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Tami Hart
What Passed Between Us (Mr. Lady)

In between No Light in August, Tami Hart's first album, which got listened to and laid aside a little too quickly, and What Passed Between Us, her latest, I saw Hart play in a half-empty club populated by sad, adoring fans. The next day No Light went into heavy, heavyhearted rotation. Listening to her perform, inches away, I thought about the chances she was taking, pushing all sorts of frustration, rage, sorrow, desire – all the things that look unhealthy when felt too deeply – on the outside world, where most people keep it close, deep under the skin.

It can't be easy, but then, Hart sounds like she was born to learn about the hard life and to live through it again in her music. She was 18 when she made No Light and three years older when she recorded these 13 unlucky, lovely songs – confessions, accusations, and love letters to somebody who never listens anyway. She doesn't sound quite as naked as she did that night in the club, alone with her guitar; here she gets backup at various points from the Gossip's Beth Ditto, Sarah Dougher, and STS from the Haggard. She still sounds broken up, though; you can hear everything inside.

The first track, "Complication," drags you in heavily in waves of anger. On "From Chapel Hill" the guitar line and vocals are lighter and prettier, but she's singing about disconnection and cruelty. While even good albums sometimes drain out before they're over, the last few songs on What Passed Between Us are some of the best. "Virginia's Ghost" sounds like the things you say to a girl after she's gone, and on "Old Flame" there's a long, drawn-out observation so gorgeous and painful it takes over the song: "Here we are, running over the same train." In a fight, a heated battle, a tired late-night telephone quarrel where all the words have been heard before, this is the line that stops you cold, and all she's saying is that we've said it all before. (Lynn Rapoport)

The Herbaliser
Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ninja Tune)

Few experiences in life are more tedious than being trapped in an impromptu jam session in which stoned musicians bang out the same two riffs until the stash is gone and the groupies pass out. One wonders, just how far will they go with the same beat and three chords?

Unfortunately, the new Herbaliser reminds me of the unending, bong-ripped jam session. Lauded as one of the U.K.'s most innovative hip hop-funk-jazz fusion acts, frontmen Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba lay a mostly flat selection of hip-hop tracks in between kitschy film score-style instrumentals, which happen to go on forever, without much innovation. The extraordinarily long, vaguely theatrical instrumentals aspire to Superfly status, but you'd be better off buying the real Curtis Mayfield instead.

The album starts off kind of cool with the title track, which features Seaming To's gorgeous, expertly executed vocals. But judging from the album's intro and title, which is borrowed from Ray Bradbury's 1962 dark fantasy novel, one might expect the rest of the album to maintain the demonic, futuristic theme. Nope. The songs are too perky and goofy to live up to the name. Overplayed cartoon samples and frivolous, retro sound bites are the backdrop to cuts such as "Verbal Animé," incongruously well MCed by Dilated People's Iriscence. Unfortunately, no matter how stellar the MC work may be, the hip-hop production is shallowly conceived, almost weightless. There are no nasty bass lines, and the beats are pedestrian and feathery – as if they were created as an afterthought.

The group's name suggests that they are a bunch of friendly stoners, but after listening to this album far too many times, I realized that they're not smoking the right stuff. (Amanda Nowinski)

Olneyville Sound System
What Is True What Is False (Load)

The long-awaited What Is True was recorded in 1999. Since then singer John Von Ryan retired, and crazy sax player Ragu stepped in. Drummer Adam Autry plays with Pixeltan on the side and bassist Dan St. Jacques divides his time between OSS and Vincebus Eruptum. Von Ryan and St. Jacques played together in the original lineup of Thee Hydrogen Terrors, and Von Ryan put out a solo record in 1997. Around that time – which was when St. Jacques set himself on fire at a Landed show – some different people altogether started Forcefield, (now in the Whitney Biennial) and Matt Brinkman started Mr. Brinkman, Brinkmangled, Mystery Brinkman and Mindflayer, all while Pete Bulb was in Japan witnessing the King Brothers' hostile takeover of rock music, 764-Hero were recording Bridges to Babylon, and the kids were listening to grindcore kings Dropdead. Men's Recovery Project was in the mix, Lightning Bolt was the first prog-funk spaz band since, well, ever, and OSS recorded their first, We're All in This Together, with Roma Karas blowing harmonica and Von Ryan choking out vocals. That should bring us full circle.

For those of us who care, it's comforting to know that the reverberations caused by that legendary scene in Providence, R.I., are still being felt – the proof's on What Is True as it hands down one aural beating after another. The bass and drums chase each other around in skull-tattooing patterns, and Von Ryan forces barely human noises from his throat – covering such subjects as non-English-speaking radio stations ("What are they saying? What are they saying?") and hookers ("Watch out for the girls on the street"). The paranoid lyrics are so simple they're beautiful. The repetition is downright stubborn and of such numbing intensity that Brainbombs fans should take note. Just make sure you listen to the record so loud it makes you cry. (Mike McGuirk)

Animal Magic (Ninja Tune/Tru Thoughts)

Thankfully, I hadn't read anything about this one before I took a listen. This album was originally released only in the U.K., and fellow hacks were quick to label it a "chill-out masterpiece," a phrase guaranteed to send the disc straight to the "sell at Amoeba" bin. Some misled simpletons believe ample quantities of mood-altering substances are necessary to appreciate electronic music, and the dread chill-out genre is one where I am in complete agreement – although I'd insist upon general anesthesia so I could just get on with it and fall asleep. Animal Magic definitely isn't dance-floor fodder – this debut full-length from Bonobo (Simon Green) is both relaxed and relaxing. It's pretty, even beautiful in places, with delicate washes of precise instrumentation, many played by Mr. Green himself (on actual instruments).

One gauge of the album's success would be the track "Terrapin" and its tasteful use of a sitar, which, with all respect due to recently retired Ravi Shankar, is an instrument capable of inflicting aural discomfort upon even the most worldly listener. Yet "Terrapin" keeps it in check, harnessing the sitar's evil power to the yoke of a subtly funky song that will at least get your toes wiggling as you sink into your sofa or recliner or beanbag of choice. Some of the pieces, such as the anodyne "Intro," fade into the background rather easily; many – such as the sublime "silver" – display a somewhat passive-aggressive nature, at first floating by easily only to return with a vengeance upon repeated listens.

As the tunes turned familiar, the carefully considered programming and balance of the entire album became more apparent, the subtle tonal differences more rewarding. Like a luxurious coat of moss, with each silken hair a study in variation, it grew on me. Ahhhh ... just don't call it chill-out. (Peter Nicholson)