by Christina Milian ft. The-Dream
The starlet who brought us "Dip It Low" in 2004—groaning, almost subcutaneous bass; halting tempo; clopping percussion; near-whispered vocal—comes back to do it again, only this time everything is stripped down even further. Also, she wants us to know who she truly is. And brilliantly—as befits someone whose personality is no major shakes in and of itself—that personality is... whatever you like. To wit: "I can be suburban/Dinner's in the oven" (she and producer/costar The-Dream have clearly been watching Mad Men just like everyone else); "I can be the biggest in the room, like an elephant/I can be"—here she gets even quieter, if you can believe it—"the quietest—shhh! Irrelevant." A complete trifle the first time I heard it, a revelation the fifth, a weirdo smash the tenth.
by Joker & Ginz
The synth line sounds like something thrown together after Prince forgot to turn his machines off in 1981 (specifically, after the session for "Jack U Off") and also like a Naugahyde couch rubbing against Naugahyde flooring. The bass blurts and the drums crack like the thermometer during the other week's heat wave. There isn't much more, and there needn't be: This simple, stark instrumental needs only its unmissable tune to be one of the year's anthems.
No one seems to know who or what this conglomeration is; it's on the same label as Swedish indie-poppers the Tough Alliance, there's a female singer (is that who JJ is?), but otherwise no one's saying. No one needs to: JJ bridges beach-headed stuff like Studio; the early, folky Everything but the Girl; and a few other modish reference points. And the title of this says it: The guitars (not to mention the percussion and lyrics) hum with the same rediscovery-of-Africa that's been going around indie-ana for the last couple years. It's very nice, ditto the album, but slight.
by Syran Mbenza & Ensemble Rumba Kongo
Now this is vintage-African-pop revivalism—literally. Syran Mbenza has been leading bands in the Congo since the 1970s. And like every other musician there, he's an acolyte of the grand maître of rumba, Franco, who is to that strain of guitar playing what Chuck Berry is to rock and roll. This is the highlight of Mbenza's sparkling new tribute album, Immortal Franco: slicker and fuller than Franco's sparser and more hypnotic original (available on last year's must-own Stern's double-CD, Francophonic) and every bit as worthy of your time.