platters (2007-46)

The Rulerâ's Back

Jay-Zâ’s really back this time, and so are Burial, Grizzly Bear, Gary Allan, and Dillinger Escape Plan

Jay-Z American Gangster (Roc-A-Fella) Nobody, including Jay-Z, believed he was really retiring way back in 2003. But last yearâ’s â“comeback,â” Kingdom Come, was a pro forma drag. So American Gangster is something of a return to form; itâ’s nice to hear him working for it a little.

â“Inspired byâ” the movie of the same name, Jay takes a half-step back from his top-shelf life and spins a smirking revisionist history in which weâ’re all gangsters of one kind or another. â“Close your eyes and you can pretend youâ’re me,â” he offers, â“Iâ’m cut from the cloth of the Kennedys/Frank Sinatra having dinner with the Genovese.â” Borne by able if sometimes overbearing production (Diddy, the Neptunes, Just Blaze) and a pocketful of â’70s soul samples, Jay sounds good most of the time and great occasionally.

â“American Dreamin,â’â” with its Marvin Gaye groove and cinematic narrative, is the albumâ’s best statement of purpose. â“Ignorant Shitâ” revisits the gangsta-rap culture wars (â“Til we all without sin, letâ’s quit the pulpittinâ’â”), and â“I Knowâ” gives new oomph to the old love-as-addiction metaphor. (â“Just for one night, baby, take me in vein.â”)

Yes, the movie tie-in makes it all seem a bit like a foul-mouthed Happy Meal toy. But Jayâ’s gangsterism has always been as much corporate as corporal. Frank Lucas, the Harlem drug lord at the center of the film, ended up in prison. Jay knows that the only gangsters really worth emulating are the ones who rise without falling; he didnâ’t name his label Roc-a-Fella for nothing. â" Jesse Fox Mayshark

Burial Untrue (Hyperdub) Last yearâ’s self-titled debut from the South London dubstep producer known as Burial was a serious affair, generally regarded as both a funeral hymn for British dance music and a manifesto for what to do next. Part of the mystery surrounding the reclusive and almost-anonymous producer was that Burial would be the only project he released under that name; now that the follow-up is out, it does little to diminish his romantic allure. Untrue is the soundtrack for the comedown at the after-partyâ"on first listen, itâ’s more of the same, with funky garage beats, scratchy atmospheric soundscapes and disembodied neo-soul vocal samples. But the sharp edge of dread that marked Burial is softened on Untrue. The haunted chorus of manipulated vocal lines makes the most lasting impression, not the sharp, stuttering rhythms. Itâ’s far less apocalyptic than Burial, maybe even prettier, but itâ’s altogether more desolate. â" Matthew Everett

Grizzly Bear Friend (Warp) An EP thatâ’s really a full-length album, Grizzly Bearâ’s Friend features a couple of new tracks, four re-workings of old tunes, and three recordings of other bands covering Grizzly Bear material. None of it seems like a rehash or a slapdash odds-and-ends collection; the whole affair, excepting the covers, is remarkably cohesive.

The band plays dream-like pop with a sense of delicacy that many within the indie sphere might shoot for, but few achieve. The material does rock in its own restrained way, but itâ’s often pretty. And when pretty is pulled off with such aplomb, the results can be stunning. The band traffics in textures, delivering songs with peaks and valleys that sometimes bring to mind Elliott Smith, Yo La Tengo, or Tom Verlaineâ’s more transcendent solo work. Perhaps an odd introduction to an equally odd group, Friend showcases a band that bears watching. â" John Sewell

Gary Allan Living Hard (MCA) Gary Allanâ’s turn from Bakersfield country to twangy major-label country-rock was complete with his last record, 2005â’s Too Tough to Die. That was a weird album, recorded in the wake of his wifeâ’s suicide, but a great one, alternately mournful and outraged, with Allan mining the emotional depths of his personal tragedy with other peopleâ’s songsâ"songs that only obliquely reflected his grief. Living Hard lets up on the heavy stuff, but itâ’s a grab bag. There are a couple of barroom shit-kickers (â“Living Hard,â” â“Wrecking Ballâ”), a hint of honky-tonk (â“Half of My Mistakesâ”), and a lot of polished, mainstream pop-rock. It works well, piece by pieceâ"â“Sheâ’s So Californiaâ” is a nice piece of melancholy West Coast country-rock, and â“Watching Airplanesâ” is a slick-but-heartfelt anthemâ"but it never adds up to a satisfying whole. â" M. E.

Dillinger Escape Plan Ire Works (Relapse) Die-hard fans who were put off by the pop experiments of Dillinger Escape Planâ’s 2004 album Miss Machine probably wonâ’t be won back by Ire Works. There are flashes of the old-school math metal the band perfected on their debut, Calculating Infinity, on â“Fix Your Face,â” â“Nong Eye Gong,â” and the aptly titled â“Lurch,â” but thereâ’s also more Mike Patton/Faith No More-influenced bizarro funk in â“Black Bubblegumâ” and â“Sick on Sunday.â” The swirling wall-of-guitar-noise arrangements that defined the first two albums have been stripped down to something leaner, sharper, and more fierce on Ire Works; part of that can be attributed to the departure of guitarist Brian Benoit, who was forced to the sidelines by nerve damage in his left hand. But the transformation also seems to be part of a strategic shift away from standard post-hardcore screamfests toward something more ambitious. Theyâ’re looking for something more than the formulaic emotional vomit thatâ’s become a trademark of extreme music.

By the time DEP gets to the epic art-core closing tracks â“Horse Hunter,â” with guest vocals by Mastodonâ’s Brett Hinds, and â“Mouth of Ghosts,â” it sounds like theyâ’ve found it. â" M.E.


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