New Music: Lyrics Born, Billy Bragg and More Washington Post pop music critic Josh Freedom du Lac discusses the week's album releases, including albums from rapper Lyrics Born, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, and Jessica Simpson's sister Ashlee.


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New Music: Lyrics Born, Billy Bragg and More

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Hey, thanks, Mark. It's Tuesday, Mike.


That's true. I can confirm that.

MARTIN: Do you know what that means in this BPP universe?

PESCA: Tuesday is Sunday at Carville.

MARTIN: That's true!

PESCA: Actually, it's Wednesday. Got you!

MARTIN: Oh, you liar!

PESCA: I think it's Prince Spaghetti Day.

MARTIN: OK. No, Tuesday in the BPP Universe means that it's New Music Tuesday. That means we take a few minutes to survey what new music is dropping this week and this...

PESCA: Dropping? Is that some like verb that the kids use?

MARTIN: That's industry. I thought that was like cool people said about music that was happening.

PESCA: Yeah. That's why I don't know it.

MARTIN: Manoli's giving me the thumbs up. It's clearly why I sound so authentic saying that. So this week it's a musical journey with a few twists, a few turns, some will surprise and delight, others may well do the opposite of surprise and delight. I don't know what that bore and punish? What do you think the opposite of surprise and delight?


MARTIN: Stymie and stultify. Nevertheless, we shall approach each as a new listening adventure. Here to help us navigate the soundscapes is Josh Freedom Du Lac. He's the pop music critic for the Washington Post. Hey, Josh.

Mr. JOSH FREEDOM DU LAC (Pop Music Critic, Washington Post): I'm here to stymie and stultify. Good morning.

PESCA: Isn't that the title of your first solo LP?

Mr. DU LAC: Actually my autobiography coming soon, thank you.

PESCA: This guy can stultify like no others.

MARTIN: Hey, Josh, we want to start with what's new on deck from Tom Shimura, who is better known as the artist Lyrics Born. His new album comes out today. It's called "Everywhere at Once." So a little background on this guy, he grew up in Tokyo and Salt Lake City, not really the hot beds of rap music, right?

Mr. DU LAC: No, but you know, back in the day, as they say in the hip-hop world, when he was still known as Asia Born, his previous hip-hop name. He was at the University of California Davis where somehow someway there was a really great and exciting group of hip-hip people there.

DJ Shadow, Blackalicious, Lateef, and they came together to form these soul sites collective, so you know, there is a bit of a history on the West Coast of great indie rap. And the Soul Sites crew was definitely a part of that. So...

MARTIN: And he went on to found Quantum Projects, right? In the Bay Area.

Mr. DU LAC: Soul Sites became Quantum and you know, it's a label, I guess a mindset too as these things go, but you know it's his second solo album. He's also done some duo stuff with Lateef as Latryx, but you know, it's - he's kind of a really interesting guy in that he had some regional success with the first album, an underground hit that I guess became a Diet Coke commercial. So he has a little bit of a national following, but not a big one, but he's a pretty interesting artist.

MARTIN: Well, let's

PESCA: He's got some aspartame cred from that, Diet Coke.

MARTIN: Everyone's looking for aspartame.

PESCA: We want to hear it and then I want to ask about what is that kind of mindset.

MARTIN: We've got two tracks to listen to, let's listen to the first one. From the album "Everywhere at Once" this song is called "Whispers."

(Soundbite from song "Whispers")

Mr. LYRICS BORN: (Singing) 'Til I give everything I could give (unintelligible) (Unintelligible) and I lend you an ear. I'm listening now, but all that I hear are these whispers. Whispers.

When I arrived at the mosque I was still in disbelief Saw mother, father, brother, hella people I ain't seen I sat next to Head (ph) who was still in shock himself We still ain't had a chance yet for him to tell me how Then they brought his body out completely wrapped in linen That's when it finally hit me, my best friend's no longer living My chest caved, I felt intense pain around my ribcage.

MARTIN: Is it just me or does he sound like Tone Loc?

Mr. DU LAC: I mean, he does sound a little like Tone Loc. I mean he has a very distinctive, well I guess not distinctive if it sounds like Tone Loc, but this real gravely growly voice. That's probably not the best example of a song to showcase his vocal style, because you know, he can - he's a very, you know - his rhyme schemes are generally really tricky and complex. And he's a very fast-tongued rapper, if you will.

MARTIN: So what do you think about this album, Josh?

Mr. DU LAC: Well, I think it's a good album. His debut, "Later that Day," I liked a little bit better. I mean, this one features mostly live instrumentation. The first one was built around samples and spackle. I guess. It was just constructed in a more interesting way and lyrically I think it was just a little more interesting to me.

PESCA: I think lyrically he sounds a little like one of those late-night DJs that they have in Los Angeles and some places who will welcome you to their crib.

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, it's a - I'm sorry - I was going to say some of this other material like I said his rhyming, his meter, he sort of kicks it up several notches and probably wouldn't work late-night because it would scare you out of your bed.

MARTIN: We've got one more track. Let's listen to another track off this album. The album is called "Everywhere at Once." Let's take a listen.

(Soundbite of song "I Like It, I Love It")

Mr. LYRICS BORN: (Singing) Can't front, I'm running on one lump sum (ph). You got me sitting on my hands and thumbs I ain't done Now you got the magic touch You seen every man now (unintelligible) Except one, tell me girl what's up I can't wait for the day when we hanging tough I say I'm not sure what you did to me, but I like it, I love Oh, I'm not sure what you did to me, but I like it, I love it

MARTIN: So Josh, is that maybe a little more illustrative of, you think, of what you think he can do well?

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, a little more. I just think that this album is generally not as interesting as his debut. I mean, it's entertaining, just not quite as engaging and engrossing as the first album. You know, a track like "I Like It, I Love It," which we're listening to now. It's, you know, it's relatively straightforward - bright instrumental, sharp vocal hook, but it's a pretty simple song and probably not the most interesting thing you're going to hear all spring.

PESCA: Would you say technically speaking he is rapping? It sounds like halfway between rap and singing to me.

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, there he's sort of doing the sing-song thing. But you know, if you sort of dig into his catalog a little big you'll find some really interesting lyrics and just some of the way he constructs his rhymes. It can be pretty fascinating, but you know, this album...

MARTIN: Maybe not the best example. OK, let's move on. Taking a turn here, Billy Brag, new album's called "Mr. Love and Justice." Billy Bragg, former busker, punk rocker, protest singer, Woody Guthrie interpreter. What do you think of this new album, Josh?

Mr. DU LAC: Well, I mean, Billy at - I guess he's like 50 years old now, 30-some years into his career, probably not looking to reinvent the wheel. So you know, still that same of blend of funk polk - heh, polk. Punk and protest rock. Yeah, polk would be interesting, too. But you know, singing about love, war and politics. And you sort of get that straight away from the title "Mr. Love and Justice." You sort of know it's Billy Bragg same as he ever was, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

MARTIN: No, I like Billy Bragg. Let's listen to a cut from the new album. This song is called "I Keep Faith."

(Soundbite of song "I Keep Faith")

Mr. BILLY BRAGG: (Singing) I know it takes a mess of courage To go against the grain. You have to make great sacrifice for such little gain, And so much pain.

And if your plans come out to nothing, Washed out in the rain, Let me rekindle all your hopes and Help you start again, Because I keep faith in you.

MARTIN: So you don't this is going to attract any new listener that is already not a fan of Billy Bragg?

Mr. DU LAC: I mean, well, you know, that's the first single and it's also the opening track to the album, and I rather like that song. But you're not going to hear Billy Bragg on top-40 commercial radio or at your dentist's offices. You know...

MARTIN: That's a good thing.

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, maybe. I just don't know how does Billy Bragg reach new fans at this point?

MARTIN: And does he care?

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, I do think - what's interesting is that the best moments here are actually with the relationship songs, which suggests that, you know, maybe he's mellowing in his old age a little bit. Maybe he's found greater meaning by eschewing outrage for something like tenderness. But you know the relationship songs on this album are to me more successful than the socio-political ones.

PESCA: I was going to say you could find them in your dentist's office if the dental hygienists were organizing. And he might have a song to accompany that. But that song is a little like John Hyatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me," which has...

Mr. DU LAC: There's kind of a sweetness there, and you know Robert Wyatt's singing backing vocals, and I think if I'm not mistaken the pianist and organist in his band now is Ian McLagan of Small Faces, so that's kind of interesting.

MARTIN: Now we shall take yet another twist and turn into the world of the Simpson family. Ashlee, to be exact. She's got a new album out, "Bittersweet World" it's called - now she, Ashlee Simpson has kind of been hailed as the bad girl to the Jessica good girl. This album is - it's - I'm not frightened of it. I don't think she comes off as looking bad or mean, I don't think that's the point. It's heavily produced. She's got some big names on there, though. Let's listen to one of the new songs before we dive into this. It's called "Out of My Head."

(Soundbite of song "Out of My Head")

Ms. ASHLEE SIMPSON: (Singing) What? Is that all you got to say? What? What? You're rubbing me the wrong way See all this moving But I don't know what to say Shut up your chatter I need for you to go away

And all I ever hear is ay ya ya ya ya You're talking way too much I can't even hear me now All your noise is messing with my head

You're in my head, get outta my head Outta my, outta my head.


PESCA: Please, get outta my head!

MARTIN: If the criteria for a good song is that everyone's kind of moving and into it - oh no - I was going to say everyone in the studio's like bee-bopping their heads and everyone's moving, but then I got the thumbs on that.

PESCA: I liked it better when it was Madonna's "Burning up for Your Love." It sounds like the same song.

MARTIN: Yeah. I mean.

PESCA: I'm burning up!

MARTIN: This was produced by Timbaland, right?

Mr. DU LAC: Produced by Timbaland and a team of others. I mean, the funny thing about that song, it's the first single from the album, she says, Simpson says it's about everybody trying to influence her.

And I quote here, "I just have too many voices in my head, everyone having their own opinion." And I look at the credits for this album and she's got something like a dozen writers and a half dozen producers. And you know, it's an army of people have been deployed to try to make, you know, make this album a hit. And that's kind of funny to me.

PESCA: You know, it's crazy. Avril Lavigne, her, Britney Spears, all these heavily produced teenage, when they started out, girls, their second of third album is always people, they talk to me too much, and I got to be left alone. That's always their theme.

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, and you know she really hates attention because clearly, you know, this whole things with her fiancee Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, whether or not she's pregnant. They have everybody talking about this. And you know, I think it's sort of interesting. Many more people have asked me about what I think about her relationship with Pete Wentz than her music, which is sort of telling I guess.

MARTIN: Well, lest we stray off into uncharted waters about the Simpson family, we're going to take another turn here. Something that we can't even play music for actually. It's a new album by Elvis Costello, it's called "Momofuku" and named apparently, we have surmised, for the chain of restaurants in New York run by celebrity chef David Chang. What is the deal with this record? It's not actually out or it's coming out on vinyl with an mp3 download option? What's the deal, Josh?

Mr. DU LAC: See, my take is that he released an album called "Momofuku" just so he could get into Chang's new restaurant, Momofuku -co, the 12-seater.

MARTIN: Yeah, exactly.

Mr. DU LAC: The album comes out today on vinyl and I guess you get a download code so you can put a copy of the album in your iPod without having to the turntable through the LP dock thing. CD comes out in two weeks. And I suppose it's a statement by Elvis about the vitality and superiority of the vinyl format.

Either that or he's just - who really knows what he's up to? But you know, he's not the first artist to release an album on vinyl before CD. Bruce Springsteen did it with "Magic" last year, and it's been a pretty popular gamut since the mid-'90s when everybody from Nirvana to Johnny Cash to Pearl Jam were doing the same thing. Not really sure what he's up to, not sure if it's a good album, haven't heard it.

MARTIN: Haven't heard any leaks about what might be on it?

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, and I'm all about portability, instant gratification so until I can use a couple of keystrokes to put it on my iPod I will wait to listen to it.

PESCA: He always does interesting things though. Like putting unknown tracks on all his CD re-releases and so forth.

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, and when you built-in fan base like he does, like Nine Inch Nails, like Radiohead does, you can do these things and sort of work outside of the box a little bit.

PESCA: And I will say that "Momofuku," if your theory is right, much smarter title than "Olive Garden."

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: What should I buy this week, Josh, out of these offerings?

Mr. DU LAC: Boy, I would say the Billy Bragg album first and then save your money for a big April 29th.

PESCA: All right.

MARTIN: Sounds good. Hey, Josh, thanks so much. Josh Freedom Du Lac, he's the pop music critic for the Washington Post. We appreciate you being here. And that does it for this hour of the Bryant Park Project. We're online all the time and I'm Rachel Martin.

PESCA: And I'm Mike Pesca. Bryant Park from NPR News.

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