KANKICK
From Artz Unknown
(Meanstreet)
***

Kankick (the funky Asthmatik, as it were) is known as the fourth member of Lootpack, and he's a pretty tight producer, pasting together an aloof, slow groove of scratching, bass, the occasional '60s muzak sample, and even grand pianos. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he got some of underground L.A.'s best MCs to help him rhyme about positivity, progressivity, and staying honest, including Planet Asia, The Visionaries, Montage One, and Lootpack's Wildchild. The best tracks float tight lyrics under layered, mellow beats: On "Love Hardcore (Underground)," Declaime illustrates how sex without love can unravel, over a pretty acoustic guitar and snappy snare hits. The Planet Asia/ Krondon/Phil Da Agony/ Montage One song also kicks ass. The track that defines the album's mood, however, is "The Finer Things," in which Dr. Oop denounces the ghetto shit in favor of "good food/good weed/good women/good music." JULIANNE SHEPHERD


DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
The Photo Album
(Barsuk)
**

Somber and vocally based, Death Cab rarely hits the music hard, but when they do, it's their best shit. The song on the new album that defines their drifting/passionate contrast is "We Laugh Indoors." The main chorus is almost intolerably cheesy, sung in a boyish voice (that sounds exactly like the lead singer of Gran-daddy), with simple drum taps in the background. But then it busts into vocals yelling, "Don't you get me started now," and heavy guitar riffs that break apart the coasting-through-the-song feeling and demand your attention. Their stuff is mostly pretty, and they add a lot of extras, like the organ, the tambourine, and occasionally fuzz the guitars--I just wish they'd quit the "I'm singing about a typical day routine" more often, and tear it up. KATIE SHIMER


TARA JANE O'NEIL
In the Sun Lines
(Quarterstick)
***

In the rock movie Half-Cocked, Tara Jane O'Neil plays a sullen musician whose eyes we rarely see, because her hair is always hanging in her face. When her eyes are shown, however, they look heavy-lidded and dreamy, like she's living solemnly inside herself. It's in this same way that she sings, with her mouth barely open, letting her lyrics sing sleepily off her lips. On In the Sun Lines, her songs are shy and churn like poetry, all the instruments muted by the heavy rains of thought and self-awareness. There are dusky melodies in this record, but they're so loosely constructed, the album seems like a softly guided tour through the woods. Piano, violin, cello, and flute give a pretty depth to O'Neil's afterthought vocals and excellent guitar and banjo, and she doesn't obscure the vast amounts of warmth and inner delving it must have taken to make this sort of record. It's slippery, like elm. JS