Now Hear This: 311 Returns to Form 

From the early days of rocking Grassroots on the elementary school bus to traveling across the country for a five-hour extravaganza concert, I've been through the joyous ringer with 311. They've been an awe-inspiring band for more than 20 years, transcending the "rap-rock" genre they were shoehorned into so many albums ago.

Recent outings, however, like Universal Pulse and Don't Tread on Me, have seen the band stray from its heavy blend of introspective and ontological songcraft. Uplifter, released in 2009, saw the band explore some sonically interesting paths, but too much of the album came off as self-celebratory.

By the time the new album (Stereolithic, or Ster3ol1th1c) reaches "Revelation of the Year," the band starts really opening up this thing. For those seeking the 311est sound, tunes like "First Dimension," "The Great Divide," and "Simple True" will take care of any cravings still lingering from the Soundsystem era (producer Scotch Ralston last worked with the band on that 1999 album). The guys sound invigorated and inspired on this outing.

And there's even a dollop of new directions on this one. The outro of "Friday Afternoon" alone is a selling point. Album closer "Tranquility" hits on the blend of new- and old-school 311 that the band may have been reaching for this past decade. It works.

Elsewhere, Ozomatli drops Place in the Sun this week. It's a finely produced expansion on the six-piece band's Latino sound. As always, there's plenty of ass-shaking rhythms throughout their music. The title track opens the album with a series of melodies that would fit in perfectly with a backyard barbecue. Each listen of that tune, in fact, gets even more fun. The bass and keys play off each other with that perfect sense of tightness you're always looking for in a good dance tune.

"When we put together that title track, I told Justin [Poree, singer] to find the deeper meaning of what it takes to create your own place in the sun," says guitarist Raul Pacheco. "How do you create a space in a way that you can shine, and what does that mean? For us it means the work it takes, the struggle it takes, and the joy we had once we got it."

Dig the first single, "Brighter," too. This album is full of fine melodies and the two-four riddims Ozomatli has become known for throughout the past two decades.

Lastly, do give Dean Wareham's eponymous cut a listen this week. He comes from Galaxie 500 and Luna. Better yet, Jim James produced this album, and his fingerprints are evident around every corner. It's a very psychedelic/dream-poppy voyage, and, seriously, it sounds like it could have been recorded during the same sessions of Regions of Light and Sound of God.

Evidentiary background from Wareham: "Back in 1999, I had bought My Morning Jacket's first album, The Tennessee Fire, and loved it. I mentioned it in some interview or top-ten list and remember getting an email from Jim James a few months later, just saying hi and thanks. Years later (2012) I had dinner with Jim's manager (and longtime friend) Mike Martinovich; we wound up having drinks back at his Flatiron office late that night, where Mike played me some tracks from Jim's freshly recorded solo album. I loved this one too, commenting on how great the production was. 'Why don't you two collaborate on something?' said Mike."

The product of all that is available on streets this week. It's soothing. Check out "My Eyes Are Blue" for starters.

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