Always shuts me up.
Still, it's annoying when solid albums fall through the cracks--the ones that aren't meant for 2005's best-of list but still sound great--so I grabbed a shovel and dug through my latest promo CDs and downloads to pick out a few interesting gems that didn't make the Playlist cut but demand your attention anyway.
Bellini, Small Stones (Temporary Residence)
It's hard to take the tag line "produced by Steve Albini" seriously sometimes. After all, the former Big Black leader behind the boards on Nirvana's In Utero and The Pixies' Surfer Rosa produces more than a dozen records a year, so there have to be a few stinkers in the bunch, right? That's not the case with Bellini's sophomore record, as the Austin/Italy/NYC quartet piece together 30 minutes of moody math rock that is catchy enough to supersede the "math" label. Dark, lovely moments fill the short runtime, like when Giovanna Cacciola's husky wails of "It's not enough!" grind against Agostino Tilotta's jagged guitar riffs on "The Exact Distance to the Stars," and the result makes Shannon Wright sound saccharine in comparison.
K'naan, The Dusty Foot Philosopher (Sony/BMG)
The phrase "Canadian rapper" will scare anyone who remembers the short-lived fame of Snow, but K'naan's world-beat style puts that lame stereotype to rest. On Dusty, the Somalian-turned-Torontian throws a slightly nasal, philosophical flow on top of bass-thumping, reggae-appreciative beats, and stand-outs like cheesy-catchy "I Was Stabbed by Satan" and gangsta-hating "What's Hardcore" ensure that this Canadian release isn't half-baked pop crap--in fact, it's the smart, catchy answer to anyone bored by M.I.A.'s tropical-dance hype. What makes this album tick is K'naan's "been there, done that" attitude--"Life is cheap, but wisdom is free," he raps, and you can tell he has stocked up on the giveaways. Hit import music Web sites for this one, as this far-from-trendy album doesn't sound like it'll see American major-label release anytime soon. Shame.
Terry Reid, Superlungs (Astralwerks)
Who needs to bother with classic rock revivalists when best-of collections like Superlungs pop up out of the blue? Short story: Terry Reid was Jimmy Page's original choice to join Led Zeppelin, but when Reid couldn't get out of a contract to join, he recommended his old buddy Robert instead. The rest is history, as is this collection of blues-heavy recordings and demos recovered from Reid's late '60s vaults. Music buffs won't be surprised by Reid's Zeppelin-perfect voice and songs, but techno leader Astralwerks' surprising push for this compilation indicates that someone at the label wants to educate younger kids about Reid's almost-career. And lemme tell ya: The lesson sounds mighty fine...
Drunk Horse, In Tongues (Tee Pee)
...of course, Reid's album won't stop the neverending swarm of classic rock revival bands, and while most of them will surely fall by the wayside, it's hard to say the same about the shameless fusion of the MC5, Skynyrd and Golden Earring that Drunk Horse whips together on In Tongues. This is certainly a take-it-or-leave-it album that will bore one listener as much as it will spice up the next person's van, but anyone who thinks Rye Coalition is too rigid and Turbonegro is too insane will find their happy, hard-rock median in restless amp-blasters like "Priestmaker" and "Nice Hooves."
Notorious B.I.G. and Frank Sinatra, Bed Stuy Meets Blue Eyes (Internet bootleg by DJ Cappel and Smitty)
Ever since DJ Danger Mouse put mash-ups on the national media's radar with The Grey Album, everybody and their mash-up momma is trying to win some sort of "weirdest combination" contest. One of the more unexpected fusions circulating on the Internet has to be this cross between Frank Sinatra and Notorious B.I.G., but aside from the Chairman crooning alongside Smalls' shouts of "C'mon, mothafucka!", Stuy actually makes some sense. For starters, the piano-heavy sampling recalls the glory days of the GZA and makes this album sound like an original highlight of NYC's early '90s underground rap scene. In fact, some really inventive horn and flute drops from Sinatra's "For Every Man, There is a Woman" add tasteful spice to Biggie's "Nasty Boy." With results like this, it should only be weeks before Sean Combs officially pays for the rights to steal Sinatra's songs and release this full-length.