Concept: Update from another group of “post”-jazz sweethearts led by a percussionist composer (John Hollenbeck) and welcoming a guest member onto the album (pianist Gary Versace).

Sound: The titular piece (here performed without Versace) is beyond my full comprehension. Not only are there so many goofy syncopations around that I could not determine the initial meter independently, but I find it almost impossible to accept as the above video’s poster claims that its A section is plain old 4/4. I mean, if that thing doesn’t have alternations of 6/4 poking about in it, put me in a straightjacket. Then, before you know it, you’re somehow in 10/4. The Quintet’s members are magicians of transition. They draw the ear away from theme and rhythm, and slide in substitutes part by part. None of the pieces include a self-indulgent collapse, however. There is a co-orientation rather than chaos between them. They are carefully committed to simultaneously straying only so far from each other and no further, as if emulating tensegrity or imitating the reflexivity of improvisation. It’s an elucidation of free jazz, a conversion of free jazz’ supposed explorations to compositional technique. They’re definitely on to something. The downside is that whatever they’re doing and whatever it means can’t really be understood and thereby appreciated by the majority of us listeners just scrounging around in our leisure time, myself included. We can only hope to enjoy this stuff. While The Claudia Quintet’s masterful control and subtle use of dynamic makes their fluid experimentation more palatable, the baths of crunched rapid-fire polyrhythm and syncopation which extend through many of the pieces could be too distracting for anyone unaccustomed to such things. This is probably the best introduction to their work, though, with several uncharacteristically soft pieces that highlight the bands’ intuition over their calculation.

Lyrics: None

Quick And Dirty: As tempered and presentable as technical innovation gets. (♦♦♦♦½)


Concept: The second and third suites of a Metropolis style sci-fi concept arch, during which the android protagonist realizes she’s the One, and prepares to overthrow The Big Brother Matrix Man. Big Boi, Saul Williams, Of Montreal, and Deep Cotton join in.

Sound:  Well, there’s nothing wrong with the album. In sum, it’s a kaleidoscope of pop; Monáe cannot be accused of homogeneity, and her voice morphs tactfully to suit it all. The songs are not weighted by the concept either…they’ll fit right in if shuffled into a playlist. The album nevertheless falls short of being a great one. The songs each remain very much a cameo, none a fully-fledged scene, consistently opting for textural rather than structural flexibility with the scant but formidable exceptions of the classical interludes. While all tantalizing, to hear thirty seconds of a track is pretty comparable to hearing the whole. It could be argued that Stevie Wonder had much the same approach in Songs In the Key of Life, but Monáe’s jams (if you see fit to dub them as such) certainly do not match his for experimentalism or pure melodic imagination. Her aim is admirable and true, and it pretty much had to fall short in the wider scope of musical standards.

Lyrics: While Monáe’s voice is versatile, from smooth crooning to a nimble staccato flow and plenty more, her lyrics are thoroughly tired, and her rhyme schemes could use a lot more work period.

Concept: Seeking to live up to influences such as Wonder, Bowie, and Outkast, Monáe has a lot of work to do. This is a worthy milestone in that effort. (♦♦♦½)

Concept: The only existing Nu Metal band with a sense of dignity manages a seventh album to replace its unreleased sixth, out of respect for their former bassist who is currently in a coma. As the unreleased album, Eros, allegedly returns to their aggressive earlier sound, Diamond Eyes is presented as ecstatic and celebratory.

Sound: Ever since their sophomore release, Deftones have displayed a peculiar but attractive combination of hip-hop, metal, and ambient pop. The third is where their proficiency lies, and the drift of hazy, erotic vocals in contrast over pounding, growling eight string guitar is their trademark. This formula still seems to work for them, but their eerie electronics and alternately infectious and majestic drumwork are lacking this time around. Furthermore, there’s a dangerous new element at play. The majority of tracks feature multiple bridges, interludes, or cuts into different time signatures. That sounds like close to an absolute benefit, but it’s executed terribly half of the time, most blatantly on their second single, Rocket Skates. Each piece of it sounds good, but it’s slapped together in a disjunctive, stunted circuit, and then grossly overdrawn. Deftones has always drifted, and with the coupling of this habit to more complicated formats they come across as indecisive and dissipating. Other songs, most notably Prince and Risk, bear the recycled traces of earlier hits in an attempt to remedy this. Taming looser time signatures into pop format serves them well on three occassions by adding sweep to the chorus of the titular song and swagger on You’ve Seen The Butcher and the verse of the album’s noisiest track, CMND/CTRL, which very well may be the best of the lot.

Lyrics: Frontman Chino Moreno’s lyricism has made a noticable decline over the last two albums, and not only because it has become more repetitive. He’s losing his ability to paint a picture and cranking out tactless, seemingly unrelated phrases more frequently. That is especially a problem when your lyricism’s content consists almost entirely of attempts to elegantly conflate sex and death.  Luckily, some of it still fits together, and he can still align his words with the emotion of the music to dramatic effect.

Quick And Dirty: Both less original and less listenable than their previous work. If you’ve never listened to Deftones before, this might be a nice sampler of their range of riffs, but speaking as a fan it only proved disillusioning. (♦♦♦)

Concept: Oh, what a delightfully obscure reference! Now, Thom Yorke’s coming over, so this is the best thing since Hearing Damage from the Twilight soundtrack or else nothing is sacred anymore, okay?

Sound : It must be emphasized that without good speakers or headphones this album is not half of what it can be. It is literally not a very accessible album. There are certain requirements for physically experiencing the finer touches and picking out the extra sounds that bump this up from just another hip-hop mash. Cosmogramma isn’t just a glut of classy and diverse samples. It’s been recorded and produced to feel like the real thing, if not better, since it gives a sort of parallax experience of all its contents, like you’re onstage walking back and forth among the players. If Flying Lotus had decided to drop a pin, you’d hear it under the bubbling jazz bass, videogame trills, and shuffling percussion. The influences certainly don’t end there. I’m not sure where they end. In this respect, the album’s the real deal, the next big thing for hip-hop. If you’re using your iPod earbuds for this though, as I first did when the album came out, you are likely to be very underwhelmed by many tracks, although some still refuse to have their excellence ignored.

Lyrics: Scatting, crazed laughter, oohs and ahs, whoever Laura Darlington is she rocks you, Thom Yorke needs a hug.

Quick And Dirty: One of the very best hip-hop instrumental/sample albums, right up there with DJ Shadow and The Avalanches. I do feel a good sound system is so integral to the album that I’m putting down two ratings for the two ways to hear it. One way or the other, you know what to do. (♦♦♦♦♦ or ♦♦♦)