They rode in on the Deep South crunk train, settled in to the booty-music bottom end and spoke their collective mind, which was mostly in the titty bars. Call Ying Yang Twins a 2 Live Crew for the new millennium, delivering nasty on the Penthouse-worthy "Pull My Hair" and the one everybody knows by now, the get-your-freak-on "Wait (The Whisper Song)." But the Twins also stretch out admirably, replicating a bit of Outkast's more adventurous vibe. The result is a remarkably mature effort (despite the prurient stuff) that is all the more amazing for how unexpected it is, given Ying Yang's earlier works. While there are some weak moments (the comically cheesy R&B of "Bedroom Boom"), USA is balanced by great tracks such as the rich, gospel-flavored "Long Time," which pays homage to Al Green's "Belle"; the nimble, thoughtful ode to a stripper's life, "Live Again," with guest vocals from Maroon 5's Adam Levine; and the album's pièce de résistance "Ghetto Classics," a meditation on war and African American urban history.
Track to burn: "Ghetto Classics"--Chris Parker
Si*Sé's self-titled, part-Spanish, part-English debut got big buzz in the group's hometown of New York City when it came out on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label in 2001. The electronics-based music sounded great and the band brought interesting disparate elements together in the mix. Unfortunately, the group has not matured. On the long-awaited More Shine, brilliant music backs up Dominican singer Carol C.'s lackluster vocals and overly simplistic lyrics that suffer at the expense of making a rhyme. The periodic instrumental intermissions are a welcome break from the repetitive vocal melodies. What's really rich here are the musical compositions: the Cuban tinges of "Mariposa en Havana," the Kronos Quartet-style resonance of "Amigo," the sweepy violin and flute-laced techno-disco beat of "Karma," and the acoustic guitar -- all this combines for an intriguing musical mix. These melodic echoes of culture, region and style long to tell a story that is not matched by its simplistic lyrics.
Track to burn: "Mariposa en Havana"--Sarah Atkinson
Christian Fennesz doesn't believe abstract, computer-driven electronic music needs to be chock-full of synthetic bleeps and blips. It need not sound "ambient" (Eno), claustrophobic and coked-up (Autechre), nor noisy and Stockhausen-inspired (Holger Czukay). On Sala Santa Cecilia, a 1-track, 19-minute EP first performed in Italy with Ryuichi Sakamoto (Yellow Magic Orchestra), Fennesz and his more orchestrally inspired Eastern cousin combine bits of those different subgenres to create a mulchy, mutating masterpiece of headphone music that puts the organ back in organic electronica. It begins with the two musicians creating and then excising bits of noise (glitches, sandpaper thumps), and the piece builds to a climax after a pitter-patter, adrift-at-sea interlude. A long, drony melody then pulls the musicians back to shore. The album, according to Fennesz, was named after the patron saint of church music. If the Passion still had this sort of light/dark truthfulness to it, I'd probably start going to services again.
Track to burn: Um... "Sala Santa Cecilia"--Timothy C. Davis
I generally avoid doing capsule reviews of best-of collections by great artists like Public Enemy. To me, anybody who gives two shits about modern music -- and by that, I mean music from 1965 to 2005 -- should own each of P.E.'s first four albums, all classics. But the songs on Power to the People are so well-chosen, and the liner notes so interesting, that I'm compelled to recommend it for its masterful approach to the single-disc compilation. Beginning with the spare gut-kick of "You're Gonna Get Yours," the CD blasts through P.E.'s finest moments, charging into "Rebel without a Pause" and climaxing with the classic "Bring the Noise." By the time the first jolts of "Don't Believe the Hype" nearly bust out your woofer, you realize how exciting and politically charged the late 1980s and early 1990s were. And that's just the beginning. Too bad we don't have these "Prophets of Rage" committing to "Fight the Power" in our current "Hour of Chaos." Yo, Chuck, welcome back to the Terrordome.
Track to burn: "Fight the Power"--Mark Kemp