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Reviews of the latest releases from

Swizz Beatz Presents G.H.E.T.T.O.

DreamWorksThe first full-length disc to bear the name of Ruff Ryders beatmaker Swizz Beatz shakes out as two-thirds star-studded compilation, and one-third introduction to Swizz's somewhat questionable mic skills. The results are a predictably mixed bag of vocal performances and irritating skits, but the man's production, traditionally poised at the more inventive end of commercial hip-hop, remains tight and interesting throughout.

Jadakiss and Ron Isley provide an early highlight with "Big Business." Shyne's track is all trite gangsta bravado. "Ghetto Love," featuring LL Cool J and Mashonda, gives up light, listenable funk. A combination of lowrider bass and disco hook elevates Swizz and Lil' Kim's "Gone Delirious." Eve's "Island Spice" is a party-jam treat, and the Nas/Fat Joe/Cassidy remix joint "Salute Me" is, naturally, top-notch. However, the much-hyped Metallica/Ja Rule track "We Did It Again" is abysmal, and the multi-celebrity bonus track "Bigger Business" (featuring P. Diddy, Cash Money's Baby, Snoop, Ron Isley and others) likewise falls short.

Of the tracks on which Swizz Beatz lends vocals, only "Ghetto Stories" shines — here, his freestyle is taut and compelling. Elsewhere, he's at best a mediocre, anonymous MC, and Busta Rhymes smokes him like a doobie on "Endalay." But on the whole, G.H.E.T.T.O. Stories boasts more than a few great cuts, along with what might as well be an advanced course in engineering killer radio-rap backdrops.—Scott Harrell

Thirsty Ear

Once a rising avant-garde pianist, Matthew Shipp made a modest crossover jump last year with Nu Bop, which climbed to No. 1 on the CMJ jazz chart. He continues to flout classification with Equlibrium, a brazenly eclectic, exploratory disc that blends an array of styles and feels. Pulpy acoustic bass (courtesy of William Parker) meets classically tinged pianisms meets scratch-style beats by programmer FLAM. An ominous piano figure wrestles with drummer Gerald Cleaver's odd-meter funk, sprinkled with cascades of chiming vibraphone via Khan Jamal. Et cetera. Equilibrium is best when at its most jazzy, as on the quasi- swinging "The Key" or the lovely, probing title track and "World of Blue Glass," both of which evoke an ECM chamber vibe. Most of the time, Shipp's alchemy works, although there are moments when the project comes off as too self-conscious, the music a tad inert. Still and all, the pianist's quest to make highly personal music deserves our admiration. And our ears. www.thirstyear.com 1/2

In the Fall of Unearthly Angels
Magic Marker

Hear that? It's the collective weep of sensitive scenesters all over the country in response to the dwindling state of emo. The bands that have always been staples of the emo sound are growing older and struggling to break away from the genre. This has caused many new bands to not only rehash the tunes of their elder pillars, but also to attempt to add new dimensions of sound with an array of instrumental experimentation. The Plastic Mastery, for instance, is an example of how the notion of adding kazoos (that's right, I said kazoos), violins and high pitched synths into the world of power chords and whiny squeals can be detrimental rather than progressive. On their second full-length release, In the Fall of Unearthly Angels, the band's material falls in line with the familiar sounds of emo contemporaries. At best they sound like Saves the Day joining up with The Get Up Kids for an emotastic experience; at worst, like a sorrowful tale of jock-harassment during lunch period. Otherwise quality tracks such as "Before the Fall" and "Miles Away" are tainted by the clashing of shrill vocals with clangy Casio piano and superfluous, um, kazooing. "After the Fall" and the title track are both burdened with a backing violin that sounds forced. The Plastic Mastery would be wise to drop the instrumental charade and stick to the emo handbook unless they want to hasten the downfall of the genre that spawned them. 1/2—Nick Margiasso

Deep Cuts, Fast Remedies

In the early months of 2002, England-based power-pop trio Snowdogs' first album, Animal Farm, was released in America. It was an excellent batch of simple, sweet and beefy tunes that owed as much to Kiss as they did Slade. Deep Cuts, Fast Remedies continues the parade of hooks, but unfortunately the disc's hokey lyrical messages and altogether too serious tone threaten to render them irrelevant. Opener "Average Kid" is a generic paean to the hardships of, well, guess what. "Popstars (Love This!)" tells the story of some innocent kids who started a band, "got a sponsor by the name of Happy Cola," and generally lost their souls to corporate fuckery. And we won't even go into, uh, "Freedom for Everyone" — or "Amazon," where it takes a trip through the jungle to make the narrator realize, hey, contemporary American culture can be sort of vapid. Vocalist Ville Leppanen delivers these and other half-assed sociological revelations with such precious conviction that it sucks the fun out of songs whose only claim to validity would've been as uplifting, idiotic smile-inducers. Occasionally, the hooky riffage overpowers Leppanen's misguided attempts at substance ("Boy in the Bubble" is notably rad), but it doesn't happen nearly enough to redeem the album. Release date: Jan. 28. www.victoryrecords.com —Scott Harrell

Upcoming Releases The following CDs will be available in stores Jan. 21.

AntiSeen, Noise for the Sake of Noise (TKO)

Bobby Bland, Blues at Midnight (Malaco)

Burnside Project, The Networks, The Circuits, The Streams, The Harmonies (Bar/None)

Crooked Fingers, Red Devil Dawn (Merge)

The Delgados, Hate (Mantra)

Earlimart, Earlimart (Palm Pictures)

Groove Armada, Lovebox (Jive-Electro)

Jeff Hanson, Sun (Kill Rock Stars)

Holopaw, Holopaw (Sub Pop)

The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Bigger Cages, Longer Chains and Up for Sale (Sympathy for the Record Industry)

Kinski, Airs Above Your Station (Sub Pop)

Solange Knowles, Solo Star (Music World/Columbia)

Ledisi, Soul Singer (Tommy Boy)

Mary Lorson & Billy Cote, Piano Creeps (The First Time)

Microphones, Mount Eerie (K)

Mission U.K., Even After...Live (Sanctuary/ Castle)

Sport Murphy, Uncle (Kill Rock Stars)

Negative Approach, Tied Down (Touch and Go)

OST, Crossing Jordan (Columbia)

Rainer Maria, Long Knives Drawn (Polyvinyl)

The Sea and Cake, One Bedroom (Thrill Jockey)

Matthew Shipp, Equilibrium (Thirsty Ear)

Unwritten Law, Music in High Places (Lava)

Various Artists, Almost You: The Songs of Elvis Costello (Glurp/Bar/None)

Various Artists, Mollie's Mix (Kill Rock Stars)

Avail: Front Porch Stories
(Fat Wreck Chords)

A bit lighter and less frenetic than their last one, One Wrench. But their southern identity always finds a way into their punk, making it seem more timeless and substantial than the usual stuff.

Steely Dan, The entire original catalogue, backward
from Gaucho

I keep all seven discs in my car. The music is so smart and richly textured that there are always new discoveries. Highlights for this marathon: the wah-wah guitar work on "Haitian Divorce;" the Rhodes solo on the Countdown to Ecstasy version of "Your Gold Teeth." Lyric: "He's been mobilized since dawn/ Now he's crouching on the lawn/ He's a Third World Man."

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