Much like Outkast, Blackalicious are truly a study in the evolution of hiphop artistry. From Melodica's jazzy stylings to Nia's warm intimacy to the searing genius of Blazing Arrow and onward, you can trace a certain trajectory best summed up by the title of Gift of Gab's solo offering, 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up. This is that group, rare within hiphop's confines, that shuns conventionality at every turn, yet never comes up with something only suited for a few. They're left of center, but so immediately accessible, they make one wonder how the center got so far moved to the right in the first place.
Aptly titled The Craft, Gift and Chief Xcel's fifth album is a testament to their skill—at the top of their game, they're no longer hung up on lung-busting, head-cracking shows of virtuosity. By simply making good music they demonstrate their mastery of the art form. Gift's delivery alone is enough to peel ya back (as on the jittery "Rhythm Sticks"), let alone his actual lyrics ("Ripple thru skin and thru tissue fix you elixirs that might lift your peripheral vision"). Xcel's beats are leaner this time around, but he's subtly mashing swampy funk bass, ominous keys, and spacey rock into pure gravy. This may be their most radio-ready LP, but nonetheless it doesn't stray one bit from their themes of self-knowledge and redemption. The Craft creeps, wails, and exalts with its own unique tang; this is food for thought, you do the dishes. LARRY MIZELL JR.
Blackalicious perform Sat Oct 1 at Berbati's Pan, 10 SW 3rd, 9:30 pm, $20.
Cave Days and Moments/Thanksgiving
(Marriage Records/P.W. Elverum & Sun)
"Thanksgiving music" is a world of dead deer, vultures, thieves, grave robbers, and locked doors—but it's not without its comets, waterfalls, existential candles, and holy dawns. It's a world of earnest vocals, plastic guitar strings, finger percussion, harrowing electronic fuzz, and soft piano chords. It's a hypnotic place, at once isolating and expansive.
Just over a month ago, Portland's Marriage Records released Cave Days and Moments, the fifth full-length album from Thanksgiving (AKA Adrian Orange). And as if that weren't enough, the multifarious local label (in corroboration with Phil Elverum's P.W. Elverum & Sun label) has just released Thanksgiving: a self-titled TRIPLE LP containing some of the best music of Orange's prolific—albeit brief—career (he's only 20).
For the uninitiated, Cave Days is a little more inviting—and probably his most sonically accomplished album to date. Everything works: the airy litany of "(Flickering) Candles," the haunting mini-epic "Old Graveyard," and the spangly dirty majesty of "We'll Die." Thanksgiving—housed in a triple-gatefold jacket and pressed on red, white, and blue vinyl—is a bit more knotty, idiosyncratic, full of huge ambitions, and conceptual strategies (e.g., a 12-minute song in which a choir of atonal voices Zens the phrase "I am yours" over and over). Each of the three records is titled (like a chapter I suppose)—"Fuck the World," "I Am Yours," and "Welcome Home, Human" respectively—and while I'm not sure about the cohesiveness of the motifs, it's hard to fault a concept album for not entirely living up to its hyperbolic bluster. One thing is sure though: If you haven't heard of Adrian Orange, you will. And by then these albums will be collector's items, and you'll be kicking your own ass for not listening to me when I suggested you go buy them. DEAN GORMAN
Loose in the Air
On paper, the Double's latest release, Loose in the Air, could have been trouble. Newly signed to Matador, the foursome (a doubling of the original guitar-and-drums duo) have in the past released a dark, multi-layered chaos of distorted Doors-like organ, weird bits of guitar shrapnel, and a rumbling, halting bass. Bands that drone and blurp like this can slip into noise-band obscurity, or worse, pull back their own curtain to reveal little more than weirded-up Britney pop. But putting aside the matter of their glaring talent, the Double are different. Jeff McLeod's phenomenal, pounding drums organize the chaos into something purely rocking, and frontman David Greenhill's arresting vocals give the rock a beautiful, eerie emotional core.
Loose in the Air summons something gorgeous and deliberate from its own riot. Over the course of these songs, things fall apart, all loose in the air, but then reassemble expertly—and suddenly there's Greenhill dying a little with an oddly touching breathiness, singing, "We're on our way, we're on our way." CHRIS COLIN
The Double perform Fri Sept 30 at Berbati's Pan, 10 SW 3rd, 9:30 pm, $13-15.
Escape from Dragon House
(M80/Birdman Recording Group)
Despite nicking their moniker from a mosquito-borne ailment that causes intense headaches and muscle pains, this sextet isn't some sadistic industrial act decked out in off-the-rack latex fetish gear. Inspired by Cambodian pop of the '60s, which bears the heavy imprint of US garage and psychedelic rock from the same era, these Los Angeles cult favorites roll out catchy ditties featuring serpentine saxophone melodies, generous lashings of Farfisa organ, and drums that will leave you with a severe case of funky butt. So what sets the group apart from catchy Motor City retro-rockers like the Come Ons, and a million other fans of the Nuggets box set? Singer Chhom Nimol, a bona fide Cambodian pop veteran, who warbles and trills in Khmer, elevating this already formidable combo to an entirely different plateau of excellence. Escape from Dragon House is one instance where being left feeling dislocated and delirious by exposure to Fever is a wonderful thing indeed. KURT B. REIGHLEY
Dengue Fever perform Sun Oct 2 at Dante's, 1 SW 3rd, 9 pm, $6.