Bunkka, by Paul Oakenfold (Maverick). Solid reviews for the first album of original material by the well-known DJ, an "exceptionally tight" (Kevin Boyce, CMJ) collection of tunes that mix techno with pop supplied by appearances from an "impressive" (Chris Salmon, Time Out) array of guests including Ice Cube, Nelly Furtado, and—as all reviewers mention but none explain—Hunter S. Thompson. Critics praise the album for providing authentic techno while keeping things interesting by exploring the "many subgenres of the dance world" (Steve Baltin, the Los Angeles Times). "The album works because Oakenfold has abandoned the stylistic limits of trance yet brought the genre's tuneful oomph," writes Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone. (Click here for Oakenfold's official site. Buy.)— B.M.L.
Blazing Arrow, by Blackalicious (MCA). Supportive hollas for this major-label debut from the Bay Area's best indie rappers. Critics call it "ambitious, erudite" (Pat Blashill, Rolling Stone), and "the most mature work" the duo's ever made—"confident, coherent, cohesive" (Oliver Wang, LA Weekly): "[Chief] Xcel incorporates crisp drums, heavy piano and moody keyboards into his beats, while [Gift of] Gab's abstract ruminations on life are often thought-provoking" (Soren Baker, the Los Angeles Times). Yet even more meaningful is the notion that Blackalicious is "continuing to broaden rap music" on account of their "fearless blend of chunky rhythms, uncommon time signatures, and lyrics both provocative and playful" (Renee Graham, the Boston Globe). Take that, Shady. (Watch the duo's new video. Buy.)— A.B.
Ralph Stanley, by Ralph Stanley (DMZ). Thanks to his appearance on the multiplatinum O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, the bluegrass veteran's latest album gets mainstream attention, and reviewers like what they hear. Critics are most impressed by the 75-year-old's voice, described as "amazingly intense" (Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone), "primal" (Randy Lewis, the Los Angeles Times), and "downright biblical" (Larry Katz, the Boston Herald). They also appreciate his arrangements—which favor a "deliberate and stately style" over the "high-speed instrumental flash" preferred by many other bluegrass artists (Katz)—and the gravity he brings to traditional songs with "desperate hill themes" like "romantic faithlessness, murder, and heavenly redemption" (Alana Nash, Entertainment Weekly). Says Sheffield: "Anyone who loved O Brother should find even headier musical pleasures on Ralph Stanley." (Click here to read about the surprising success of the O Brother soundtrack. Buy.)— B.M.L.
Italian Platinum, by Silkworm (Touch and Go). "Ten years and seven albums after its first full-length release," writes Entertainment Weekly's Rob Brunner, "this underappreciated Seattle band puts out yet another modestly masterful set of thoughtful, unflashy guitar rock." Other critics agree, saying Silkworm "continues to hammer the stake in the ground in the DMZ between classic-, country- and post-rock with an assured swagger" (Chris Handyside, Rolling Stone). Even Village Voice rock authority Robert Christgau echoes the praise, calling the album, somewhat philosophically, "Pavement for a diminished millennium": "low-end in every way—fewer guitar coruscations, vocal twitters, obscure witticisms, flights of fancy, and cash receipts." That means it's good, right? (Listen to a song from the album. Buy.)— A.B.
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