The view from this tower LP
(Dischord Records)

Musicians that possess such a high level of skill with their instruments, like those of Faraquet, can be easily distracted. The mystical magic that their bodies execute on guitar and drums can cause them to lose sight of writing a good song. This is not the case with Faraquet. King Crimson, Bastro, Firehose/Minutemen, and Kerosene 454 come to mind as companion music, but it's hard to fit this DC trio into any category except for their strangely appropriate fit onto a more recent Dischord line-up. Their extremely tight and beautiful intensity will definitely fetch far more acclaim than just the drool of music school grads. The novelty of skill has not kept Faraquet from making a damn good album. JOE FAUSTIN KELLY


On par with the sprawling funk masterpieces Sign O' The Times and Reality Of My Surroundings, Stankonia may be that rarest of commodities--a hip hop album whose 60-plus minute length is actually warranted. That's because, like Prince and Fishbone before them, Outkast has a lot of worthwhile things to say. What really makes this one of the best albums of the year is the fact that Big Boi and Dre are trying to reach beyond their capabilities. This is particularly obvious on "B.O.B," driven by an intense drum'n'bass rhythm and no fewer than three melodies. Then there's "Gasoline Dreams," where the start-a-revolution chorus comes off as sincere rather than just naive posturing. The fact that the album only falters twice--the insipid misogyny of "We Luv Deez Hoez," and (natch) the heavy reliance on skits to serve as transitions--is a damn good indicator of the quality of work here. Stankonia is what happens when two talented artists attempt not just to make a great record, but change their genre altogether. MURRAY CIZON

Bolsa de Agua
(Sugar Hill Records)

The strangely brewed alt-country of The Gourds gets better every year. Austin's pride have always played more like Bill Monroe than Uncle Tupelo and these 15 tunes keep those spirits proud. The vocals are delivered with a slurring, growling, reedy abandon that are matched by the loose mix of fiddles, ukes, accordions, guitars, and wood percussion. Too authentic and bluegrass to be "No Depression," and too down and dirty for Nashville, they seem to inhabit their own unpretentious island. The hodgepodge of sounds might be the only thing going against this CD, as it tends to sound like a collection of songs and doesn't congeal as an "album." But the doomy country of "Jesus Christ," the rabble-rousing "Layin Around the House," and the blackened boogie of "High Highs & Low Lows" are three of the best songs I've heard this century. KEVIN SAMPSELL