Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
"Show Your Bones" (Universal) ***1/2
What the U.K.'s Arctic
Monkeys have been to recent months -- the "future of rock" hype of the
moment -- Brooklyn's Yeah Yeah Yeah's were to 2003, after two impressive EPs
and a strong debut album, "Fever to Tell." But after that initial splash,
the group has kept a pretty low profile, and the buzz has long since faded.
Now comes the second
album from electrifying frontwoman Karen O, guitar wizard Nick Zinner and
hard-charging drummer Brian Chase, and they've not only escaped the
sophomore slump that plagues so many former future-of-rock contenders,
they've crafted a collection of songs that expands their basic fractured
art-rock with subtleties that were lacking before and influences that
weren't obvious, if they were there at all.
O is still a sloppy but
sultry impressionist of a lyricist and singer, evoking a New Age daughter of
Siouxsie Sioux, Patti Smith and PJ Harvey as she screams and whispers
fragmented thoughts that seem to be spewing directly from the rawest part of
her psyche. But Zinner has expanded a palette that was already pretty
astounding, shifting from disorienting shoegazer feedback and swirling noise
to bluesy riffing, classic-rock stomp and freaky folk-rock, getting some
tasty textural help along the way from Beastie Boys pal Keyboard Money Mark.
With much stronger
hooks, more nuanced songs and more mysterious depths than the first disc,
"Show Your Bones" marks the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as much more than another hype
with a smartly crafted but shallow formula. "You're something like a
phenomena, baby," O sings in "Phenomena," before adding in "Cheated
Hearts" a few songs later, "I think that I'm bigger than the sound."
Ghostface Killah, "Fishscale"
(Def Jam) **1/2
Wu-Tang veteran Tony
Starks certainly doesn't break any new ground on his fifth solo album: His
lyrical obsessions are still pretty much limited to street fights, conniving
women and, most of all, the endless dramas in the life of a drug dealer. But
there are several factors that set Ghostface Killah apart from the faceless
pack of gangsta rappers trying to score a quick buck selling rhymes instead
For one thing, there's
the artist's distinctive voice and much-heralded flow, which are highlighted
here in a series of killer grooves crafted by a veritable Who's Who of
hip-hop producers, including Pete Rock, Just Blaze, MF Doom, MadLib and the
late J Dilla. For another, there's his crime noir novelist's eye for detail,
which elevates the subject matter from the level of a bad B-movie to
something more akin to a great Jim Thompson pulp. When Ghostface Killah
talks about crack, he writes about the minutiae of cooking the drug in big,
heavy pots and mixing it in mayonnaise jars, and selling in via elaborate
schemes involving senior citizens employed as lookouts. And, as in a great
Scorsese film, he also shows us the human side of the criminals on the
street, thinking of the advice their mothers gave them as they load a fresh
clip in their guns.
Again, this is all
familiar terrain. But it is rarely traversed quite so effectively.