Eminem / Relapse / Universal
It’s been a while since Slim has put out an album, but apparently he hasn’t lost the recipe for making a hit album. All the usual ingredients are present on Relapse: Dr. Dre producer credit, a song where he lets us know that he’s back (“Hello”), a few skits, a few disturbing trips back to Em’s troubled childhood home (“Insane”), annoying vocal impressions lasting for entire verses, countless references to serial killers both real and fictional, and, of course, innumerable rapes and obscenities. So it’s not surprising that this, Eminem’s most recent effort at cleaning the skeletons out of his closet, seems a little formulaic. If listeners couldn’t figure out the ironies in his previous drug-themed songs, the mature reflective “Beautiful,” righteously angry “My Mom,” and numerous skits on the album speak to the evils drugs have done to his life in very visceral ways, even while “Old Time’s Sake” and “Crack a Bottle” (featuring Dre and 50 Cent) seem to do the opposite. The album smartly embodies the struggle going on in Em’s head he can only ever relate to listeners in violent verse.
Download: “Crack a Bottle”, “Beautiful”
Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band / Outer South / Merge Records
There’s a good reason this album put forth by Conor Oberst – perhaps best known for his earlier musical endeavours under the name Bright Eyes – is not a Bright Eyes album. Sure, it features multi-instrumentalist Nate Walcott, also of Bright Eyes, on keyboards and organs, as well as part time Bright Eyes contributor Jason Boesel on drums – but Outer South listeners shouldn’t expect an entire album of Oberst’s heart-on-sleeve poetry that characterized so much of Bright Eyes’ music. Oberst actually steps aside on several tracks to let other members of the band handle vocal duties, and, if that wasn’t enough, the other guys also wrote a substantial number of the songs. Sonically, the album calls to mind a small town jamboree with everyone taking a turn at the center of the stage. The album truly shines when poppy keyboard riffs or Southern rock guitar solos are complementing the organ-heavy alt-country sound that’s heard throughout.
Download: “Difference is Time”, “Cabbage Town”
Beck / One Foot In The Grave / Universal
This re-release of Beck’s distinctly lo-fi One Foot in the Grave, an uncharted record unlikely to be familiar even to those who own the album’s predecessor, 1994’s Mellow Gold, includes a whopping 16 tracks not found on the record’s initial release. Thirteen of the add-ons are previously un-released tracks from Beck’s One Foot in the Grave recording sessions and the other three come from an old out-of-print tape of his. An early version of “It’s All In Your Mind,” later released on the 2002 album Sea Change, turns up among these additions. Fans of Beck’s complex lyrics and trademark beats may not find what they’re looking for with One Foot in the Grave (although “Burnt Orange Peel” shows that the album definitely has a pulse), but those who enjoyed the soulful simplicity of Sea Change should feel right at home.
Download: “Teenage Wasteland”, “It’s All In Your Mind”