50 CENT
The Massacre
(Aftermath)
**

"Banks' shit sells/Buck's shit sells/Game's shit sells/I'm rich as hell." Indeed, 50 is undeniably a canny businessman with an ear for talent (even if Lloyd Banks' and the Game's LP's were boring, overproduced examples of the ever-popular thug-rap-by-the-numbers genus IMHO)--and goddammit, he's paid. Maybe that's why the bone-deep hunger of Get Rich or Die Tryin is glaringly absent from The Massacre--or maybe it's because Mr. Candy Shop had to help Dre and Interscope with their over-hyped Wunderkind's project (i.e. giving up some of his best ideas, beats, and hooks) as he alleged on the radio when summarily kicking Game outta G-Unit… which smacks of Hilary Duff/Lindsay Lohan-style teen diva drama anyway. Whatever the case, there really isn't an excuse for the tired bullshit that is this album. This is a far cry from the kid that showed so much fuckin' promise on Power of the Dollar, only to guerrilla his way to 11 million in sales. LARRY MIZELL JR.

CONSAFOS
Tilting at Windmills
(Greyday Productions)
***

Tilting at Windmills feels like soundtrack music. Surf guitars t-waaang out. Violins and drums waltz through spooky Black Heart Procession gypsy jams perfect for Johnny Depp plotting pirate battles in the belly of a Spanish galleon. But it's the post-Bright Eyes version, which feels less Hollywood. Bandleader Stefanie Drootin has played on tons of Bright Eyes and Good Life tours, and her band is made up of peeps from minor-league Saddle Creekers MayDay and Lullaby for the Working Class. The record works best when it goes dark: rangy country fiddle sawing out mournful and bare; acoustic guitar chord progressions that are pure Midwest wintertime ache. ADAM GNADE

THE FREE DESIGN
Sing for Very Important People
One by One
There Is a Song
(Light in the Attic)
***

Imagine what the polar opposite of grindcore and death metal sounds like. That's the Free Design. Comprising the Bible-readin' Dedrick siblings and session hands, the Free Design began recorded life in 1967, launching sonic hot-air balloons that enchanted like era radio fixtures the Association, but that hit the ear (and the charts) with less impact. Listening to the group's final three albums from 1970-72, you gather that the Free Design are the nicest people ever to enter a studio. It should be a recipe for sickeningly sweet schlock, but no. These discs abound with meticulously crafted sunshine pop and faint shadows of harmonic/melodic weirdness beneath the glistening vanilla façade. Too pure for this world… DAVE SEGAL

**** Cosmo Kramer
*** Larry Dallas
** Steve Urkel
* Kimmy Gibbler