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Have Passport, Will Appropriate: Beirut's new album is under the Mexican influence.


Beirut, Morrissey, Madlib: Curtis Cartier lets us in on the top releases of February.

By Curtis Cartier

It's been a busy month in the world of new music. With bands hustling to get out of the studio and onto the music festival lineups, a slew of new releases have graced and disgraced our desks here at Metro Santa Cruz. So after weeding out the tired, the mediocre and the just plain bad, here are Mūz's albums of the month for February 2009.

Beirut, 'March of the Zapotec/Holland'
(Pompeii) Calling an album a "two-disc EP" is kind of like ordering a dinner salad topped with steak, cheese and extra dressing but pretending it's still a healthy meal. This 11-song, double-disc release is every bit as beefy and fattening as its much-acclaimed full-length predecessors, Gulag Orkestar and The Flying Club Cup. But this time around there's an extra order of spicy Mexican chorizo zesting up the mix. The added pizzazz comes from the tiny weaver village of Teotitlán del Valle, Mexico, where Beirut's horn-worshipping globetrotter Zach Condon recruited the efforts of the 19-piece Jiminez Band to add a full Mexican orchestra sound to the record. While the first disc exposes a circus parade of tubas, oboes and French horns, the second disc, Holland, is a collection of electronica-backed ballads Condon apparently made in his room "just to kill time." Each disc has its own flavor, and neither necessarily complements the other. But throughout both, there is an unmistakable feeling that Condon is approaching the brink of genius and could tumble over the edge at anytime.

Madlib, 'Beat Konducta, Vol. 5-6: A Tribute to ...'
(Stones Throw) Oxnard producer/rapper Madlib drops more fresh material than a duck at the park. And when he's not producing hip-hop tracks for Ghostface Killah, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Madvillain or heading jazz supergroup Yesterday's New Quintet, he's churning out instrumental anthologies, the latest of which is laid out on this 42-track scatterboard of crunchy drums, gutted bass lines and fuzzy samples. Dedicated to the late and great James Yancey, a.k.a. J Dilla, who succumbed to lupus in 2006, Madlib pays his heartfelt tribute most noticeably through cut-up vocal samples that pulse and quiver into melodies, not unlike the fallen hip-hop icon's trademark beats. This record, however, is unmistakably Madlib, which means besides being dance floor locked and loaded, it's some of the best headphone music you've ever freaked out your brain with.

Morrissey, 'Years of Refusal'
(Attack/Lost Highway) You can't make a 25-year-living writing dark, existential songs about doomed relationships, death and depression without occasionally being funny about it. Former Smiths frontman and exalted indie god Morrissey has always laced his brutal honesty with a hint of self-deprecating humor, and it's never been more apparent than on his much-anticipated solo cut, Years of Refusal. On his first new album in three years, Morrissey proves to be on top of his game, delivering 12 tracks of gritty punk and blues with biting lines like "I know by now you think I should've straightened myself out. Thank you. Drop dead" and "There's so much destruction all over the world, and all you can do is complain about me." But if on previous records Morrissey sounded unsure or questioning, on this disc all doubts have been cast aside and what's left is a music icon, accepting of his illustrious mantle but comfortably raging against all it stands for.

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