Lou Reed

Animal Serenade

Warner Brothers

Lou Reed's 5,000th live album, Animal Serenade, shows that the 62-year-old legend can still put on a great show. Recorded in 2003 at Los Angeles' Wiltern Theatre, the two-disc set features a small backing band that mostly leaves out the percussion. Much of the material played is from Reed's most recent album, The Raven, which features his classic mix of tender ballads and mysteriously drunken guitar playing.

The album's best moments, however, come when Reed hashes out the Velvet Underground tunes. Velvet Underground and Nico classics, such as "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Venus in Furs" (which features a delightfully twisted cello solo) highlight Reed's live experimentation, while "Candy Says," perhaps VU's best ballad, proves to be as affecting as ever. If you're looking for a more pop-oriented, accessible live album of Reed's, this is probably not it. But if you want to hear a rock icon still at the top of his game, it might be worth a listen.

-- Jim Newell

Destroyer

Your Blues

Merge

Beginning with the strummed acoustic guitar of "Notorious Lightning" and ending with the heavenly haunt of "Certain Things You Ought to Know," Your Blues is an outstanding venture into the field of progressive rock. Dan Bejar's emphatic voice harkens back to 70s-era Bowie theatrics at their best. The elegant pop of "It's Gonna Take an Airplane" masterfully combines multi-tracked vocals with cheery handclaps over the buoyancy of wispy guitar and plaintive synth. Lyrics are at times deeply personal, at others stubbornly obtuse, yet always manage to uplift rather than subvert their underlying arrangements. All of the horns, strings and flutes on the album are only MIDI artifices of themselves, but this hardly seems to matter; each cut retains the perfect mix between the sparse and the rich, never sacrificing artful songwriting for showmanship.

-- Rafael Garcia

Musiq

Soulstar

Def Soul

Philly's own Musiq has returned to the scene with his newest album, Soulstar, and it'll make you "juswannalisen." Tightening up his neo-soul croon, the album focuses on adding a slight funk edge to the social-conscious storytelling that Musiq has specialized in since he began rhyming on the mic in local Philadelphia clubs.

"Whoknows" could be Prince and the NPG, with Musiq using a falsetto that flows smooth and true with the backing horns. His cover of the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" will find a spot on many a party play-list. "Thereason," another satisfying cut, features a dance beat that will have you moving, grooving, nodding your head and getting a little closer to your honey on the dance floor. While the album has a few fluff pieces, such as "Dontstop," with Bilal, and "Youloveme," the overall quality of the album is deserving of a spot in every fan's rotation.

-- Will Fenton

Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

Soundtrack

Attack of the one-hit wonders! The Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed soundtrack is a compilation of sugary songs for an equally sweet film. Everyone has heard the B-52's "Love Shack" and Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta." They are catchy and fun, but nothing more. The album hits rock-bottom as it comes to 2 Unlimited's "Get Ready for This."

As for the songs by upcoming artists, they are just as predictable and uninteresting. In an attempt to be cool and hip, Big Brovaz ridiculously titles its song "Thank You (Fallentin Me Be Mice Elf Again)," which translates to "Thank You (For Letting Me Be Myself Again)." Despite its attempt at an interesting title, the song is just as flaccid and dull as its accomplices on this album. Milli Vanilli could have scored a better soundtrack.

-- Kali Backer

Ellis Hooks

Uncomplicated

Artemis

You know these songs -- you know them and love them. Ellis Hooks' hooks are the type of wholesome, close to earth melodies that have been coming out of America's heartland for the last half-century. His rich, weathered sounding voice and his twangy, organic band beautifully evoke a Nashville where time stands still -- a land of rolling fields and orange sunsets.

Uncomplicated is, in fact, quite uncomplicated. It follows the same musical formula heard on records by Van Morrison, Don McLean and most recently, Ben Harper. But in today's musical climate where computers have replaced real instruments, and sadly, even real voices guys like Ellis Hooks are a refreshing reminder of America's musical roots.

--Jon Levin

eleven eleven

head

Orchard

Leave your retro-weary ears at home, because eleven eleven is it. Emerging from the city of brotherly love, eleven eleven has managed to create an album straight out of the '80s British-pop scene. Although this sound may appear purely nostalgic at first, head is far from formulaic or repetitive. A majority of the album places vocal levels barely above guitars, forging a beautifully atmospheric, distorted and sleepy sensation. On "Crush," eleven eleven demonstrates just how effective a simple guitar fill can be. Singer/Guitarist Jeff Giuliani cites Robert Smith and Kevin Shields as influences, and his swaying authorities can be proud. Like Philadelphia, head is something worth getting lost in.

--Kevin Lo

Eyedea and Abilities

E & A

Epitaph

For this nineteen-year-old rapper, the future was bright. Attacking opponents with shrewd, spur-of-the-moment rap literature, Eyedea won first place in HBO's millennium Blaze Battle freestyle competition, achieving underground superstardom. His stunning, high profile victory impressed many people, including P. Diddy, who allegedly offered the teenager a record deal with several added incentives. But Eyedea, exemplifying a truly independent spirit, refused the attractive proposal, leaving the hip-hop community to anxiously await his next move.

His debut album, a project on which he collaborated with the masterful DJ Abilities, received lukewarm ratings. Yet the enigmatically unsuccessful duo is back again, this time with a mundane second effort, which delivers only intermittent moments of innovative excellence. Although infused with Abilities' virtuoso scratch mechanics, the beats closely adhere to the outmoded approach of mid-nineties jazz-hop. And Eyedea's battle lyrics offer a limited scope that cannot adequately sustain a full-length LP.

--John Coyne


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