1. Reverend and the Makers - The State of Things
This Sheffield, UK pop group has been kicking around Britain for a year now, and though they've barely been noticed in the US, their sound is incredibly catchy--fist-pumping yet danceable. "Heavyweight Champion of the World," the lead single off the album, recalls that short time in the early 80s when dance pop actually had substance to it: soaring, shimmering, yet simultaneously grounded in reality and our struggles with it. It's been a long time since anyone has been able to say that about pop.
2. Broadcast Live - Boomerang Metropolis
See my post from earlier in the week. Broadcast Live's sound isn't necessarily unique for its unfamiliarity, but rather because their specific mixture of hip-hop, indie, punk and other styles is unlike any other group that aimlessly wanders into the now-cliche waters of "rap-rock." Perhaps that's because this group has purpose to it. The blend of styles they bring to life aren't just "cool sounding," but the best possible vehicle for the range of issues and emotions they seek to give voice to. Gentrification, racism, sexism, war, all are up on BL's chopping block, and they proceed to eviscerate.
3. Thievery Corporation - Radio Retaliation
Thievery's approach to "chill-out" music is a breath of fresh air in a normally mind-numbing genre. Their eclectic samples incorporate everything from Brazillian jazz to Asian rhythms, fusing together a kind of--and I've used this term to describe the group before--electronic internationalism. Radio Retaliation takes their now-covert, now-overt radicalism and sharpens it. the title is no coincidence. This album definitely sounds like the communiques flowing down from the guerillas in the mountains, the soundtrack of rebellions to come.
4. Mr. Lif - I Phantom
"[A]n exploration of the dynamics of everyday life, and the pursuit of our dreams, in a rapidly decaying society." That's how Lif describes this album. A blazing-hot provocation, and at the same time a pressure release valve for anyone sick of being told we don't amount to anything. This is the album that in 2002, when the mainstream media was hailing a "revival" in the economy (dumbasses), gave voice to what that recovery actually looked like: sick and tired, a nation filled with folks who couldn't wait to "punch the clock right off the wall!"
5. RJD2 - Since We Last Spoke
it's been kind of a Def Jux week for me. RJD2 lays down some of the best beats in the business. Intricate, yet unpretentious, he is never predictable (look at his latest release: stripped down, straight up pop songs more than soundtracks) but at the same time you always know it's him laying it down. This record sees him branching into more rock-inspired sounds, without losing his distinctive hip-hop bottoms and abstract edges. Placing it in his full-on evolution as a DJ and artist, its an interesting bridge between two distinct phases.