THE THIEVES OF KAILUA

The Thieves of Kailua

Sponsored

(Mill Pond)

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Jason Holstrom is a man of many hats. Most notably he's a guitarist for local party-positive dance band U.S.E, and he's one-fourth of electronic pop band Wonderful. But he's always juggling a number of other smaller projects at any given time, including the Thieves of Kailua, his Hawaiian-inspired solo project, whose self-titled debut is a 14-track postcard from a man who may live in Seattle but whose heart belongs to the beach.

Taking cues from his other sonically saturated projects, Holstrom's Thieves of Kailua features many layers of instrumentation (ukulele, slide guitar, horns), vocals (mostly Holstrom's multitracked into harmonies, but also some from his wife, Angela), and field recordings (birds, the ocean, rain, etc.).

The songs are laid-back, with melodic nods to the Beach Boys (of course), and the whole vibe is warm and loving. It's like a honeymoon on a beach, and in fact many of the songs are sung to or about his wife.

It's a cute record, and it's fun to listen to while picnicking in the park on a sunny afternoon. But I can't help but find it a little goofy when Holstrom, a fair-skinned Seattleite, exaggerates an accent to sing, "Me travel left to right/Me see a lot of sight/Me fly around the world/Me meet a lot of girl" or when he alters his voice to sound like a choir of harmonizing tropical birds on "Under Setting Sun."

I have no doubt the record is made with sincerity, despite the few moments of possibly unintentional silliness. But if Wonderful and U.S.E are Disneyland's Electrical Parade, the Thieves of Kailua are its Tiki Room. MEGAN SELING

The Thieves of Kailua play an album-release show Thurs Aug 9 at Chop Suey.

TALIB KWELI

Ear Drum

(Blacksmith Music/Warner Brothers)

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Talib Kweli's first words on Ear Drum are total cliché: "They say you can't please everybody." Frustrating but excusable—in Kweli's case, he's struggled admirably to do exactly that throughout his career. The opening song's title is also pat but appropriate. It's called "Everything Man."

That's the contradiction at the heart of the Kweli experience—he knows that he can't be all things to all people, though it's not for lack of trying (remember his 2004 near-hit "I Try"?). Is the disconnect his fault, or is it hiphop's?

Like Guru, Kweli is the intelligent MC that every head respects but isn't bumping in the dunk. He scratched the mainstream with the aforementioned Kanye-produced, Mary J–cameoed hit, but he hasn't risen to the creative peak he hit years ago with Black Star and Reflection Eternal.

Ear Drum comes close, but owing to its roster of 20 or so producers and guests, it's wildly inconsistent. Big-swinging bangers like "NY Weather Report" and "Hostile Gospel Pt. 1" are softened by several half-finished vignettes and half-speed, half-hearted ballads only partially rescued by Madlib's lazy, stoned-out beats.

The only number that totally nails the slow-swing vibe is "In the Mood," a brilliant Harlem Nights doo-wop make-out session between producer and guest MC Kanye West and Kweli, who steps up his game immensely in Kanye's presence. The song is classy, clever, and like so much that West touches, feels timeless.

That's the midpoint and the highpoint; the front-loaded album settles for smoothed-out soul denouement that guest shots by Norah Jones and Justin Timberlake do nothing to shake. Buried toward the end, lead single "Listen!!!" hits hard musically, but Kweli's tired true-school diatribe falls flat; it's followed by a Meters-sampling, uncredited ensemble monster jam "Go with Us," a worthy sneak attack. But it's too late: We've already taken Kweli and his opening platitude too close to heart. JONATHAN ZWICKEL

Talib Kweli plays with Common Market, Wed Aug 15 at the Showbox.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Total 8

(Kompakt)

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Coming up with a singular style and honing it till it can be recognized from 100 yards is a good way to become noticed. Adhering to that style and altering it in only the most incremental of ways for a solid decade is a good way to be forgotten. So why do people still love Kompakt so much? The Cologne, Germany, techno label's longevity is down to a number of factors—the rise of minimal in club-music popularity, the smart way it's positioned itself as a major center of the European dance community as a distributor and vinyl shop as well as a maker of records. But what's most remarkable is the way the label has been able to stay current while staying resolutely Kompakt.

If it weren't for the number in the title, Total 8—the third of Kompakt's annual compilation series to contain two CDs—might seem like a freshly energetic new label's opening salvo. Tobias Thomas and Michael Mayer's "Ueber Wiesen" resembles the beginning of Orbital's "Chime"—compare the bass lines—bent and stretched to build continuously for seven minutes without ever entirely peaking; its languorous surge ends only when the track does. Joerg Burger's "Polyform 1" layers a bubbling computer melody and string-pad mist that calls to mind early Warp Records chill-out, only prodded by the beat into a delicately liquid groove. And Broke's "Coladancer" spends eight minutes worrying its crunchy little 303 squiggle, echoed human grunts, clomping snares, and twittering keyboards into something that spins odd shapes from old Chicago acid. None of it sounds exactly alike, and all of it sounds like Kompakt. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

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FOG

Ditherer

(Lex Records)

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The road to Ditherer has been a long, strange one for Fog. Chief audio architect Andrew Broder has moved from the sloppy turntable experiments of his self-titled debut through the subtle, lo-fi sound collages of Ether Teeth and the deconstructed folk and beat poetry of 10th Avenue Freakout to finally emerge as—classic rock?! Well, sort of. Broder's music has always been like an echo of forms—what began as a pale, Midwestern reflection of instrumental hiphop production began to give off the lingering impression of folk, and this latest album veers into basement-level reverberations of acid-fried '70s rock.

For Ditherer, Fog—which consist of Broder as well as Mark Erickson and Tim Glenn—are joined by the likes of Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low, and Jonathan and Josiah Wolf of Why?, among others. Fog fold these like-minded masters of lo-fi and mellow into their sound seamlessly—one never feels torn from the album by an out-of-place guest vocal.

"Inflatable Ape, pt 3" is a kind of mythic, absurd Fog origin story ("Once upon a moderate Father's Day/they shoved a microphone inside me") that rides a blown-out bass into a sharp, bending guitar riff. "What Gives?" hallucinates shady Radiohead atmospheres, over which someone spits insider/outsider sneers like, "You encourage flaccid rap/what part of the game is that?" "You Did What You Thought" alternates between mournful balladry and singsong parade marching, culminating with a stadium-sized guitar solo. The title track scans from odd electronic funk to AM harmonies to muted Black Sabbath vocals about Satan and rising again. "Your Beef Is Mine" and "What's Up Freaks?" are both slightly Southern-tinted, postmodern ramblers.

Run through his personal echo chamber, Broder's influences—whether hiphop or folk or heavy metal—become obscured and enveloped, faintly familiar but unmistakably Fog. ERIC GRANDY

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