Recordings

The Grifters
Ain't My Lookout
(Sub Pop)

Too often I'll forget a CD in my portable player until I go to put in another disc miles from home. Without the proper jewel on hand, I stash the stray disc in another case for safekeeping. Because of this unsavory practice, it took three whole months to relocate Ain't My Lookout. But there it was, hiding under Disc Four in the Beach Boys boxed set (the one with that dreaded "Kokomo" song on it).

I couldn't have picked a more unlikely home for the Grifters. Whereas the California boys have those be-yooo-tiful harmonies that celebrate fun in the sun, these Tennessee kids have wildly off-kilter music and vocals that pine, "Oh, to be the sunshine on your ass."

Like Memphis' last offbeat contribution to rock, Big Star's swan song Sister Lovers, Lookout has the sound of music that's about to fall apart. Yet no matter how "out there" things get musically and lyrically, the Grifters never forget how to be pop. Against the dreary landscape of "Mysterious Friends," the Grifters insert a million ethereal "bop bops." The anything-goes instrumentation of the band's earlier lo-fi output continues with the discordant steel drums and mandolins on "Pretty Notes," the slide guitar of "My Apology" and the lonesome piano of "Boho/Alt," which sounds like Pink Floyd when experimentation was still that band's priority.

Now I'm glad I hung on to Ain't My Lookout's empty jewel case like it was the last photo of a missing person. Welcome back, Grifters, and don't you ever take off like that again without leaving a note.

--Serene Dominic

MC Breed
To Da Beat Ch'all
(Wrap/Ichiban)

Hailing from the (once) working-class town of Flint, Michigan, Eric Breed is the perfect workingman's rapper. He works hard, gets little acclaim and just keeps churning out the product. Breed has released six studio albums in as many years, and is one of the few MCs to put out a best-of compilation while he's still making new recordings.

However, Breed's long career has survived on low expectations: A steady (if unspectacular) seller, Breed meets the modest needs of Atlanta-based Wrap Records, an indie label in his adopted hometown.

When Breed's at his best, his distinctive, grainy vocals, live instrumentation and deep funk hooks make for a thoroughly enjoyable blend of West Coast and Southern-fried hip-hop. On To Da Beat Ch'all, tracks like "Choose One" and "My Walls" swing down-and-dirty with thick rubber-band bass, wailing wah-wah blues guitar and Breed's gritty rhyming.

But when it comes to subject matter, this rapper just can't kick his trend habit.

On past recordings, Breed has moved in due course through X-rated rap, gangsta rap, smoking 'n' drinking raps and preach-the-positivity rap.

Here he gives us a little of each, but he doesn't add anything new. If MC Breed would stop following the latest flava and start writing from the heart, he might find the strength to carry himself through six more recordings.

Otherwise, it's about time for this workaholic to start collecting his pension.

--Roni Sarig

 
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