MISSY ELLIOTT

This Is Not a Test!

(Elektra)

***
Last year, with the release of the superb, consistent, jangled brain-banger Under Construction, Missy Elliott and Timbaland became the most important pop artists alive. People might argue they were that two years ago, with 2001's Miss E... So Addictive, but that record was only part-genius--a vaguely muddled equation that repeats itself on This Is Not a Test! The Diwali-riddim-cribbing "Pass That Dutch" turns out to be one of Test's high points, and a few songs repeat its tinny dancehall vibe (with guest Men: Elephant, Beenie). Meanwhile, Missy recycles the chorus of "Push It" in its entirety (a great song, but what the eff), does her watery R&B diva thing, and makes about four incredible tracks ("Pump It Up," "Wake Up," "Let It Bump," "Spelling Bee"), but sounds unsure as to where to take us next. One high point is Nelly rapping: "I heard you like the magic stick/me, I got the gadget stick/it's like Go-Go Gadget dick/ make you wanna press pause and shit." RIGHT! JULIANNE SHEPHERD

HEATHER DUBY

Come Across the River

(Sonic Boom Recordings)

**
Not to vindicate the assholes sporting "Disco Sucks" T-shirts circa 1979, but perhaps too much exposure to electronic music can be detrimental. On her 1999 debut, Post to Wire, local artist Heather Duby effectively married cool vocals and intimate compositions to Steve Fisk's electronic noodling. Her long-awaited sophomore full-length emphasizes more organic instrumentation, but, like a lot of loop- and sample-based creations, the majority of these primarily piano-driven songs milk the same two- or four-bar idea ad infinitum, creating a static effect. And while her weathered voice recalls distinctive chanteuses like Jane Siberry or Kristin Hersh (at their least unhinged), her monochromatic delivery undercuts any drama; when she unexpectedly jumps registers on "Providence," it yields a welcome shock. Occasionally, as Erik Akre's light-handed drumming flits between Duby's piano and Lori Goldston's resonant cello, the minimalist, repetitive approach pushes the instrumental passages into the same territory traversed by Rachel's, but overall, listening to Come Across the River is as inspiring as pacing back and forth in a narrow corridor for 40 minutes. KURT B. REIGHLEY

AUTUMN DEFENSE

Circles

(Arena Rock)

***
A couple years back, when Jeff Tweedy took his muse and smashed it into little pieces--throwing them into the air to create the monumental Yankee Hotel Foxtrot--he seemed to be reacting against the tired idea of the song. You know, that safe and easily understood thing with all those verses and choruses? Circles is the second album from his fellow Wilco bandmate John Stirratt and it's filled with what one might refer to as "songs." There are, like, choruses and verses and stuff floating by in a gentle, breezy, haze--mixing quiet California dreams, soft-rock laments about New York City, and a whispered tenor that hits the exact same note in every song. While playing it so safe isn't exactly the worst of crimes, it just seems like Stirratt never ends up going anywhere. I know, I know--the record is called Circles. But would it really kill the guy to take a couple left turns? TREVOR KELLEY

JAY-Z

The Black Album

(Roc-a-Fella)

*** The Black Album is all about how Jay-Z's retiring because he can't get any better--poor man's grown weary of his perch atop mountains of lesser emcees. SCORES of rappers have professed to be the best, but have any of them ever quit for that very reason? Hell, no. They'd only do that if they actually believed it. Jay's reasoning skirts the line between extreme narcissism and unbelievable absurdity; then again, we're talking about a man who gave himself the same name as God. The proof is in the rhyme, "the real shit you get when you bust down my lines/Add that to the fact I went plat' a bunch of times/Times that by my influence on pop culture." (Is it self-aggrandizing if it's the truth?) Young Hov, who ranks 13 on Ego Trip's "Greatest Emcees of All Time," is "far from a Harvard student/just had the balls to do it." (Northwest note: in "My 1st Song," Jay what-ups Portland DJ/producer O.G. One.) JULIANNE SHEPHERD

DJ FRANE

Electric Garden of Delights

(Tuff City Massive)

***
Pot and hiphop have gone together like Jack Daniel's and rock at least since Cypress Hill's 1991 debut. But few hiphop albums have been so lavishly designed for weed's effects as DJ Frane's sophomore disc; Electric Garden of Delights laces THC vividness into every sonic element. Opening track "Thought Seeds" sets the dusted tone, with its bass line from Black Sabbath's über-trippy "Planet Caravan," drowsy flute, FXed guitars, and Eastern pipes. While he observes hiphop's boom-bap requirements, Frane really feels obscure psych-rock and astral jazz platters, festooning his tracks with twanging sitars, fritzing analog synths, dreamy flute arabesques, and CTI-style piano runs. Along with Nobody's Pacific Drift: Western Water Music, Vol. 1, Electric Garden traverses the seldom-trod path between stoner/psych rock and backpacker hiphop with stunning results. DAVE SEGAL

SONS AND DAUGHTERS Love the Cup

(Ba Da Bing!)

*** These days, rock is best when it opts for raw--when it gets rickety and licentious and stripped naked just short of Luddite. As Young People sing their stark hymns with wide eyes and the Kills drown their decadence in sex and moonshine, Glaswegian quartet Sons and Daughters are throwing a picnic of dirges, swinging between dark and light with the hypnotic tempo of metronomes and pendulums. Guitars, mandolin, and airy vocals make Love the Cup twang with broody bluegrass ("Start to End") and renegade country ("Johnny Cash"), and all that Scottish air does them good. Vocalists Adele Bethel (sometime member of Arab Strap, along with drummer David Gow) and Scott Paterson sound determined for their weariness, a windy, lovely intensity that's innate and raw as a heartbeat. JULIANNE SHEPHERD

BERT JANSCH

Bert Jansch

(Transatlantic/Earmark)

**** Bert Jansch's 1965 debut is as intimate as eavesdropping. The songs are sung directly to an unseen partner: a friend dying from a heroin addiction or a lover unwilling to elope. The instrumentals woven throughout the record are rousing, full of melody and change, often resembling the work of John Fahey. This rambling style, half Southern blues and half English ballad, hints at the path that Jansch was about to take--delving deeper into the history of traditional songwriting styles. Although 40 years of living and recording may have altered the singer, this debut remains the work of an uneasy, restless young man overwhelmed by the world yet unwilling to surrender to it. ETHAN SWAN

TRUCKSTOP HONEYMOON

Truckstop Honeymoon

Squirrel Records

*** From way down yonder in Loo-greasy-Anner comes this shit-stompin' hillbilly folk duo. We gots a fella pickin', a little miss plunkin', and both of 'em hollerin'--and together they get to WORK on some bent broke storytellin'. Now, this ain't no novelty po-dunk, blacked-out-teeth, IRONIC "hillbilly" act... um, TsHm is more fun Hee Haw kinda CHEEK and less "look what we (ahem) want YOU to believe we rediscovered" hipster alt-dot-country bullshit. Thank GOD... and their songs are damn catchy. Hell, why NOT... TsHm got the chops, and half the duo is Mike West, who's been playin' this kinda hillbilly at LEAST 10 years and has eight or so prior releases, so you better reckon TsHm know what they're doin'! Right, so give 'em a shot. I promise... they'll do you right! MIKE NIPPER

WHEAT

Per Second, Per Second, Per Second... Every Second

(Columbia/Aware)

*** Why more bands can't sell out like Wheat does on Per Second... is beyond me. When it comes to cashing in your indie cred for major-label chips and then betting the whole damn farm on a slick Dave Fridmann-produced record, Wheat has made the right call. As an indie band, Wheat were a bit stellar and a bit stiff--complete with a terrible live show that never matched the raw potential of their solid recordings. With Per Second..., Wheat is fast out of the gate with the insanely catchy opener "I Met A Girl" and its quirky chorus: "I met a girl I'd like to know better/but I'm already with someone." What follows is one fine-tuned pop song after another. Of course, in reality, this record will bomb, the band will be dropped, the corporate label will be downsized, and Wheat will be back to indie obscurity in no time. Enjoy this gem while you can. EZRA ACE CARAEFF

**** Santa *** Rudolf ** Frosty * Mr. Hankey

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