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Lyrics Born
Bad Dreams EP
Quannum Projects

Lyrics Born released his hand-numbered Bad Dreams EP during an Australian tour as a tasty limited edition for his growing fan base. The EP’s seven tracks emphasize the MC’s enormous accessibility while underscoring his underground roots. It’s this dichotomy that makes him so appealing: as a founding member of the legendary abstract hip-hop group Latyrx, as well as the Solesides label (which has since merged with DJ Shadow’s respected Quannum Projects), Lyrics Born has heaps of underground hip-hop street cred. At the same time, his solo material has an undeniable pop vibe that sounds just as appropriate on MTV as it does blaring from a cheap boom-box.

The rare one-two punch works. Featuring a plethora of hot, just-above-ground talent, Bad Dreams runs the gamut from traditional hip-hop to crooning R&B. Dan the Automator remixes “I’m Just Raw,” “Callin’ Out Remix” features E-40 and Casual and “Stop Complaining” displays the groovy jazz-influenced trip-hop of the mighty Morcheeba. For positive, upbeat, groovy music perfect for that house party you’ve been meaning to throw, this rare EP from a still-rising star is the answer. (Adam Fangsrud)

Lyrics Born plays The Other Side Friday, March 24, at 10 PM. Shovel opens. $15, or $13 in advance at Ear Candy and Rockin Rudy’s.

The Black Swans
Sex Brain
Understanding Land

The Black Swans’ EP Sex Brain is, as the title implies, about sex. It’s about the kind of sex that happens not on the Hollywood screen or on Cosmo’s glossy pages, but the kind that is too common for fetishists and so intimate it’s uncomfortable, and funny, like when someone gets caught picking their nose or farting in class.

Jerry DiCacca’s vocals support the voyeuristic vibe—there’s a folksy solitude to them (despite a six-musician backup), and an improvisational tone that sounds like an impassioned drunkard singing to an empty room at closing time. That’s not to say The Black Swans aren’t magnetic or talented, they certainly are. DiCacca’s ruminations on masturbation and the “dark plums” of his genitalia may seem like a case of too much information, but his guitar-picking, laced with Horace Roscoe’s soft saxophone and Noel Sayre’s sweet violin, offsets the blunt subject matter with angelic melodies.

Though slow, sometimes to the point of distraction, Sex Brain is a private portal to tunes demure and disturbing enough that you just can’t turn away. (Erika Fredrickson)

The Black Swans play Higgins Alley Upstairs Saturday, March 25, at 9 PM. Pillar Saints, Jessica Kilroy and Travis Sehorn open. $5.

Rhett Miller
The Believer
Verve Forecast

It’s not a long road from Rhett Miller’s better-known role as frontman of the cow-pop Old 97’s (currently on hiatus) to his current gig as a slicked-up solo rocker, but the traveling sure does seem to change things. The Old 97’s started as Dallas bar rockers who sang nifty hooks about love and loss—songs that felt dusty, scuffed and ragged, like the catchy twang of 1995’s “Big Brown Eyes.” Miller keeps to similar source material on his second solo album, The Believer—including rehashes of a few B-sides from the ol’ band itself—but these tracks have been spit-shined and prettified in a way that makes you think Miller’s looking to leave something behind.

The title track raises melancholy memories of Elliott Smith; “My Valentine” is a would-be grinder refashioned as power-pop; and, in maybe the best example, “Question,” the popular stripped-down acoustic ditty from the band’s 2001 release, Satellite Rides, has been revamped for the album’s closer with echoed vocals and orchestral overtones. It’s the perfect ending for The Believer: evidence of Miller’s roots, but so thick with glitz—and piano and strings—that you hardly recognize it. (Skylar Browning)

Drop the Lime
Shot Shot Hearts
Tigerbeat6 Records

Luca Venezia spent his youth partying it up at raves all over New York City, New Jersey, Brooklyn and surrounding environs, and his music as Drop the Lime makes it readily apparent that the drugs really took hold. After gaining a solid foothold in the breakcore scene and mangling that sound into the hyperfast, insanely complex noise that graced his debut This Means Forever, it almost seemed like any subsequent recordings would be the musical equivalent of beating a dead horse. Thankfully, Shot Shot Hearts stretches his sound into totally unexpected terrain.

Although the disc begins with Drop the Lime’s typical breakbeat brutality and vocoded screaming, it progresses further and further into a bizarre, sludgy hybrid of soul music and hardcore dubstep. In an equally surprising twist, this EP also showcases Venzia’s vocals—whereas little more than screams passed through his gleaming gold teeth (no joke) on previous efforts, Shot Shot Hearts shows he can actually belt out serious, lady-wooing crooning. In the context of his unusual musical arrangements, this creates a strangely appealing whole, making Shot Shot Hearts something like post-apocalyptic make-out music for irradiated mutants. (Adam Fangsrud)

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