Free Gucci II: The Burrtish Edition ( Mad
Decent) Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane has always cut an unusual path in hip-hop, freely jumping from hardcore street rap to cartoonish pop. You’re as likely to hear his music rattling from behind darkly tinted windows of Crown Vics as blasting from the PA speakers at a junior-high soccer tournament. This new, free mixtape pulled together by UK producer Sinden sets some of Gucci’s biggest hits to a spate of urban British sounds — grime, dubstep, and electro. Lead track “Gucci Time” kicks off this unusual Anglo-American collaboration: Gucci’s syrupy Southern rhymes are placed against the dark bass of Sinden’s production and the choppy off-kilter rhymes of British grime rapper Tinchy Stryder. Last summer’s hit single “Haterade” gets turned into an ethereal 6 a.m.-beach rave wind-down jam and features an appearances from hip-hop’s it girl Nicki Minaj, tossing off wonderful throwaway braggadocio lines like, “Look how it came to pass when I said it / We can do debit, cuz I don’t need credit.” “Weirdo” is full of Gucci’s trademark razor-sharp wit and benefits from the jittery, paranoid bass lines of DJ Swerve’s dubstep production and some amazing rhymes by Ghetts, spitting lines in what can only be properly called a Jamaican Cockney accent. For years now, Southern hip-hop has been building an appreciative base in England. Let’s hope this helps more Americans get into the heavy bass and kinetic wordplay of British grime rap. — Casey Sanchez
CUT COPY Zonoscope (Modular Records) I wish Cut Copy weren’t Australian, because then I could compare the sparse rhythms, mildly Caribbean bass, African guitars, 1980s synths, and jaunty singing of “Take Me Over” to Men at Work’s “Down Under” without feeling like a hack. Nonetheless, that may be the entry point to discussing Zonoscope, a record that nods to that sweet early-’80s period when pop artists scoured the world for anything remotely danceable to blend with the still-popular disco grooves. It keeps nodding for more than an hour, with one track bleeding into the next and the whole final lap represented by the 15-minute dance medley “Sun God.” There’s a lot to digest here, and it can occasionally feel like you’re cramming all of Abba Gold into your ears at once. Thankfully, the album’s relentlessness cheer is offset by its diversity. Standout cut “Where I’m Going” recalls the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” with a hard swing beat, midrange reverberation, and high harmonies anchored by a deep baritone. “Pharoahs and Pyramids” leans on the steady thump and elastic bass of Detroit techno, seasoned with is l and-music f l ourishes.
Zonoscope is clearly meant f or dance floors, but headphones reveal how each of the record’s sounds is finely polished and mounted. It’s colorful, blissful stuff.
— Robert B. Ker BRIGHT EYES The People’s Key (Saddle Creek) “You’ve got a soul, use it,” sings Conor Oberst, lead singer-songwriter for Bright Eyes, on the new song “Haile Selassie.” On The People’s Key — the first full-length Bright Eyes studio album in almost four years — Oberst mines his own soul to great effect. He ditches the comfort bubble and success that Americana and emo rock have afforded him over the years for a bold stylistic mash-up that lies somewhere between synthy psychedelic Britpop and the piano-tinged indie-rock-slacker ethos of bands like Camper Van Beethoven and early Counting Crows. Oberst has always been pegged as a (frequently unwilling) poet/street preacher for his generation and, perhaps because of what appears to be a newfound sense of mental and emotional maturity, he’s broadened his darkly drawn sermon topics on The People’s Key to include the mystical, the metaphysical, and of course, the melancholy. Oberst hops from sci-fi allusions about a reptilian extraterrestrial Satan creature, dimensional travel, and the time-space continuum (via an album-opening monologue by guitarist/vocalist Denny Brewer from the band Refried Ice Cream) to haunting introspection about self-doubt, narcissism, hero worship, and reinvention. “Every new day is a gift,” Oberst writes in the awkwardly upbeat “Jejune Stars.” “It’s a song of redemption/ Any expression of love is a way to return/ To that place that I think of so often, but now never mention/ The one the voice in the back of my head says that I don’t deserve. … Sure I had my doubts, but I know it now, we’re all jejune stars.” — Rob DeWalt SUZANNE PITTSON Out of the Hub: The Music of Freddie Hubbard (Vineland Records) Suzanne Pittson grew up listening to jazz and loved singing Freddie Hubbard’s solos. Her tribute CD opens with his composition “Our Own (Gibraltar)” and a bright intro courtesy of soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Willie Jones III. Pittson is just reckless enough with her intonation and rhythmic attack (shades of Flora Purim), works satisfyingly with and without vibrato, and is a killer scat artist. The song also offers swell solos by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and pianist Jeff Pittson, the singer’s husband. On “Out of the Hub (One of Another Kind),” Jeff Pittson creates a romantic wash of piano strings, Patitucci sets up a bouncier beat, Wilson burns, and the singer paints with lyrics penned by her son, Evan Pittson. She and her husband sought out Hubbard at a New York jazz club in June 2008 (six months before the jazz veteran died at age 70) to get his blessing on this and four other songs on which the Pittsons innovated lyrics. She remembers trumpeter Booker Little on “Bright Sun,” performing the Hubbard song — “He played with scalar exhilaration / pushing past the last generation” — with her beautifully jazzy voice and phrasing, and a vocalese segment based on Hubbard’s solo from 1962’s Hub-Tones. Her voice is a virtual horn on “ True Visions ( True Colors).” All in all, it’s really cool vocal and instrumental jazz. — Paul Weideman