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Sit & Spin

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Dizzee Rascal
boy in da corner
Matador/XL
Every now and then, you hear a record that sounds so different, it might as well have come from outer space. When that same record also immediately makes you want to live in that other world, you know you have a winner.

I was making dinner, I believe, when I first put this record on. I soon felt myself drawn to the living room, siren-like, and sat beside the CD player for the remainder of the disc.

What is this, I thought? I'd read rave reviews of the album from the British rock magazines, but those rags foam at the mouth more than a whole kennel full of rabid dogs. And so I thought: why do I like this? Well, it sounded quite unlike anything I've heard, for one -- equal parts Cash Money bounce, Southern crunk, and Anglo garage (the most commonly used word to describe the sound is "grime," but some folks prefer "sublow," in reference to the music's woofer-buzzing low end). At the same time, the jagged edges (think RZA, perhaps, or El-P) keep you interested -- unlike most hip hop, you never know where the songs on this record will end up. (More often than not, you can't even predict where a given line will end up.)

Dizzee's rhyming style, a machine-gun spray of British slang, is delivered in the time-honored screw-face style of so many of his scowl-ridden contemporaries. However, with Dizzee, you're never sure if he's just putting out the tough-guy vibe or beginning to well up with tears. Some folks have said it sounds like Dizzee has his emotions stuck in his throat, and that he has to choke out every last syllable.

Which is fitting, really. Boy In Da Corner is the Heimlich hip hop has needed for years.

Track to burn:"Stop Dat"
Grade: A+--Timothy C. Davis

Lambchop
awcmon/noyoucmon
Merge

For over a decade now, Kurt Wagner has been confounding categorists with his idiosyncratic songs, aided by a revolving troupe of musical regulars and passersby known as Lambchop.

Ludicrously, the band is still lumped together with alt-country acts -- partly because they're based in Nashville. And though they may have begun life as an oddball country conglomerate, Lambchop is so much more now. They have dabbled in indie-noise, indulged Wagner's Curtis Mayfield and Memphis soul obsessions, gone all Burt Bacharach with the strings, and mashed it all together into an indefinably intoxicating mix.

That's why the band was chosen last year by the San Francisco Film Festival to perform a live soundtrack to FW Murneau's 1932 classic, Sunrise. That left Wagner with a self-described "buttload" of songs which, after some winnowing, wound up as the 24 that make up these two discs, Lambchop's crowning achievement to date.

Wagner and Co. may careen from style to style with the joyful abandon of a kid on a sugar buzz (on "Gusher" Wagner melds the riff from Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" onto a bossa nova and ends with the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show), but the sounds and themes are distinctly adult -- in the baby's-all-growed-up sense.

Though the new records differ in approach, they work quite well as a sort of call-and-response to one another, as the goofball titles suggest. Awcmon is the more conceptual work and has a more uniform sound throughout, Wagner's delectable melodies awash in Lloyd Barry's lush strings (think Joe Boyd's work with Nick Drake).

Noyoucmon is, on the other hand, a hodge-podge of styles that show off Lambchop's considerable range -- if you made a mix-disc of the group's strongest work from all their records it would sound a lot like this.

But throughout the band's variations in rosters and musical styles (the former informing the latter), the constant is Wagner's ability to write poignant vignettes about the everyday things in life that reverberate long after the final note has sounded.

"Steve McQueen" has to do with the unselfish behavior it takes to get relationships right (quitting smoking, in this instance -- McQueen died of lung cancer); "I Haven't Heard a Word I've Said" finds a man babbling about work as his mate falls asleep, and the realization that he wasn't saying much anyway; "Four Pounds in Two Days" concerns dieting but gaining weight anyway; "About My Lighter" is about those disposables everyone steals from each other; "Women Help to Create the Kind of Men They Despise" is . . . well, self-explanatory.

This is Wagner as the favorite uncle, his croaking, beguiling whisper and deceptively simple stories unforgettable, because the telling of them is just as enjoyable as the life-long lessons they subtly impart.

Track to burn (Awcmon): "Steve McQueen"
Track to burn (Noyoucmon): "Low Ambition"
Grade (Awcmon): A
Grade (Noyoucmon): B--John Schacht

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