ARTIST: QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
ALBUM: ERA VULGARIS
NEW YORK (Billboard) - The trips are getting darker for Queens of the Stone Age. In contrast to the adrenaline rush of 2000’s drug anthem “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” lead Queen Josh Homme disappears in the fade almost completely on the band’s fifth studio album, singing of “don’t resist” and “forever midnight” on the devilish first single “Sick, Sick, Sick.” Along the way, the band wrestles with the ambivalence of excess on the hazy slacker ode “Turning the Screw” and the increasing entitlement of American culture on the warped strut of “I’m Designer.” QOTSA envelops many of the songs in a fog of menacing guitar squall. The big exceptions are the vulnerable “Suture Up Your Future” and “3’s & 7’s,” a jumping dirty boogie that follows in the tradition of past hits like “Little Sister” and “No One Knows.”
ARTIST: VARIOUS ARTISTS
ALBUM: INSTANT KARMA: THE CAMPAIGN TO SAVE DARFUR (Warner Bros. Records)
This two-CD set, whose proceeds will support Amnesty International’s work in Sudan and elsewhere, serves up 23 takes on the post-Beatles work of John Lennon. Although household names like U2, Aerosmith and Avril Lavigne make appearances on disc one, it’s disc two that really delivers. Green Day offers a passionate, profound reading of “Working Class Hero,” while Jack Johnson’s sparse, tender interpretation of “Imagine” easily outshines Lavigne’s slicker effort. The Black Eyed Peas convince with a fresh, uplifting version of “Power to the People,” and Regina Spektor dazzles with an almost classical-style rendering of “Real Love.” Disc one has its moments, especially Corinne Bailey Rae’s soulful “I’m Losing You,” but disc two’s more “alternative” vibe better suits these maverick songs.
ARTIST: SONIC YOUTH
ALBUM: DAYDREAM NATION -- DELUXE EDITION (Geffen/UMe Records)
The canonization of “classic” indie rock albums continues with this double-disc edition of Sonic Youth’s 1988 bellwether “Daydream Nation.” Released just before hundreds of bands like, well, Sonic Youth, were snapped up by major labels in an attempt to commodify the sounds of the college rock underground, the original double album remains a vital crossbreed of avant-garde noise, experimental rock and hummable melodies. “Teen Age Riot” is the group’s definitive “we’re in step by being out of step” anthem, while epics like “The Sprawl” and “‘Cross the Breeze” proved profoundly influential for shoegazers, stoners and adventurous punk kids alike. The live versions on disc two are hit-and-miss (many get by on attitude alone), and of the four contemporaneous covers, only a dirtied-up take on Neil Young’s “Computer Age” impresses. In the past two decades, Sonic Youth has topped the best individual moments on “Daydream.” But as an album, it’s a singular feat -- a perfectly timed snapshot of a moment when their kind of art was a step ahead of commerce.
ARTIST: WILLY WILL
ALBUM: REFLECTION (Beatmart/Sony BMG/Provident-Integrity)
Seattle native Will’s debut marks him as one of the newest -- and best -- of a coterie of young rappers who have clearly absorbed the killer rhymes of their gold-and-platinum peers, while filtering the message through both serious street credibility and a Christian worldview. Will’s savvy raps, set to intriguing musical landscapes, are often cinematic in scope (“Say So,” “Blame Game,” “Move Somethin”’). A full orchestra runs the gamut from ominous to almost effervescent, weaving in and out of hooks, beats and a booming bottom end while complementing rather than competing. “Reflection” is powerful street preaching without a hint of pretense and a watershed moment for a flavor of rap coming into its own.
ALBUM: JUST ME (10 Spot)
It was 10 years ago that Tiffany stormed The Billboard Hot 100 with two No. 1 singles. Despite fading from the limelight within three years, she has flirted with various returns, fanning critical, if not overt commercial, success. Her seventh album, “Just Me,” shows off the 35-year-old as a grounded, introspective songwriter with the emotional fortitude of a major talent. The heart-wrenching ballad “Winter’s Over” is the pinnacle performance, devastatingly beautiful and simple, while the single “Feels Like Love” and title track are finger-snapping midtempo melodic archetypes. Tiff also rocks down in her lower register on “Be Alright” and flirts with twang in “Mind Candy.” A satisfying ride devoid of the camp of a retro return.
ALBUM: DATAROCK DATAROCK (Nettwerk)
Kitschy is an understatement when it comes to red-jumpsuit-clad Norwegian duo Datarock. Its debut album is infused with Talking Heads-style dance rock that compares BMX bikes to sex (the former, they claim, is better) and references Olivia Newton-John and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Peculiar lyrical content aside, the album is an electronic retro dance-a-thon replete with keyboard blips and funky basslines. The tongue-in-cheek call-and-response of “Computer Camp Love” takes a drum machine-fueled bite at the “Grease” fave “Summer Nights,” while the accelerated groove of “Fa-Fa-Fa” wouldn’t sound out of place on a !!! or Rapture album. “New Song” borders on trying-too-hard irony but makes up for it with a heavy mashup of organ and thrashing guitars. On a lighter note, the sweeping synths of “I Will Always Remember” add a glittery disco touch to the final track.