The New Game
They're still weird-looking, just not as much as they used to be. The four members of Mudvayne now look like dudes with overly thought-out facial hair, not aliens or mutants. Similarly, their music isn't as intricate or progressive as it was on 2000's L.D. 50 and their masterpiece, The End of All Things to Come. They haven't turned into Nickelback or anything, but songs like "Do What You Do" and "Have It Your Way" will make radio programmers' tiny, shriveled scrotums twitch with joy, and "A New Game" is the kind of aggro-thrash anthem Ministry's Al Jourgensen hasn't written in years.
It seems singer Chad Gray and guitarist Greg Tribbett used their time in Hellyeah to get in touch with their inner knuckle-dragging headbanger, because The New Game bristles with crushing riffs and screaming guitar leads. At the same time, the band hasn't lost the groove that made it one of the most interesting nŸ-metal contenders. Bassist Ryan Martinie and drummer Matthew McDonough are locked in as tight as ever, pummeling the listener with low-slung grooves that demand a physical response. Mudvayne's seriously underrated; The New Game proves it (again). - Phil Freeman
Nerdcore hip-hop is certainly on the rise lately. Articles about the genre are popping up in all the hipster rags. But it's appeal usually lies more in its subject matter - computers, videogames, D&D, etc. - than the mic skills of the MC. To put it bluntly, most of them suck at rapping. California's MC Frontalot is an exception. Born Damian Hess, Frontalot isn't the best in the genre simply because he came up with the "nerdcore" tag - he can also easily hold his own with hip-hop's top rhymers. On his third album, he continues the witty lyricism that made his first two discs so enjoyable.
Like Eminem, Frontalot has a knack for telling stories - only in this case they're not about sex and drugs but about oddball things like moving to the Great White North ("Canadia"), playing videogames ("Final Boss") and doing a dance named after Margaret Thatcher ("Wallflowers"). Sure, hardcore rap fans might scoff at the topics, but it's safe to say they'd still appreciate his delivery. Badd Spellah, who complements Frontalot's intricate flows with a palette of organic sounding beats, handles much of the superb production. In addition to a high level of creativity, the songs are also ridiculously catchy: Front's pop sensibility comes out in the hooks. Final Boss isn't just a good nerdcore album; it deserves respect in a much bigger context. - Eddie Fleisher
John Legend is like the Lexus of R&B singers. He's not too pushy or showy; he's super-classy and gives a smooth ride. But in exchange for that reliable comfort, you get a singer whose milky croon barely reaches a mild simmer and who, really, isn't all that much fun. On Evolver, his third album, Legend doesn't progress as much as he adapts. Specifically, he acclimates himself to R&B playlists with help from pals Andre 3000, Kanye West and Estelle. There are plenty of piano ballads, some gentle funk, a bit of robo-soul - but Legend is too elegant of a singer to inject much energy into these songs. "Green Light," featuring a bubbly Andre 3000, brings love to club, and "Everybody Knows" glides along a delicately plucked acoustic guitar. The latter is also one of the few cuts on Evolver that contains a real hook. Even the bedroom jams sound like subtle suggestions rather than straight-up come-ons. Wouldn't you rather be driving a Ferrari? - Michael Gallucci
Two years ago, The Nightmare Before Christmas was edited to make a 3-D version for theaters that could handle the improved technology. A tribute album featuring songs from the movie was released with this new version of the film. With the recent DVD release of the 3-D remix, here's yet another tribute. Some of the cuts found on the 2006 CD reappear here, and some, like the Polyphonic Spree ("Town Meeting Song"), take the songs to the completely new level.
Somehow, Tiger Army's rendition of "Oogies Boogie's Song" (from the 2006 tribute) isn't included here; it's rather disappointing that the producers decided to go with the Rodrigo y Gabriela instrumental instead. This album features instrumental remakes as well. The Vitamin String Quartet, for example, does a nice job with "Jack and Sally Montage." From the All-American Rejects to Korn, the disc has something for everyone and allows you to revisit Halloween Town with a fresh perspective. - Erika Schramm
Matthew Herbert Big Band
There's Me And There's You
Matthew Herbert is known for his electro and dance music, or maybe more appropriately he's known for his brilliant found-sound manipulations. Who else is using kitchen appliances to get a party bumping? Either way, Herbert has brought a complexity and experimentation to a genre often viewed as an exclusive club for computer nerds with tight jeans. Some of this might have to do with Herbert's classic training, a schooling that's much more apparent on his first "Big Band" album. And yes, it is that kind of big band.
There's Me and There's You offers a polarizing mix, however. On one hand, we get tracks like "Pontificate" and "Battery," which mix fantastic production tricks and bits of noise with Broadway horn sections and skillfully belted-out vocals; on the other hand, we get songs like "Waiting" and "Rich Man's Prayer," which are an uncomfortable mix of that late-'90s swing revival (don't act like you forgot about "Jump Jive an' Wail") and the sort of humorless musicals that theater buffs eat up. As is usually the case with Herbert, staggering composing skills are on display throughout, but some of these tracks will simply leave you asking, "Why?" - Matt Whelihan
Dr. Dooom 2
In 1999, Kool Keith made First Come, First Serve, the first record under his Dr. Dooom alias. The record was best known for its intro track, in which Keith murdered one of his other monikers, Dr. Octagon. But it gets crazier. In 2006, he then resurrected Octagon, only to kill him off again on Dooom's comeback, Dr. Dooom 2. It's safe to say Keith is more than a little wacky, but it's strangely endearing. In addition to the music, you also get an oddball soap opera.
His second installment as Dooom is everything you'd expect. It's a combination of raw, spacey beats (supplied by the excellent KutMasta Kurt) and witty lyrics that'll either leave you confused or busting with laughter. There's plenty of the latter here, with standout lines like "white people love me like Fergie" ("The Countdown") and "respect to kids with the peanut brittle" ("Surgery"). It's not all jokes, though, as Keith has some beefs to unload too - "God of Rap" takes aim at modern hip-hop's monotony, while "Simon" is an all-out assault on American Idol. On "Always Talkin' Out Your Ass," he digs hard into critics who are always quick to say things like "it's not as good as the last one." Truth is, it's not. However, it's still pretty damn good, and better than most of the rap records you'll hear this year. - Eddie Fleisher
Split LP + CD
The guys in hardcore/screamo heroes Thursday just get more and more adventurous as time goes on. Sure, "As He Climbed the Dark Mountain," the opening track on this seven-song EP, doesn't depart from the tried-and-true, as singer Geoff Rickly resorts to his typically breathless vocals that alternate between crooning and croaking. But the moody instrumental "In Silence" is a real eyebrow-raiser, sounding like something Aphex Twin might have worked up had he any sense for melody.
Japan's Envy offers similarly obtuse electronica with "An Umbrella Fallen Into Fiction," a song that again could pass as Aphex Twin, until the screamo vocals kick in on the subsequent "Isolation of a Light Source." The disc's final track, "Pure Birth and Loneliness," is downright gorgeous. With its soaring guitars and muttered vocals, it has an epic quality that's not unlike Mogwai, a group with which Envy has collaborated. - Jeff Niesel
Earlier this year, we got to hear what two-fifths of the Blood Brothers had been up to since calling it quits. The sound of Jaguar Love wasn't exactly shocking, since it seemed like the screamo boys from the Northwest had merely restrained their rabid muses to craft a disjointed sound with a bit more swagger. Enter Past Lives, a group featuring the other three members of the Blood Brothers: bassist Morgan Henderson, drummer Mark Gajadhar and singer Jordan Billie, along with former Shoplifting guitarist Devin Welch. Again, some Blood Brothers trademarks are present (see Billie's screechy chirp, overdriven bass thuds and some serious creepiness). Welch's guitar lines add a bit of garage-chic to the whole affair.
Opener "Strange Symmetry" promises restrained, shadowy marches through decrepit mansions, but it isn't long before the sultry horror-show aesthetic breaks out. "Beyond Gone" and "Chrome Life" play like the Rapture being molested by the noise band one rehearsal space over, while "Skull Lender" and "Reverse the Curse" feature the same hardcore caricatures that were painted all over the last two Blood Brothers albums. - Whelihan