The ambitious concept album, once the province of ponderous, self-important artists, has been revivified of late at the hands of heady acts like the Decemberists, Lupe Fiasco and Sufjan Stevens, so the idea of the Roots - long one of rap's most adventurous and thought-provoking crews - taking up the challenge feels correct. Indeed, it was the classical piano piece "Redford" from Stevens' album "Michigan" that partially inspired "undun," a told-in-reverse tale of the demise of Philly street hustler Redford Stephens that testifies to the capricious nature of the drug game and fate at large. The tough, imagistic flow of Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter is particularly suited to the storytelling at hand, especially on the chilling "I Remember," but it is the lush, panoramic production of drummer/ bandleader ?uestlove that elevates the enterprise to the level of street art.
The Black Keys
The guttural buckshot blues of the Black Keys' early records isn't yet eradicated, but has been reduced to a mere palette choice in the more primal-yet-poppy rock sound they fully embraced with last year's "Brothers." For their seventh album, the ever-cool Danger Mouse - last in the producer's chair for '08's "Attack & Release" - stretches their sound in satisfyingly spatial directions through the use of synths and organs, helping extract the Stax soul bound up in the interplay of Dan Auerbach's gorgeous, porterhouse-thick guitar sound and drummer Pat Carney's double-time trip-hammer bounce, resulting in a set of vibrant, deeply channeled, hip-jerking grooves. Recommended tracks: "Lonely Boy," "Sister."
"The Path of Totality"
The poster children for '90s nü-metal turn to dubstep for their 10th album, featuring production from newly minted "Best New Artist" Grammy nominee Skrillex. He's undeniably talented, but that handle still sounds like an off-label window cleaner.
"Lioness: Hidden Treasures"
It's the first record from the trouble-shadowed chanteuse since "Black to Black." It's also a posthumous release. Take a moment to contemplate the shame of it all.