Bob Dylan Click here to listen. Dylan's followers parse his Word so thoroughly that it seems foolish to even mention that 15 of his albums have been remastered and reissued. Those who care already know. But there are some young, misled, or unlucky people who have not yet accepted Dylan. I was recently one of them, and I can assure the heathens that now is a perfect time to meet the catalog that Cannot Be Moved. Columbia has remastered 15 Dylan albums and released them in the Hybrid SACD format, which plays on standard CD players as well as SACD players. Six of the releases contain a 5.1 surround mix, which does something spatially fantastic that I have yet to hear. (Go here for more info.) Blonde on Blonde is more jaunty and fleet than its reputation suggests, and Highway 61 Revisited is holding on where so many of its contemporaries have cried Uncle. Many, many of these songs end before their welcome has worn out. The remastering—which will read to most listeners as the act of making these CDs as loud as CDs you'd buy today—is judicious and generally transparent. A million arguments await: Did Dylan liberate the pop lyric? Did he destroy it? Did he invent celebrity mystery? The comeback? Pretentious rock? The lousy singing voice? Start studying. You've got a lifetime.
Deftones Click here to listen. "Minerva," the first single from the Deftones' self-titled fourth album, has been out for more than six months, but it hasn't left my iPod for so much as a day. It's a huge, roiling wave of sound that recalls bands like My Bloody Valentine as much as any of the "nu metal" the Deftones are linked with. At a recent concert at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, the band opened with "Minerva." Singer/guitarist Chino Moreno and guitarist Stephen Carpenter introduced a gentle, unresolved guitar counterpoint that bled quietly into the song's opening drone. The song's dominant chords kicked in like ballast being released, and the crowd started to sway as if the floor had come unmoored. The chorus, easier to understand than any other words on the album, tipped the crowd back toward the stage: "God bless you all, for the song you sing." Moreno was throwing the crowd a life preserver, and the crowd knew it, long before they even got to the Hammerstein Ballroom.
Diverse Click here to listen. Independent hip-hop producer RJD2 is haunted by comparisons to DJ Shadow, whose instrumental hip-hop collages have created their own profitable genre. (British TV ads have licensed Shadow tracks, and fancy shoe stores feel kindly toward his music, too.) RJD2 may well have found his way without Shadow's guidance, but history will not give him the benefit of the doubt: once after, always after. As RJD2's skills deepen, the similarity recedes. His specialty is suturing together different sounds to create what sounds like one organic band playing an unusually great old funk tune. He produced all of Soul Position's new album 8 Million Stories, a great collaboration with an MC named Blueprint, and contributes five productions to Diverse's One A.M., including "Uprock." The status quo puzzle pieces are in place—a chilly little synth swoop, a sweet little guitar bar—but the organ phrase hijacks the scene. Three notes circle each other, unsure of how to feel. Credit the slight wobble in the organ reeds or the random magic of the recording process—either way, it's the kind of sound sampling producers spend years at garage sales looking for. Be thankful RJD2 found this one. (Go to Rhymesayers for Soul Position.)
You've probably heard by now of "mashups" or "bootlegs"—bits of pop songs digitally combined to make new songs. One of the more famous bootlegs is "Smells Like Booty," the vocal from Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious" laid over the music from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Some mashups are conceptual one-liners, but others are like the final reports of consultants who have been hired to increase productivity and quality in pop music. These are our recommendations: Put these two verses over that song's bridge and you'll have maximized your resources. No more boring parts! Frenchbloke is one of the genre's original practitioners, and his Web site hosts a 30-minute "Superchunk" mix recorded a few months ago for London's XFM radio. The mix is a chaotic half-hour of social interaction. Disembodied advertisements open the door, static brushes past you in the foyer, and before long you're sitting in the living room with dozens of pop songs, including Rob Base and EZ-Rock's "It Takes Two," Basement Jaxx's "Romeo," the Kinks' "I Need You," and Berlin's "Sex." (Lawyers are not invited.) Now pop songs everywhere ask, "Do I look thin in these pants?"
"I Love Acid" (Warp)
Nostalgia for dance music of the recent past continues. For much of the '90s, Luke Vibert produced whimsical, expert collages of samples and beats. Sometimes he was the brilliant teen, first to market with the clever noises and sly references, but at other times his cheek exposed the dark side of the gifted teen: He couldn't stop with the jokes. His current album, YosepH, gets the balance right by revisiting the simple keyboard and drum-machine sounds of a late-'80s genre called acid. (The name refers to the sound of the Roland TB-303 bassline generator, not the drug.) The sounds are dirty but simple, effective and unpretentious. The excellent video for "I Love Acid" ("it's the sound you can't improve") was created by the Delicious 9 collective of Dublin artists, and it solders a link between childhood, animals, and dancing. (No cats were harmed during the making of this video.)
Afro Finger and Gel (Output)
Click here to listen. The alleged "punk disco" revival hasn't amounted to much more than flabby indie-rock bands banging on a cowbell and getting on the bad foot. Can't just call it dance and collect the money. For better or worse, disco is the inverse of punk—a meritocracy where the beat must be served. The exception that proves the rule is one of my favorite records of the year—MU's Afro Finger and Gel. Baltimore producer Maurice Fulton lives in England, where he met his wife Mutsumi Kanamori at Manchester's Electric Chair club. Afro Finger and Gel is their collaborative idea of punk dance, or something like it. There's an uneasy detente here between strict machine rhythms and chunky live percussion, a bit like Parade versus Robot. But the music feels improvised in the best sense. Kanamori declaims over the whole joyous mess, by turns abrasive and goofy. ("Are we still high-school kids? Hate being in a small lake/ Need huge water to move.") She's sometimes compared to Yoko Ono, which is both high praise and a sort of lazy default move, as being Japanese doesn't exactly make two people part of the same movement. The lyrics are buried in the clatter, so "what" takes a back seat to "how" most of the time. Afro Finger makes a strong case for sound as its own sense.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
How many times have you wanted a music video to deep-six the fast MTV-style edits and just use some steady, long shots of the performers? People, as you've noticed, are often compelling enough without being chopped and processed, especially if they're Karen O, singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. "Maps" is the best song on their first full-length, Fever To Tell, a steady but fervent love song that qualifies as a ballad only in the context of their rougher, louder songs. (It is unlikely Bobby Short would ever cover the song, for instance.) Set on a sound stage, the video for "Maps" begins with the crew preparing to shoot the band. Someone calls "Playback!" and we glide back behind the fourth wall. Karen O stands still and guitarist Nick Zimmer begins to thaw the ice with a building ostinato. Director Patrick Daughters lets the camera linger on each band member for four or five seconds at a time, an eon in TV language. As Karen O repeats, "Wait, they don't love you like I love you," we watch the stage lights change stolidly from red to blue. And then one single tear travels down Karen's cheek. Wait—are hipsters even allowed to cry? We're the ones who cry when this song comes on! The tear is a great metaphor for how the Yeah Yeahs have held on to their bumptious, untrimmed noise but are willing to go for big emotional gestures the home crowd might easily dismiss as corny. Don't make that mistake. See it on their Web site.