Beats as Politics
Make room in your collection: file this amid the Digable Planets, Black Star, and the Charlie Parker remix album, Bird Up. Providing a diet of great background music is what Ghislain Poirier does best, and his second album, Beats as Politics, is a steady blend of hip-hop with a toe dipped in ambient beats.
He's produced an album that will more likely inspire you to make out than break-dance, tossing in experimental jazz loops ("Civil Disobedience") to great effect. Montreal native Poirier used to work in college radio before beginning to mix his own beats as a club DJ. It shows, to some extent, as the beats sometimes appear disconnected. That feeling of "OK, I'm switching records now" makes the album hiccup. That aside, the standout tracks are the few that lyricists Sba and Diverse appear on. French-speaking Sba doesn't stand by in the stereotypical manner, instead appearing energetic and cocky. His songs ("Carquois," "De L'art de la Fellation") are fun and danceable, even if you don't understand what on earth he's rapping about.
Don't worry this Jem isn't "truly outrageous," nor will she be battling any misfit punk rock bands ('member that awesome '80s cartoon!) If only it were a cartoon soundtrack, perhaps Finally Woken wouldn't have such an identity problem. It can't decide on whether to be a radio-ready commodity or to roll with the underground crowd. Welsh singer Jem dutifully understands the need for the former, but seems to really want to play with the latter.
Admirably, she tries to instill both qualities in inspired, oddball tracks like "They," which uses subtle electronic beats, instrumental loops and even children's playground rhymes to support the mainstream melodies. Her smoky voice often sounds regretful -- a quality that is hypnotizing at times, and just falls flat at others. Still, she often hits (whatever it is she's aiming for) just smack-dab right: "Finally Woken" and "Save Me" are fun and upbeat, with Lauryn Hill-like melodies. The dull moments are just often enough, though, that I wish she'd just dive wholeheartedly into the sampling underground. Horrible puns aside, that's where I think she'd really shine. --Kara Luger
Eagles of Death Metal
Peace Love Death Metal
I have never before done so much rhythmic hand clapping inside my car. This isn't good, as one supposes I should be steering, but the Eagles of Death Metal have created an album that not only rocks ridiculously hard, it's fun. Known primarily as Josh Homme's (Queens of the Stone Age) side project, EODM's Peace Love Death Metal combines deal-with-the-devil lyrics and great guitar riffs that lean not so much toward death metal (OK, forget death metal altogether), but instead goes for classic rock meets garage rock, with a smattering of Rolling Stones tossed in. Homme abandons his usual vocals/guitar stance for the drums, giving frontman status to Jesse Hughes, whose versatile vocals alternate between Jon Spencer-like bravado and a sort of breathy falsetto (interestingly, not as weird as it sounds). He even manages to work in Lux Interior's staccato style ( la the Cramps) in the car-dance inspiring "Speaking in Tongues." All this, and fake handlebar mustaches too. What a package.