BJÖRK

Volta

(Atlantic)

recommendedrecommendedrecommended1/2

Björk never left pop, so Volta is not the return to it that was expected. She has always reinterpreted pop's very meaning, exploring its unkempt crevices and constructing a universe of song from its cobwebs. While the masterful Homogenic, Vespertine, and Medúlla are cohesive in their concepts, Volta is elusive. The left-brained hooks to which music critics have made us accustomed are useless when considering Björk now.

Opening track "Earth Intruders" features unapologetically naff synths atop a tribal beat, which, when set against the simple triads of Konono No1's thumb pianos, becomes an energetic, complex cascade of polyrhythms and hemiolas. Though Timbaland lends his hand to this and two other tracks, Björk has the final word, pulling them into foreign, intuitive realms. Funereal brass creates caverns through which drift meditative tracks like "Pneumonia." Björk's vocal lines are fugitive, chromatic, at home in their searching for a landing. Duets with Antony Hegarty are lush—"Dull Flame of Desire" is epic in its endurance (perfectly realizing its Russian poetry); "My Juvenile" (dedicated to son Sindrí) owes much to Olivier Messiaen with its clusters of voice and dissonant clavichord. Min Xiao-Fen and Toumani Diabaté offer swirling, virtuosic rhetoric with their stringed instruments on "I See Who You Are" and "Hope," respectively.

Volta demonstrates that Björk refuses to be overt in her composition. There are no cheap, hypersanctified catharses. As she matures (as mother, lover, thinker), so does her music, which here is subtle and richly varied. The lack of thump and theatrics is telling. As Björk flexes more of her own technical prowess, we are left in a space wondering if we've really even heard her before. NICK SCHOLL

Björk plays Sat May 26 at the Sasquatch! Music Festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre.

AMON TOBIN

Foley Room

(Ninja Tune)

recommendedrecommended1/2

In early 2003, during an interview promoting the tour for his last proper full-length, Out from Out Where, sampler surgeon Amon Tobin expressed that he wanted people into his music to come out and see him. What he was far less concerned with, he explained, was if the audience at his show actually saw him. "What I'm trying to do is make sound the star," said Tobin.

He's achieved his goal, at least partially. With his latest album, the Brazilian-born, UK-bred producer shows less of the bustling drums 'n' dust characteristics he double-tracked in dense, subs-threatening segments through 1998's Permutation, 2000's Supermodified, and Out from Out Where (admittedly the most hermetic of the bunch). Instead, his latest work falls logically after 2005's insular soundtrack to the video game Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.

Tobin made his name braising noirish samples of bebop blurts and batucada, cinematic strings and seismic shards, into deep, muggy pockets. One common characteristic of the arrangements, however, was a furtive, fevered aura; they felt like glimpses into the alchemist's workshop through a dingy window on a rarely traveled back alley. There was an interactive presence. Foley Room, named for the chamber in which sound effects for films are recorded, feels much more clinical and, as Tobin once hinted, solely about the tweaking of sounds.

For this album, Tobin self-sourced: He isolated field recordings around the world rather than from records. And instead of cobbling together a cut-up flurry of breaks, he presents this cerebral slurry—a brooding suspension of gypsy percussion and taut, haunted textures both symbiotic and insoluble. The musique concrète klang and mecho-organic glitches sometimes end up more as deconstructed assemblies of ricocheting aesthetics than as an active orchestra. On Foley Room, it's obvious that every sonic silhouette was deliberately selected; just sometimes you wish Tobin's intentions were less conceptual and more tangible. TONY WARE

Amon Tobin plays Wed May 23 at Neumo's, 8 pm, $15, 21+.

DINOSAUR JR.

Beyond

(Fat Possum Records)

recommendedrecommendedrecommended

In the heady days of 1987, the 15-year-old me believed that the bombastic songs of Dinosaur Jr. (then, simply Dinosaur) expressed everything worth saying. Their angsty, uncertain sound was sometimes sweet, sometimes lonesome, and always furious in its crush of roiling guitars.

So when the original band re-formed and recorded a new album after nearly 20 years apart (the result of an ugly split between guitarist/vocalist J. Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow) my first reactions were appropriately adolescent. "Fuck yeah," I thought. And then, "But it'll probably suck." It turns out that the new record, Beyond, is both gloriously nostalgic and disappointingly unadventurous.

The churning guitars and whiny aggression on the album's opener, "Almost Ready," sound straight out of the back catalog. Mascis snarls and pouts through an ambivalent anthem full of trademark self-condemnations such as "I'm way off track again." A number of standout tracks on Beyond delve even further into the past; the extended, guitar-heavy "Pick Me Up" features a brief but entertaining Skynyrd-style riff that unbalances the song in just the right way.

The band are at their best doing what they've always done well: riding propulsive guitars, monumental bass lines, and skittery drums to a cresting wave of potent, half-coherent yearning. Songs like the sing-along "This Is All I Came to Do" and the country-tinged "We're Not Alone" express the adolescent combination of energy and dissipation still lurking in all of us.

There are some clunkers on the album (the strongly Sebadohan "Back to Your Heart" springs to mind), and it's all best taken in small doses, but the finest songs on Beyond make you feel like drinking beer in the sunshine—the 1988 sunshine, when being misunderstood felt like a virtue and your life lay all in front of you. CHRIS McCANN

Dinosaur Jr. and Awesome Color play Fri May 18 at the Showbox, 8 pm, $20 adv/$25 DOS, 21+.

PHAT KAT

Carte Blanche

(Look)

recommendedrecommendedrecommended

Phat Kat is a Midwest original, a Detroit pioneer, an unimpeachable 313 OG whose name doesn't ring nearly enough bells when talking about his cold city's hiphop scene. He first made a name for himself on the seminal 12-inch "Front Street," the buzz-heavy single for his crew 1st Down, which also included Jay Dee. While label monkeyshines stalled a proper 1st Down album release, Kat stayed active, appearing on albums by Jay Dee and Slum Village. In the wake of his boy's return to the essence, and dope recent D-Town heat like Black Milk's Popular Demand, Phat Kat (aka Ronnie Cash) returns with his sophomore solo set, a collection solid enough to serve as foundation for the next tier of Motown hiphop.

While always possessing an authoritative, raspy voice and a cocky, toy-bashing I'm going for mine–type steez, Kat has always put rawness over the slippery technical delivery that his Michigan brethren frequently employ; instead, he raps in an intricate, tight-knit barrage (almost Beanie Sigel–ish but wholly his own) that's every bit as b-boy as it is brutal Detroit street. Not to say the man ain't versatile—he freaks joints grimy enough to make you miss tape hiss ("Nasty Ain't It," "Cold Steel"), as well as those freak joints that could be in frequent mainstream rotation (see "Game Time," or the aptly titled vibey soul of "Lovely"). Carte Blanche ain't perfect, by any means, but it's yet more proof that the gritty heart of the underground beats still. Dilla would be proud. LARRY MIZELL JR.

Phat Kat plays with Slum Village, Indica Jones, and Macklemore on Sun May 20, at Chop Suey, 7:30 pm, $12, all ages.

Hannibal recommendedrecommendedrecommendedrecommended

Face recommendedrecommendedrecommended

B. A. recommendedrecommended

Murdock recommended