Spins

The Return of Dr. Octagon

DR. OCTAGON

OCD International

Coming a full decade after the first Dr. Octagon album, this release dispenses with producer Dan the Automator and scratch-master DJ Q-Bert, leaving MC Kool Keith the only constant between the two records. This is good and bad. Keith is still a top rapper despite a string of underwhelming post-Octagon releases, and his vocals are on point here. However, Return is missing the wide-open, post-everything sonic landscape that the Automator provided on the first go-'round. "Aliens" bizarrely devolves into a generic club banger, while "A Gorilla Driving a Pick-Up Truck" and "Doctor Octagon" actually have Keith doing a spoken-word thing instead of rapping. It's not his strong suit. While Dr. Octagonecolygist remains impeccable 10 years on, it's tough to imagine this one faring the same.3 stars

Cooper Levey-baker

Popaganda

HEAD AUTOMATICA

Warner Bros.

For its second album, former Glassjaw singer Daryl Palumbo's self-consciously stylish Head Automatica ditches a large dose of the Dan The Automator-assisted programming that made its debut so fashionably dance-rocking. Popaganda is mostly a guitar-driven and impossibly infectious power-pop disc, jammed to bursting with power chords, upbeat clap-along rhythms and memorable choruses. Nothing here is terribly original, but the majority of it does what it's supposed to, perhaps too well — when the record's second half occasionally slows or deviates as on "Shot in the Back (Platypus)" and the Cure-esque "Egyptian Musk," part of you just wants to get back to the big, anthemic grooves of "Graduation Day" and "Lying Through Your Teeth." 3 stars

Scott Harrell

Mo' Mega

MR. LIF

Definitive Jux

Even though he's always been known for his incendiary anti-capitalist lyrics, rapper Mr. Lif is never content with sloganeering and ranting. Mo' Mega's classic predecessor (2002's I Phantom) gleefully attacked globo-petro-chemi-corps, but framed the assault with tales of 9-to-5 drudgery and dads forgetting Little League games. Mega continues the approach, with tracks like "The Fries," which examines the fast-food industry as the capitalistic venture par excellence, with a narrative of getting sick at the drive-through. Lif gets credit too for "Long Distance," a sexually explicit rap about reuniting with a lover after a long separation that actually comes off as erotic rather than exploitative. The dude's got a lot to teach the Diddys of the world. 4 stars

Clb

Beneath Confederate Lake

THE PINETOP SEVEN

Empyrean

This diverse collection of leftovers by underappreciated Chicago Americana act The Pinetop Seven — most of which date from the sessions for '05's The Night's Bloom — swings gently back and forth between traditional and experimental, once again displaying the group's impressive amalgam of multi-instrumental mastery, evocative songwriting and subtle experimentation. Back-masked chimes, ultra-mellow surf-rock and bossa nova accentuate more adventurous tunes like "High on a Summer's Tree" and "Fadograph of a Yestern Scene," while others stick much closer to hill-country tradition. Despite its pointed eclecticism, however, Confederate Lake remains cohesive and agreeably languid throughout. 3.5 stars

Sh

Make it Happen

WINARD HARPER SEXTET

Piadrum

For a portion of Make it Happen, seasoned jazz drummer Harper seems to be really on to something: augmenting standard trap drums with an array of exotic percussion. These world-music touches lend an air of exotica to what is essentially a conventional, horn-heavy post-bop album. "Children of the World" features a loping beat driven by an African talking drum that melds beautifully with its more orthodox jazz melody to create a truly beguiling piece of music. Problem is, Harper doesn't go to the well enough. There are too many standardized renditions of standards and jazz originals that, while ably performed, don't attain the same level of innovation or excitement. (http://www.piadrum.com/">www.piadrum.com;) 3 stars

Eric Snider

Strummin' with the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen

VARIOUS ARTISTS

CMH

Does the world really need a compilation of Roth-era VH tunes covered bluegrass style, even if Diamond Dave himself sings a couple of 'em? The answer is no. Of course the musicianship is great — it wouldn't be bluegrass if not. But an inspired instrumental version of "Hot for Teacher" by David Grisman and Sons aside, everything here is disappointingly by-the-numbers, and the admittedly considerable novelty value quickly dissipates. (http://www.cmhrecords.com/">www.cmhrecords.com;) 2 stars

Sh

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