Maths and English
Dizzee Rascal's marble-mouthed twitch may have defined UK grime five years ago, but these days, dude is off on something completely different. The departure isn't exactly a surprise—Dizzee outgrew grime as quickly as he helped consolidate it—but Maths and English veers into so many different places, the only genre Dizzee belongs to now is that stuff where, uh... people talk over beats.
The drum-n-bass-rooted Shy FX collab "Da Feelin" reveals a great part of Dizzee's continued brilliance. On one hand, the track is 100 percent summertime hula-hoop shit, yet beneath it all, Dizzee's rapping is still permeated by forced-smile dread. He can chat about ladies, happiness, and traveling around the world all he wants, but Dizzee's swagger, just like his voice, always teeters on breaking.
It's only when Dizzee confronts his paranoia head-on that he sounds incapable of fucking up. The album single, "Sirens," is a crushing Judgment Night flashback—sludgy guitar riffage slams against 80 layers of beats while Dizzee stands over the mess like he's some kind of Robocop. When he finally "takes it back to that old-school shit" midway through, the riff fills out into a full-on mosh that makes '88-era rap-metal sound absolutely ancient.
The only missteps on the album occur when Dizzee starts asking rhetorical questions. The potential dream pairing with UGK on "Where Da G's?" boils down to an awkward British/Yankee relay—the differing styles polarize the beat, making for a crude mashup instead of a celebration of differences. Elsewhere, Lily Allen's gangster-themed chorus on "Wanna Be" just wasn't a good idea to begin with. But a couple clunkers on an album with this much variation is to be expected, and Maths and English once again proves Dizzee Rascal is one of the greatest rappers alive, regardless of continent. BRANDON IVERS
NOMO are bringing on Afrobeat's third wave. After arising from Nigeria in the early '70s, Afrobeat has steadily gained stature in almost-popular consciousness over the last 10 or so years. Biographies and documentaries introduce Fela Kuti's illustrious, scandalous rein as Afrobeat's progenitor, DJ nights dedicated to the form convert clubgoers to its relentlessly grinding rhythms, and Fela's son Femi, as well as bands like Antibalas and Albino!, carry on the legacy with reverence. NOMO arrive at a critical juncture, then, when Afrobeat is understood enough to veer onto less traveled byways, to permit less slavish iterations to evolve. (Telling, though, that every review of any modern Afrobeat album inevitably raises Fela's ghost. Some people still just don't know.)
NOMO aren't a huge departure from the Afrobeat template—the sizzling rhythmic pulse, the depth-charge bass lines, the torrential horn section, the on-the-one funk all weigh in heavily. What the eight-man Chicago ensemble offer on their second album is an intangible but definite youthfulness, a literally electrified detachment from the forebears that's thrilling and cheeky.
When New Tones kicks off with a buzzing, electric thumb piano reminiscent of Konono No. 1, it's the band claiming their independence from the get-go, but doing so in the grungiest, funkiest, most sonically appropriate way. Where many second-wave Afrobeat bands appropriate salsa accentuation and instrumentation, NOMO retain their bristling Afro-Anglo electro-funk through and through. Songs have shorter run times than the usual, epic Afrobeat unraveling, so melodies are kicked up quickly, insistently, and occasionally beautifully. "New Song" offers one such nugget, a horn line vaguely reminiscent of tenderhearted indie-pop hookery; it's backed up by hand claps and a kinky organ solo, marrying rhythm to melody in ecstatic union. Moods shift with tempos, but they're consistently upbeat, even in the slower-shuffling tunes.
Unlike most Afrobeat records (and reviews), there's no Felaphilic name-dropping in the song titles or album credits to prove authenticity. NOMO are their own beast. Their roar will make you shake, in the best possible way. JONATHAN ZWICKEL
NOMO play the Tractor Fri June 29, 9 pm, $10.
THE POLYPHONIC SPREE
The Fragile Army
With their new image—black uniforms adorned with red first-aid crosses, hearts, and medals (think My Chemical Romance meets a gothic Danielson Famile)—the Polyphonic Spree have taken some big steps away from the euphoric gospel choir/comet-loving cult fashion they boasted in the beginning of their career. The flowing robes and bright colors are gone. Now they are, as the title of the new records suggests, an army—The Fragile Army—and they're preparing for war.
On previous albums, the Spree's "sections" were consistently bright and optimistic, layered with thick orchestral explosions that were untainted by any looming shadows. But The Fragile Army reveals new layers of angst.
"Section 27 (Mental Cabaret)" is frenzied and psychotic, while "Section 30 (Watch Us Explode [Justify])" begins with a playful fantasyland orchestra before a surprising blast of distortion and some well-placed piano turn it into a swirling tunnel of paranoia. The track settles down into the slow and defeated "Section 31 (Overblow Your Nest)" where Tim DeLaughter sings, "Complicated heart of mine/With wings of love/Nowhere to fly."
They're not always battling, though. On tracks like "Section 32 (The Championship)" and "Section 22 (Running Away)," there are still fluttering flutes, shiny horns, and lyrics dripping with eye-glazing optimism—"I feel so excited and delighted today/'Cause you decided to be in my life."
They're still serving up plenty of sugary-sweet Kool-Aid, but it's beginning to exhibit a slightly suspicious aftertaste. In another two or three records, it could be Nikes and purple sheets for everyone. MEGAN SELING
Disco Deutschland Disco: Disco, Funk & Philly Anthems from Germany 1975—1980
DIMITRI FROM PARIS
The 99-cent bins of the world are lousy with disco vinyl. And buried among all those discarded Donna Summer and Village People platters, unknown treasures await. But uncovering them is such a chore. Anyone who has sifted through cheap secondhand records even fleetingly knows the horrors of grubby fingers, and that musty smell that permeates aging sleeves. Ugh. It's the antithesis of glamour. And isn't feeling fabulous what disco is all about? Better to rely on experts instead.
Stefan Kassel—mastermind behind the über-groovy The In-Kraut comps of vintage German pop, rock, and soul—turns his ear to classic club sounds on Disco Deutschland Disco. Although Germany exerted considerable influence on American disco, via the contributions of Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, et al., the fatherland seems equally smitten with TSOP ("the sound of Philadelphia") circa the same era. "You've Got the Power" by Su Kramer and "Wieder Zusammen" from Marianne Rosenberg both foxtrot onto the floor, brass and strings in full flourish. If you prefer divas with more panache, skip straight to "Fashion Pack (Studio 54)," where model-cum-rock-star Amanda Lear growls and purrs with a cultured ferocity that makes Grace Jones sound crass.
Even genre connoisseurs will only recognize a few names here. U.S. hitmakers Silver Convention ("Fly Robin Fly") and Moroder protégés Munich Machine both feature tracks inspired by train travel; the relentless bass drum and tooting whistles of the latter's "Get on the Funk Train" recall prime Prelude sides like Musique's "In the Bush." And even schlock purveyor James Last, assisted by top-notch L.A. session players, delivers a credible jazz-funk performance on "I Can't Move No Mountain."
On his new double-CD, French disco evangelist Dimitri from Paris celebrates what he calls "cocktail disco"—tracks ripe with fruity orchestration, delirious vocals, and Latin touches. In lieu of original material, many selections appropriate jazz and Broadway standards... for that soupçon of added class; the Gershwins' "Summertime" gets a silky makeover by the Blue Velvets, the Ritchie Family prance through "Frenesi," and Astrud Gilberto reheats her signature ditty, "The Girl from Ipanema," complete with vibraphone solo.
Amid the tinsel and stardust, two unknowns shine especially bright. "Never Too Late" showcases Ms Victoria Barnes, whose clipped delivery has the perfectly practiced pizzazz of a three-shows-nightly cruise-ship entertainer. Then there's "Take Me with You" by Ralfi Pagan, a performer of indeterminate gender, questionable command of English, and razzmatazz to rival Richard Simmons. If all 22 selections were as giddy as these two, Dimitri's party would last until sunrise; as is, the pink champagne and Bolivian marching powder will probably run out before the middle of disc two. KURT B. REIGHLEY