Playing Favorites

Photo: Tomos Brangwyn/Retna

Wiley, ‘Da 2nd Phaze’
If you’ve heard of anyone from Britain’s grime scene, it’s Dizzee Rascal. But Wiley is the sound’s most influential producer, and the best tracks on his second album are definitive: ramshackle collections of skittering beats, growling bass lines, stabbing strings, and squelchy noises, all held together by an aggressive energy most hip-hop has lost touch with. He raps, too, and like any rapper, he wants you to know his names—he also goes by Eskiboy, as he tells you relentlessly on the fiery second track—but he’s more of an artful dodger than a ranter, dispensing battle-hardened insights on women, rude boys, and “the music game.”
—Ben Williams

Photo: Kent Angergard/Courtesy of Labrador

The Legends, ‘Public Radio’
The Legends formed three years ago in the classically backward garage-band style—one guy booked a gig and then rounded up a bunch of friends, including some who didn’t know how to play an instrument. But they had a natural chemistry and went on to make Up Against the Legends, a record of beautifully arranged pop songs tinged with late-sixties psychedelia. For their follow-up, Public Radio, they shifted into the eighties-rock idiom of New Order and the Cure. This is no Killers-style pastiche. It’s a lovingly crafted tribute to the good old-fashioned pleasures of gloomy self-absorption. (Available June 27.)
—Hugo Lindgren

Photo: Neal Preston/Corbis

Various Artists, ‘Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story’
Before his sudden death at age 38 in 1992 (speculated cause: cumulative hedonism), Larry Levan was the joyous, substance-fueled turntable overlord at Soho’s Paradise Garage, a dance hall so musically prescient that its mostly gay, mostly black veterans still rhapsodize about it. Journey is a night’s worth of propulsive, soul-inspired disco tracks that benefited both from Levan’s endorsement (Chaka Khan’s “Clouds”) and remixing skills (Taana Gardner’s “Heartbeat”), with a decisive nod to his influence on house music to come (Patrice Rushen’s “Haven’t You Heard” could easily be a James Murphy original). As a historical artifact, it’s invaluable. As a party in plastic casing, it’s nothing less than exhilarating.
—Jada Yuan

Photo: Marisa Pritivera/Courtesy of Matador

Belle & Sebastian, ‘The Life Pursuit’
The mopey folksters who dismiss this shimmering recent offering from the seasoned indie act clearly don’t know a great pop album when they hear it. It’s all here: sweet, poignant slow songs; simple, country-inflected ditties; strains of T. Rex; and joyous Age of Aquarius anthems so perfect they beg to be listened to again and again. The songwriting is so subtle that even a trumpet solo manages to sound miraculously humble.
—Sara Cardace

Photo: Elissa Lala/Courtesy of Omnitone

Johnnie Valentino, ‘Stingy Brim’
On almost every jazz recording, there’s an 800-pound gorilla named “the tradition” on the bandstand. Most cats bow down. But not Johnnie Valentino. The 48-year-old guitarist, who pays his bills by composing for movies and animated television, drops a disc every few years that slays the beast, then goes out for a smoke. Stingy Brim is his ode to tuba as bass-line jazz, a style that faded before Dixieland peaked 90 years ago. His quintet chortles and huffs their way through his ten concise tunes with insolent solos and wry surprises. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Valentino on the outskirts of the L.A. jazz scene; unless that’s your hang, you’d better catch him on this disc.
—Martin Johnson

Photo: Larissa James/Courtesy of Kill Rock Stars

The Gossip, ‘Standing in the Way of Control’
America’s best southern soul singer is a white lesbian punk who lives in Portland, Oregon. Her name is Beth Ditto, she fronts the Gossip, and when she scolds—“Jealousy won’t get you anything that you’ve lost”—it’s with love, not judgment. The Gossip’s third full-length album is greasy, economical dance-punk, and Ditto is a startlingly direct lyricist, with a voice that’s somehow warm and serrated all at once. “Yr Mangled Heart” is a vicious kiss-off yowl that plays as a therapy session, and “Coal to Diamonds” may be the smolderer of the year in any genre.
—Jon Caramanica

Playing Favorites