SEAN PAUL FEAT. JUICY J & 2 CHAINZ
Bad girls entertainment. That's about all you need to know about this latest effort from Sean Paul, who appears to have left most of his reggae sensibilities at home and gone for more of a straight-up rap track. Between the booming bass, the raunchy lyrics, and the guest list, this one has strip-club anthem written all over it. Be sure to pack some Purell. Thrre stars
AVICII FEAT. ALOE BLACC
Wake Me Up! (Universal)
A lot of fuss is being made about the Swedish DJ's new single from his upcoming album, True. There are claims Avicii is redefining dance music with this genre-bending, very un-Levels-like track. Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. While the folky guitars and Aloe Blacc's soulful vocals are intriguing early on, things quickly disintegrate into a corny techno barn dance. Or electro hoedown. Whichever you prefer. Two stars
MAESTRO FRESH WES FEAT. KARDINAL OFFISHALL
Dearly Departed (Wes Williams Enterprises)
Taken from his brand new Orchestrated Noise album, the godfather of Canadian hip-hop Maestro Fresh Wes teams with fellow-Canuck veteran Kardinal for this boisterous bumper in which they proclaim "we been killin' 'em since the days of killin' 'em started." Both sound energized and like they're genuinely enjoying themselves, and you can't help but smile while listening to this. Three and a half stars
-- Reviewed by Steve Adams
A Color Map of the Sun (Pretty Lights Music)
THE buzz about the new Pretty Lights (a.k.a. producer-songwriter Derek Vincent Smith) album is all about the process behind its creation.
Instead of once again digging through crates of vintage vinyl to cobble together samples for his eclectic-sounding, hip-hop-infused electronica, Smith worked with dozens of musicians to create new music, in a variety of styles, that he would then sample into his songs. It was a remarkably work-intensive plan, made even tougher by his decision to record the original music using pre-1970 equipment to give everything a warmer, more imperfect sound. (In another twist, true to his community-based style, Pretty Lights will offer the album for free download on its website for the first day of release before it goes on sale elsewhere.)
However, the way Smith made A Color Map of the Sun happen wouldn't really matter if the resulting songs weren't so compelling.
On Around the Block, he combines neo-soul and dubstep, while dropping in some '90s-styled glitchy sampling and a great verse from rapper Talib Kweli -- basically bringing together styles from the past five decades in one song. For One Day They'll Know, he downloads bits of blues, jazz, trip-hop and classical-sounding string sections into a more aggressive, dubstep-fuelled setting.
The unique combinations will likely draw in many first-time listeners, but the strength of the songs will keep them coming back. A Color Map of the Sun could do for the current electronic music scene what Moby's Play did in 2000, becoming the soundtrack of cool for a new generation. Four stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: One Day They'll Know
-- Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Born Sinner (Roc Nation)
RAPPER J. Cole doesn't quite know who he wants to be on this, his second album. He's got a crown reminiscent of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat on the cover of Born Sinner's deluxe edition. Cole samples Notorious B.I.G., the Whispers, and even comedian Mike Epps throughout, pens an ode to Nas, and pairs with the remnants of TLC on the caramel soul of Crooked Smile. That's some strong evidence of an old-school cultural revolution afoot. Yet for all his snagging of the Afro-American '80s and '90s, he's got a fondness of hard, futurist bass sounds and a love of aged and lilting jazzy melody and post-bop rhythm that carries through to his most thrillingly mellifluous songs.
So maybe Cole doesn't know exactly who he wants to be. He sounds good trying to figure it out. Though Cole has guests in fellow young MCs Kendrick Lamar and Miquel (to say nothing of those samples and nods), Born Sinner is an all-Cole creation, especially considering that he produced most of it. Lyrically, he's still green -- Land of the Snakes heavy-handedly rants against Los Angeles, while in She Knows, he awkwardly posits himself as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the club, battling temptation. Luckily, everything else is golden. Three and a half stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Born Sinner
-- A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
Britten & Shostakovich (Onyx)
BRANDON-BORN violinist James Ehnes marks Benjamin Britten's centenary with a recording of the British composer's enigmatic Violin Concerto op.15, paired with the similarly structured Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor op. 77 by Dmitri Shostakovich.
Joined by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) under the responsive direction of Kirill Karabits, the versatile Ehnes takes what could be heavy, rather disturbing music and brings to it warmth and depth, along with his signature flawless tone and scrupulous technique.
Driving rhythms, tinged with Spanish influence and a teasingly wild scherzo define the Britten, the BSO tightly wound, matching Ehnes' passion with impressive woodwind and brass work.
Ehnes gives the brooding nature of the Shostakovich the respect it requires, encouraging listeners' involvement, however bleak. He crafts the scherzo with nimble aggression, capturing the ghostly carnival atmosphere.
Not for the faint of heart, but worth the emotional investment. Four stars
-- Gwenda Nemerofsky