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Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006 02:51 pm

Cruisin’ instead of mixing it up

Sleepy Brown’s Mr. Brown, the Decemberists’ The Crane’s Wife, and J Dilla

SINGLES ONLY Sleepy Brown has the 9-to-5 blues. (We’ll play along.) After a long day of the grind, Brown and Big Boi cut out at 4:59 pm — how scandalous! — and make their way over to the club for happy-hour mingling.

“Margarita,” the first single from Brown’s new album, Mr. Brown, is a smooth one, employing Latin-tinged synthesizer lines and a bongo. Big Boi’s uninspired verse takes advantage of the predictable baseball analogy for sex as a lead-off for Brown and Pharrell’s breezy vocals on the catchy chorus. Perhaps it’s an impression of a typical Florida happy hour, but the tune feels more like a cruise on the Love Boat than a night in a chic club. Mr. Brown hit stores Oct. 3.

Librarian rockers the Decemberists are back with their first major-label release, The Crane’s Wife, the Portland quintet’s third full-length. The first single from the album, “O Valencia,” displays the band’s fondness for lovelorn tales, which are perched here atop poppy guitars, galloping drums, and plucky piano lines.

Known for their lush chamber pop and literary references, the Decemberists make graduate-school rock at its best. The Crane’s Wife dropped Oct. 3.
CD EXCHANGE For hip-hop heads, the name Jay Dee (a.k.a. “J Dilla”) rings plenty of alarms: Slum Village MC (ding!), producer for A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Common (ding-ding-ding!). But too often the Detroit-reppin’ beat master’s praise has come from other producers and purists who diligently studied liner notes. Until his death in February at age 32, which followed a three-year battle with an incurable blood disease and also with lupus, J Dilla had been working on The Shining. The posthumous follow-up to his beat album Donuts, completed by collaborator Karriem Riggins, features such Dilla regulars as Busta Rhymes, Madlib, Common, Black Thought, and D’Angelo.

Even with the who’s-who of underground hip-hop gracing The Shining, the star here is J Dilla, delivering his organic, scrappy beats. On “Love Movin’,” he complements no-shtick, on-point rhymes by Black Thought of the Roots with minimalist production, playing straightforward guitar and bass himself. J Dilla shines on the final track of the album, “Won’t Do,” which is bolstered by a few samples and futuristic space zips. “So Far to Go” channels the late ’90s’ untreated, soul-sample-heavy beats that solidified J Dilla’s signature sound and bolstered Common’s career. The tune features Common and D’Angelo performing quietly over a light piano line and timekeeping drums. The album was released in late August.

On the Kooks’ debut album, Inside In/Inside Out, the band falls victim to its influences — the Beatles, the Police, the Kinks, and Nick Drake. At times, the British rock revivalists sound like them all, a little too much. The problem with sounding like iconic bands is that listeners will most likely turn to the seasoned music. The Kooks’ debut came out Oct. 3, and the guitar-driven, radio-ready album will probably find a home on FM stations but not in the hearts of most British Invasion fans. The band’s best moments take place on the toned-down acoustic numbers, such as “She Moves in Her Own Way” and “Seaside.” The darkest moment on the album, unexpectedly, is the lead single, “Naïve,” a boring alt-rock knockoff. Inside In/Inside Out isn’t terrible, but it could have been so much better if the band had taken cues from their inspirations and tried something new.

Notable releases this week include the return of rock royalty, Sean Lennon, with Friendly Fire, as well as Beck’s latest, The Information.

Contact Marissa Monson at mmonson@illinoistimes.com.

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