guns of Brixton" bass line that comes off as visceral as an episode of The Wire without lapsing into cliché. ERIC K. ARNOLD
Musique Pour 3 Femmes Enceintes
Last year, Montreal's Marc Leclair detoured from the processed radio transmissions and glitchy cut-ups of his work as Akufen to produce Musique, a nine-part composition for his pregnant wife and two friends. Released on the tiny label Mutek and briefly out of print, it deserves revisiting for its sophisticated handling of a sentimental theme, and its reinforcement of Leclair's multifaceted talent. Microhouse fans will find the concept arbitrary; songs like "150e Jour," drenched in guitar waves and Leclair's signature "hiccup," are as adequate as anything in that genre's young history. Numbered to represent the stages of pregnancy, opener "1er Jour" conveys remote, anxious anticipation. Musique's moods alternate between frustration (field-recorded thunder claps and all on "114e Jour") and calm, until "180e Jour"'s scrambled, subterranean rumblings seem like the womb's own impatient response. In what ultimately seems like the experiment of a man biding his time, Leclair also honors its passage. RACHEL SHIMP
And Now That I'm in Your Shadow
For over a decade, Damien Jurado has flown under the radar as this generation's Nick Drake. Jurado has a hushed, fragile vocal that's a pleasant complement to his minimal instrumentation. But what sets him apart from his deceased '70s counterpart is how well he crafts a string of despairing words together, words that are prettier heard than read: "Goodbye angel, hear you're successful/Maybe tomorrow, well, maybe you'll come back sometime/ Hands in your pockets, here's where you left me/Only with memories when we were just 16/But the letters never came/So I waited by the phone to hear it ring."
While 1999's Rehearsals for Departure put Jurado on the map, his latest, And Now That I'm in Your Shadow, is undoubtedly his strongest. Aided by musicians Eric Fisher, Jenna Conrad, and a couple of guests, Damien Jurado is no longer just the name of the songwriter and guitarist, it's the name of the band. From opener "Hoquiam" to "Denton, TX" to "Gas Station," it seems as though Jurado is a man constantly searching for something, yearning for old friends or a loved one in the distance. And like all good storytellers, he keeps us captivated until the end. TRAVIS RITTER
Stones Throw and Adult Swim Present: Chrome Children
(Stones Throw Records)
As if introducing the world to Aqua Teen Hunger Force weren't enough of a contribution to society, the overlords at Adult Swim have now proved to be reliable merchants of fine underground hip-hop and synthesizer space funk. A follow-up of sorts to last year's The Mouse and the Mask collaboration with Danger Mouse and MF Doom, the Adult Swim–issued Chrome Children showcases an impressive Stones Throw Records roster. Dudley Perkins' "Wassup World?" slithers and snaps like Outkast reinterpreting the Addams Family theme. Jaylib's "No $ No Toke" is a woefully clipped minute-and-a-half jam that's composed of a single, stoner-friendly verse book-ended with robotic crooning. MF Doom exercises his infamous timbre and formidable vocabulary over a thin, funky beat, twinkling piano, and loopy organ on the standout Madvillian track, "Monkey Suite," and the late, great J Dilla turns out another posthumous masterpiece with the haunting "Nothing Like This." Chrome Children's vibe is sometimes thuggishly nerdy, a bit of streetwise bravado (M.E.D.'s "All I Know" and Guilty Simpson's "Clap Your Hands") mixed with a little gymnastic wordplay (Madlib's "Take It Back" and Oh No's "Oh Zone"), a touch of neo-soul (Georgia Anne Muldrow's "Simply a Joy"), and some far-out interstellar hippie jams ("Nino's Deed" by Young Jazz Rebels, Koushik's "None in the Mind," and Aloe Blacc's "What Now") thrown in for shits and giggles. GEOFF JOHNSTON