Various Artists

50 First Dates

Soundtrack

This soundtrack to Adam Sandler's latest movie recruits a number of today's pop, rap and reggae artists in an attempt to put a modern spin on 13 '80s love song classics, but succeeds only in destroying the music of a decade. Self-referencing introductions and rapper guest appearances thrust these former hits into a state of hopeless disarray. Dryden Mitchell (Alien Ant Farm) tears the Cure's "Friday, I'm in Love" to shreds with his feline yowl. Sandler's sole contribution to the album lacks humor and sensible meaning without the context of the film. The only worthwhile efforts on this release are done in the style of tropical reggae -- charming despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they leave the original melodies largely unblemished. Nostalgia can get the best of anyone, but some treasures are better left alone.

-- Rafael Garcia

Bitch and Animal

Sour Juice and Rhyme

One of the least heard albums of 2003, Bitch & Animal's third album, Sour Juice and Rhyme, is well worth a listen in the initial weeks of 2004. Known more for their animated, zany live shows than their recorded prowess, the band finally has an album that weds their onstage intensity with tight musicianship and provocative lyrics.

Standout tracks include the opener "Pac Man," with the replication of the Pac-man theme on bass and the lyrics, where Bitch sings, "I want a joystick ride/ I'm moving onto my next three lives/ I'm a quarter junkie and I'm thirsty for you." That's one love song that any video game junkie can appreciate. The rest of the album has Bitch and Animal attacking gentrification, George Bush, the Betty Ford Clinic and male oppression. Political agenda aside, the music is so catchy and the beats are so easy that you can't help but sing along: "I ain't got no shits this time of year/ For Phony Presidents always pushing fear."

-- Will Fenton

Kanye West

College Dropout

"Hip-hop is changing," Chicago rapper Common declared on his 2002 album Electric Circus, and asked, "Ya'll want me to stay the same?" But it's another rapper from the same city who's leading the charge.

Producer/MC Kanye West's debut album, College Dropout, may be the What's Going On of his generation -- sweet, soulful and real social commentary.

West has produced some of the most memorable hip-hop of recent years, from Jay-Z's "H to the Izzo" and "Girls, Girls, Girls" to Talib Kweli's "Get By," so the beats aren't surprising -- smooth and laid-back, head-bobbing beats with a sung hook. The first two singles are perfect examples: "Through the Wire" samples Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire," and "Slo Jamz," featuring Jamie Foxx and Twista, is an ode to the great soul singers -- with a Luther Vandross song as its backbone.

West's rapping doesn't live up to his production, but it's not bad. On "Family Business," his flow is reminiscent of Tupac's best: hard and raw at one moment, melodious, sing-songy the next. His lyrics are strong, too, especially on songs like "All Falls Down" and "Spaceship." There's little slack on this album, but whatever exists is more than picked up by guests like Jay-Z, Common, Kweli and Mos Def.

--Alex Koppelman

The Elected

Me First

Me First, the debut album from The Elected, had indie darling written all over it before it was even released. The band includes Rilo Kiley members Blake Sennett, Mike Bloom and Jason Boesel and Ozma member Daniel Brummel. Additionally, the group enlisted the help of members of Arlo, Azure Ray and The Postal Service, among others, to help create this album.

Me First is difficult to pinpoint influence-wise, sounding like The Wizard of Oz soundtrack, a folk festival and a triumph of melody with a country twang -- with a lullaby thrown in for good measure. The lyrics, written by Sennett, are personal and sung softly and intimately, mentioning names, places and events that can only be of a private nature, but yet are not extraordinary. Luckily for the band, the result was still more fabulous than disastrous. Add personal telephone messages and song titles such as "My Baby's a Dick," and what you've got is what sounds like a sweet and demented carnival ride through the world of The Elected.

-- Eugenia Salvo

Robbers On High Street

Fine Lines

Every up-and-coming band is touted as the new Smiths, Joy Division or Velvet Underground. Rarely does anyone deliver. Even though Britt Daniel is alive and well, Robbers On High Street might very well be the new Spoon. Lead singer Ben Trokan modestly labels his contributions to Fine Lines, their first EP, as "Remainder" instead of the ubiquitous "Vocals," but Trokan's vocals take anything but the back seat as he evokes a throaty Britt Daniel/withered Julian Casablancas. Whether or not the band members themselves condone the comparisons, the album's marketing campaign targets "fans of Interpol, Spoon and the Strokes."

Robbers On High Street might lose points for originality, but the post-punk/funk created in Fine Lines is far from stale. Tracks such as "A Night at Star Castle" and "Debonair" are downright danceable and tight -- never spoiling their welcome. Throwing comparisons aside, Robbers On High Street deliver.

--Kevin Lo


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