(Roc-A-Fella/ Island Def Jam)
Jay-Z was the Coolest Mufucka Alive—before he made his unprecedented ascent to corporate dominance and megawealth and proceeded to make songs about sandals with Coldplay. Point-of-no-return-type shit, right? Right. Well, what if after Fonzie jumped over that shark, he cut the dumb shit and got his fucking swagger back? 'Cause that's exactly what President Carter has done—and all because of a fucking movie.
A few months ago, my inbox began to gush that Hov was releasing a brand-new album inspired by American Gangster, a movie nobody'd even seen yet. I was skeptical, but somehow it didn't have the crass reek of Jay's recent cash-ins (Budweiser, Hewlett-Packard, et al.), and, frankly, the thought of Jay ditching Bono, returning to pushing weight (lyrically at least), and bringing back the regal soul beats of his heyday sounded... fuckin' awesome!
Gangster is classic Jay, free of the hallmarks of his turdful last outing, Kingdom Come—bougie namechecks, shoddy production, and, most unfortunate of all, the dreaded "old-guy flow," that careless cadence as unmindful of the beat as a twirling Deadhead. The music on American Gangster is as masterful as The Black Album, and for my money, better. Joints like "Say Hello," "No Hook," and the Nas-featuring "Success" remind listeners why 90 percent of rappers today sound like this guy in the first place.
Forget the Fat Elvis we've been getting; here we have Jigga's answer to his own classic debut, Reasonable Doubt—an epic, literally cinematic mirror to the documentary grit of his actual days as a drug pusher. American Gangster is conceptually the life's arc of a criminal kingpin—the running theme of Jay-Z's entire catalogue. He's not the first rapper to make it to his 10th album, but no rapper in history has ever dropped the best hiphop album of the year in doing so. Hope I die before I get old? Fuck no—hope I kill shit when I do. LARRY MIZELL JR.
(The Control Group)
Pick your rock-crit adjective: wiry, punky, angular, danceable. There's nothing on the Cops' second album that hasn't been done elsewhere and there are few words to describe it that haven't been hacked to cliché. The surprise is that familiarity works in the Cops' favor. The Seattle quintet pay their debts to their influences (the Clash, Gang of Four) early on and proceed to proper rocking out. Each song on Free Electricity is a stranglehold; conniption-fit guitars and high-stepping bass lines wrap tight around skuzzy, harpoon-sized hooks, throttling out the last gasp of life left within them.
Like other Seattle alpha rockers the Blakes and Sunday Night Blackout, the Cops' vocals fall back on attitudinal delivery and shopworn themes—singer Michael Jaworski's voice is more an obligatory instrument properly used than a vehicle for lyrical revelation. The band's real action is a triple-pronged guitar vanguard, a constantly shifting battle for supremacy between lead, rhythm, and noise. "It's Epidemic," the lead track, is a good example, but "Islands"—lyrically dopey, vocally snotty, instrumentally massive—is the Cops' quintessential sound.
The best song here, though, is the anomalous "Cold Crushin'," an evil, synth-driven rave-up that explodes out of the garage, Silver Apples into ZZ Top into Carter USM. These two and a half minutes are brazen, unexpected, and, once experienced, cast the rest of the album (especially the title track, up next) in a brighter light. That little bit of mystery, saved for the end of the record, goes a long way. JONATHAN ZWICKEL
The Cops play their CD-release show Fri Nov 16 at the Crocodile, 9 pm, $8, 21+. With Pleasureboaters, the Whore Moans.
"Epic" isn't easy to pull off in indie rock. You've got the slacker-noise-jam school of thought, where bands hammer away endlessly at out-of-tune guitars to produce a second-rate "Teen Age Riot." You've got the Sufjan-championed glorious orchestral mode, which too often collapses under its own ostentatiousness.
So, the fact that the A-Sides' Silver Storms pulls off three songs in the six-minute range (plus several others that sound like they should be) is impressive.
A Philadelphia band with lapsed British Invasion tendencies, the five-piece begin their sophomore album with an airy string quartet, easing into the chimes and thumping rhythm of "Always in Trouble." Singer Jon Barthmus wails over key changes and minor sevenths, drifting in the ebb and flow of his bandmates' sound until the feisty double-time coda. It's a big intro, but the band are hardly spent. Later, "Sinking with the Ship" dissolves the record into a wash of cello and cymbals. The A-Sides keep their scope big, but never self-consciously so. Even when "Diamonds" leans painfully Coldplay in its slow-burn pacing and lyrical cheese ("let's just shine, shine, shine/all day and all of the night"), there's no delusions of grandeur. The song's screaming Ebow-and-feedback crescendo is populist, not pandering—the sound of five guys playing as loud as they can and managing to make something transcendent. JOHN VETTESE
The A-Sides play Thurs Nov 15 at the Crocodile, 8 pm, $8, all ages. With Say Hi, the Velvet Teen.