Spin Control

March 26, 2006



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."

Jim DeRogatis


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 of rocks.

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.

Jim DeRogatis