Reflection Eternal

The opening line of Talib Kweli's latest CD couldn't start any better. It's the voice of Nelson Mandela, declaring, "When I am in Africa chilling out, I listen to Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek. Reflection Eternal!" It's a perfect prediction of the rest of the CD, an earnest message that isn't condescending because it's totally entertaining and sophisticated. Talib Kweli is about bringing people together, and he's completely committed. All 20 of his songs speak to this point in rhymes so intense they almost trip over each other. Luckily, Talib's quick, quick tongue supports him all the way, and the result is inspirational, funny, and empowered: "We don't represent the streets, we represent the folks in 'em," spread by a contagiously inspirational MC. Never has the sound of a CD so well reflected its message. KATIA DUNN

(Self-Released EP)

The pensive meanderings on locals Laurel Canyon's five-song EP remind me of what would happen if atmospheric giants Yo La Tengo loaned their Vicadin prescription to Death Cab for Cutie. It's a light-headed, instrumental bender that leads you deep into their ravine as the last embers of sun diminish. Cold violin melodies and thumping bass drum combine sweetly and slowly build; simple guitar lines banter throughout as the group explores the space in between the notes. It's just the right amount of leisurely starts and this-sounds-too-good-to-let-end noodling, showing their equal parts patience and impatience. It is a little samey--a single, unwavering indie guitar tone helms all of the tracks--but a subtle direction keeps their heads just above life-threatening redundancy. This deceptively simple EP does what every good EP should--it makes you yearn for a full length. Unfortunately, that won't be until spring 2001. Sorry! RORY CARROLL

The Quiet VibrationLand
(Amazing Grease)

Oranger is trying desperately to sound like big rock butter on VibrationLand, but the end result is more like butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray. The warm, textured embrace of the piano and unassuming pop drums are genuinely enticing (though most of the beats might as well have been sampled from Abbey Road), and there are a few clever chord progressions, but it's impossible to focus on these things when it's all so painfully contrived. Ranging from boring psychedelia to annoyingly catchy bubblegum, the songs at times come close but never really strike upon anything meaty worth holding onto, and the more tolerable middle-ground numbers are still a little indulgent in their attempts to stay interesting. It's hard to dislike every bit of it, though--much like puppy dogs and giggly toddlers. HOWIE WYMAN