Music releases

Lupe Fiasco

“Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1”
Atlantic Records
The Chicago MC's latest proves to be a fine collection of a thinking man's idea of hip-hop, though the “Food & Liquor” tag he forced upon this release doesn't do him any favors.

At his best, Fiasco is a wordsmith doing all he can to utilize the age-old hip-hop tradition of contradiction in his verses. “B---- Bad,” maybe the most interesting track of the bunch, highlights this element of his approach to enormous acclaim.

In addition to being a clever tome on how the word's commonality in most people's everyday lexicon is unjust and troubling, it's also a reminder of how inventive the guy can be in his structure.

All told, it stands on par with the best Lupe Fiasco has ever been.
— Colin McGuire, PopMatters.com

John Hiatt

“Mystic Pinball”
New West Records
John Hiatt's lyric-writing prowess is as strong as ever on his latest, “Mystic Pinball,” but the album's polished mix of country, rock and blues never offers any surprises.

Many Hiatt fans will probably be pretty happy with “Mystic Pinball.” It delivers the same musical goods that have been Hiatt's specialty for decades. And the lyrics are as sharp as any in Hiatt's body of work.

But those who had hoped for another masterpiece from this veteran artist, something like Hiatt's 1987 gem “Bring the Family,” for instance, might be a bit disappointed by an album that offers familiar pleasures without stretching for new ones.
— Matt Arado, PopMatters.com

The Bad Plus

“Made Possible”
eOne Music Group
After more than a decade of steady touring and recording, The Bad Plus truly knows itself. That may seem obvious, given that its personnel — bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer David King — had an arresting, unmistakable sound almost from the start, wily and pugnacious and emotionally direct.

But a deeper sense of security announces itself on “Made Possible,” the band's eighth studio album, partly through some willful departures from the norm.

The most obvious of these is an array of synthetic textures produced electronically by Anderson and King.

For a band that has held so strictly to acoustic means, even when hugeness was its desired effect, this amounts to a radical act. And the electronics' use can seem intended to startle, as in the blaring fanfare that overcomes “Re-Elect That,” or the jackhammer snare-drum patch that breaks a lull in “Sing for a Silver Dollar.” (Those are Iverson's two songs on the album; his band mates each have three.) Elsewhere the synthesizers serve as window dressing, providing little more than a background hum.

Had The Bad Plus made a bigger deal of its expanded palette — placing the electronics closer to the core of its operating system, and relying on less dated effects — there might have been an interesting hybridism to champion here. But it's clear that “Made Possible” was never meant as a comprehensive statement.

The band is tinkering here, and it says something that the album still feels traceable to no other source. Consider “In Stitches,” which exerts an accretive force, moving from barest breeze to prairie twister; consider the shrewdly lurching syncopations on “Wolf Out” and “Seven Minute Mind.”

For that matter, take in the album's baseline blend of tender sobriety, vaulting romanticism and concussive power — altogether it's enough of a signature to suggest some in-house form of traditionalism.

Nobody else sounds like The Bad Plus, still, and The Bad Plus sounds like nobody else.
— Nate Chinen, The New York Times

Brother Ali

“Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color”
Rhymesayers Entertainment
On his best album since his ferocious 2003 debut, Minneapolis rapper Brother Ali makes like the world's warmest anachronism, parading “beautiful ideals and amazing flaws” on the opener (featuring Dr. Cornel West!) and elsewhere stating his credo for life: “Low expectations/ High standards.”

Only human, he continues poking fun at anyone interested in the factoid that his albinism makes him legally blind (“Stop the Press”) and lists everyday grievances like having no time to keep up with politics (“Work Everyday”) over gorgeous funk samples that include, on the musical highlight “Only Life I Know,” James Brown-esque horns.

If only Lupe Fiasco's simultaneously released America record could harness the cutting simplicity of proclamations such as “I want to make this country what it says it is”!
— Dan Weiss, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Muse

“The 2nd Law”
Warner Bros. Records
The English rock band Muse set off a worldwide hunt for synonyms for “overblown” earlier this year when it unleashed “Survival,” a piece of choral apocalypse that somehow became the official anthem of the London Summer Olympics. Yet it turns out “Survival” was just a warm-up: With a title inspired by the second law of thermodynamics, Muse's latest studio album opens with a tune called “Supremacy” (think Led Zeppelin's “Kashmir” remade for a James Bond flick) and only grows bolder from there.

In “Follow Me,” the band layers lush Hollywood strings over an arena-scaled dubstep drop, while the two-part title track climaxes in a barrage of dentist-drill guitars and disembodied robot voices. “Buy yourself an island,” frontman Matt Bellamy croons in the sarcastic “Animals,” and though the words are indicting Wall Street pillagers (perhaps the ones heard chattering in the song's sample of a trading-floor field recording), the ever-expanding music happily follows his instructions.

What distinguishes “The 2nd Law” from earlier Muse records is that Bellamy and his bandmates have finally made room in their super-sized sound for a sense of humor. This is a far funnier (and funkier) effort than 2009's “The Resistance,” which handled similar themes with a glum sobriety. Here “Madness” rides a fat-bottomed R&B groove, and the slap-bass-enhanced “Panic Station” feels like a homage to Robert Palmer's mid-'80s soul-rock crew, the Power Station. “This chaos, it defies imagination,” Bellamy sings in the latter. What better excuse for a party?
— Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times