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Listen to this: Pharrell Williams brings out best of N.E.R.D.


Album: Seeing Sounds (Star Trak)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Of all the gold-plated producers running the hip-hop game, Pharrell Williams has always been the most eclectic, eccentric, different. Whether he's tinkering as the Neptunes or N.E.R.D., he's comically restless, the thinking-man's Timbaland. Here, with the help of pals Chad Hugo and Shae, he mixes jazz bop, funk slink, house-party hollers . . . and the Beatles?

Why we like it: Not only is this N.E.R.D.'s best effort, it's also its most rhythmically complex, as the beats are both organic and cosmic, like James T. Kirk captaining Parliament-Funkadelic. The bass lines sound like meringue outtakes; the energy sounds born in a mosh pit.

Reminds us of: "Spaz if you want to!"

Download these: Windows and Anti Matter

Grade: A

Liz Phair

Album: Exile in Guyville: 15th Anniversary Edition (ATO)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Before she had an Avril attack and made music for minors, Phair was a potty-mouthed indie goddess opening doors for Alanis, etc. Phair's '93 debut was a raw, X-rated dissection of young love with sloppy guitars and a brass-knuckle beats. The anniversary edition includes unreleased songs, the best of which is Ant in Alaska, which slow-builds from whimper to wallop.

Why we like it: Phair's bedroom play-by-play was given great gobs of ink. But as writer Alan Light notes in the liners, "She wasn't a good girl or a bad girl. She was just a girl . . ."

Reminds us of: "And I can feel it in my bones / I'm gonna spend my whole life alone . . ."

Download this: Explain It to Me

Grade: A

Ry Cooder

Album: I, Flathead (Nonesuch)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Guitar virtuoso and cool dude Cooder completes his loopy California "trilogy," which includes 2005's Chavez Ravine and last year's My Name Is Buddy. In the closing chapter, Cooder plays a roadhouse musician/salt-flat racer named Kash Buk, who plucks his dusty geetar and tells a few tall Golden State tales. He gets help from Mariachi Los Camperos.

Why we like it: From his work with the Buena Vista Social Club to his chilly film scores (Crossroads), Cooder is known for offbeat art, and I, Flathead is no exception. The mariachi-meets-honky-tonk music is accompanied by a 95-page novella about ghosts and amusement parks and haunted California deserts.

Reminds us of: If Los Lobos lost their minds.

Download these: Drive Like I Never Been Hurt

Grade: C+


Lil Wayne feat. T-Pain

Song: Got Money

Album: Tha Carter III (Cash Money)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Lil Wayne, a.k.a. Weezy, a.k.a. the self-blessed "greatest rapper alive," just moved a million copies of his new album in one week. These days, when selling music is akin to selling houses, that's astounding. The last person to pull off such a feat was 50 Cent (2005's The Massacre). Thanks to an aloof mystique, a tireless work ethic and myriad cameos on hit songs, the 25-year-old has captured our imaginations and our wallets.

Why we like it: The New Orleans native appeals to both gangsta fans and those just here for the party. On Got Money, his pinched delivery and cutthroat wordplay are buoyed by a club-stuffing synth line that'll get 'em grinding.

Reminds us of: T-Pain and Wayne are in talks to buddy up for an album. Ka-ching!

Grade: B-

Listen to this: Pharrell Williams brings out best of N.E.R.D. 06/28/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 28, 2008 4:30am]
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