Kanye West
Late Registration

Like a drop of rain in a vast ocean of critical praise, the Mercury toes the party line on the near universal acclaim that meets Kanye's sophomore record. But while everyone else is clucking about his ghostwriters or how bummed they are that their favorite humble, non-threatening black man now inflates his chest in awkward arrogance, I'd rather we looked past the PR angling to the product itself.

Its hits less obvious and more demanding, Late Registration is a considerably darker, more complicated affair than The College Dropout—with West wearing his anger and conflicted politics closer to the surface. With the help of forward thinking adult-contempo producer Jon Brion, Late Registration maintains West's FM dominating production standard, augmenting it with subtle flourishes that serve to effectively ornament his developing conviction and braggadocio.

USA Is a Monster
(Load Records)

The novel-length sequel to their previous Load novella Tashayana Compost, USA Is a Monster return with their double album Wohaw—another thoughtful, hardcore hippie explosion tempered with Casio-tribal pop breakdowns and poli-enviro-conscious chants. For the uninitiated: I know that probably sounds very terrifying, but imagine if the neo-folk movement didn't so self-consciously ignore the last 35 years of musical development—embracing the political and sonic powers of the underground art punk community instead of forgoing them. With five songs cresting over the seven-minute mark, Wohaw's sheer epic-ness is a little less immediately digestible than Tashayana, but on the whole, certainly more developed.

Xiu Xiu/Devendra Banhart
The Body Breaks b/w Support Our Troops Oh! 7"

Recorded in 2003 following their solo tour with one another, the then mutually un-gianormous Devendra Banhart and Jamie Stewart tackle inverted versions of one another's polar sonic styles. Xiu Xiu hugs the A-side with a predictably, um, Xiu Xiu-y take on one of Banhart's most downright chipper compositions in "The Body Breaks." The relatively subdued track is totally worth seeking out, if only for the novelty of frontman Stewart moaning the unlikely refrain of "and the sun will rise." Banhart's B-side, on the other hand, is a surprisingly light doo-wop reworking of Xiu Xiu's least likely cover song—the bleak, spoken word, anti-military rant "Support Our Troops Oh!". Banhart's version sounds perhaps a little too tongue-in-cheek to do the subject matter justice, but it's an interesting diversion none-the-less.