GHOSTFACE KILLAH
Bulletproof Wallets
(Sony/Epic)
**1/2

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Ironman, Ghostface's post-Wu-Tang debut, was promising. Though it isn't a masterpiece, songs like "The Faster Blade" and "Box In Hand" are marvelous constructions. But then Supreme Clientele came out in 2000, and it blew the doors off Ironman. The album progresses beautifully as a threaded piece of art, which is why it has held its coveted place in rap's ephemeral spotlight over the past year. But instead of moving ever forward with Bulletproof Wallets, it seems that Ghostface has taken one step back. On the sleeve art, he's in the kitchen with Raekwon (like on Ironman, where they were in some kind of shoe warehouse or something), and the album is more of an assemblage of songs (like Ironman) than a finely crafted journey, as on Supreme Clientele. Ghostface didn't fall off completely--his labyrinthine rhyme schemes and confusingly engaging narratives carry the album--but it is too stuck in the dark deep shadow of Supreme Clientele to be considered brilliant. BRIAN GOEDDE

THE CYRKLE
Red Rubber Ball

(Sundazed)
***

Neon
(Sundazed)
***1/2

POP sweetness is the Cyrkle! Okay, so "Red Rubber Ball" is an "oldies" staple AND a Paul Simon tune... I KNOW... but please no complainin'... 'cause as these records testify, if you based yer opinion on that ONE side, you done did wrong. So... presuming you ain't heard no other Cyrkle sides, these boys were a sweet mid-'60s teen pop band fulla hooks, with THICK, layered, razor-sharp harmonies. Uh... "harmonies" kinda like the Zombies and Brian Wilson, and they can get BEAT-ish, tho' without taking on Merseyside's "Buddy Holly" affection. That said, even as the Cyrkle is essentially a teen pop band, Neon's gotta be one of the BEST Stateside pop/sike records that never REALLY gets weird, or... even "psychedelic." If that makes sense. Anyways, obviously, since I'm a HUGE sucka for harmonies... as a kid I wanted SO BAD to be an Everly Brother... uh, yeah, like, I fucking love both these LPs! MIKE NIPPER

MERCIFUL
Witness The Wetness
(Code Current Records)
***

Merciful's Witness the Wetness is great for three reasons. One, its title, Witness the Wetness, shows Merciful's unwavering determination to translate the geography and climate of this region into hiphop terms. Like Source of Labor's wonderful line "In the city where it rains all day/I'm still looking for some sunshine, hey," it bends bland Seattle into the shape of the rapper's rhyme. Two, the CD is vibrantly political. Merciful does not address inner-city problems of drugs, gang violence, racism, and poverty with civil-rights speak, but attempts to invent a whole new language that draws its images and rhythms from the Northwest. Finally, the music on Witness the Wetness never sways from the dance. The grooves are always up and driven. The CD has seven tracks, including "East Union Street Hustlers," and can be bought at Cellophane Square, Orpheum, and the Shining Star at 24th & Union. CHARLES MUDEDE

DAVID AXELROD
David Axelrod

(Mo' Wax)
***1/2

I'm no jazz collector, but I'm attracted to artists who drive their music through multiple galaxies, and that's why David Axelrod is my kind of musical visionary. The man has been in the jazz business for six decades, recording classics in the '50s and becoming a producer for jazz, funk, and soul records in the '60s and '70s. Most recently, his work has been sampled by artists ranging from Lauryn Hill, DJ Shadow, and Dr. Dre. David Axelrod is a previously unreleased sonic document spanning the producer's past and present (the first and last track were recently recorded). The record moves like the soundtrack to some ice-cool '70s flick--funky spy-thriller basslines and sci-fi keyboards are buoyed by squeaky trumpets, as electric guitars climb the walls in the background. Slow, smoky numbers share space with instrumental gospel and soul, as the record careens through various dark moods and light scenes with utmost style. Axelrod closes out the disc on a serious note with "Loved Boy," a dedication to a son who passed away, which brings Lou Rawls in on vocals. The song is a strikingly personal account of Axelrod's loss, and when looked at together with the song titles (many of which are named for people Axelrod loves and respects) it's just another reason to appreciate this man. He can rock between the fantastic and the realistic and never disrupt the emotional rhythms he seamlessly channels. JENNIFER MAERZ

PAPA M
Whatever, Mortal

(Drag City)
***

Dave Pajo's (Slint, Tortoise) early instrumental solo releases (under a variety of monikers including M, Aerial M, and currently Papa M) shimmered with the slow, ominous guitar and bass work that helped canonize Slint as post-punk prophets. But Whatever, Mortal is dominated by the unexpected presence of Pajo's previously unheard voice, and a folky, acoustic atmosphere. As he foreshadowed on last year's EP, Papa M Sings, Pajo now has something softly vulnerable to say, albeit with an amateurish, genre-surfing tone in his voice. What serves him best is the presence of allies Tara Jane O'Neil and Will Oldham (gracefully contributing both vocals and instrumentation), and his continuing knack for thoughtful composite structuring. When his lyrical lean-tos threaten to collapse under wayfaring stranger clichés (the awkwardly standard-sounding "Lass of Roch Royal"), he instinctively buttresses with evocative parables (the dreary dreaming of "Sabotage" and "Purple Eyelid"), making the final package shelter-worthy. HANNAH LEVIN

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