"THE DEANDRE WAY," Soulja Boy (ColliPark/Interscope)
Soulja Boy goes through a few growing pains on "The DeAndre Way," but this should hurt more.
The Chicago-born, Atlanta-raised rapper dumbed down rap to its lowest common denominator three years ago when he topped the charts with "Crank That (Soulja Boy)," which was little more than an over-branded catchphrase. There was something both primal and relentlessly irritating about the minimalist song, though at the time it was easy enough to accept the 17-year-old Internet sensation as an amusing fluke.
Now 20, he should be showing more signs of maturity than he does on the new "The DeAndre Way," his third album.
DeAndre Cortez Way presumably indicates he's getting serious by using his given name in the title, and his producers manage to prop him up on just a few tracks. There's a compelling performance-art feel to "Fly," which evokes a dark mood with a combination of talking, rapping and singing (sometimes dubbed into overlapping streams). "Blowing Me Kisses" is a serviceable foray into conventional R&B, and guest singer Ester Dean adds poignancy to "Grammy," on which Soulja Boy muses, "The world should hear my story." But how much story does he have? He was an overnight sensation when he was underage, and he's had a privileged life since then.
Unfortunately, Soulja Boy mostly sticks to his old tricks here: off-kilter enunciations and pronunciations, addled pace, inane lyrics, unstructured arrangements and numbing refrains. The infection works occasionally, as with his escalating whine on "Touchdown," but the release is more taxing than memorable.
The guy can still pull it together, but "The DeAndre Way" isn't the best way.
Rating (five possible): 2-1/2
"TREE OF MYSTERY," Kabanjak (ESL)
Kabanjak's "Tree of Mystery" is groove-oriented, atmospheric noise that stitches together jazz, New Age, urban, prog rock and world music into an unhurried patchwork. The trouble is, it's only passively hypnotic, so listeners have to work on being lulled. It's not that Kabanjak, one half of the German DJ duo Ancient Astronauts, is lazy. He's merely indulging himself in a lumbering mix that's best suited as background music for low-stimulation activity.
Notwithstanding its chunky beats, "Tree of Mystery" is almost grounded in place, with lightly narcotic juices that help it glide through lush arrangements. Kabanjak is captain on this journey, playing guitars, bass and keyboards as well as flute and melodica -- with Ulf Stricker supplying the drums.
Only the hip-hop elements are jarring, with irreverent DJ scratches skittering about and an occasional vocalist intruding with the pretentiousness of an earnest, amateur beat poet.
At best, "Tree of Mystery" is cinematic, rotating from the music-box intonations of opener "Lullaby of Leaves" to the thundering effects of "Follow the Storm," to the ginger caresses of "Rubicon," to the Old World melody-meets-reggae lilt of "I Don't Want To Work Today."
That latter track's title captures the spirit of the entire release. And when guest vocalist Sitali engages in the mantra of "Don't Worry," you have to suppose the incomplete-feeling song was intended for those are already not worried rather than those who are prone to stress.
Still, though "Tree of Mystery" is alternately slow growing and dormant, it's perfectly fine for relaxation.
"YOU MAKE ME REAL," Brandt Brauer Frick (!K7)
Brandt Brauer Frick's "You Make Me Real" is for music nerds, by music nerds.
The premise is intriguing: What would techno sound like in an acoustic interpretation?
The answer: jazz.
At least that's the answer Daniel Brandt, Jan Brauer and Paul Frick concoct, which isn't surprising considering two of them played in a jazz band together (and for the record, the third studied classical composition). The press release that accompanies "You Make Me Real" touts the act's studied techniques: syncopation and polymetric layers and the like, and the manner in which they reference other composers.
Just because it's true doesn't mean it will be recognized or appreciated by the layman's ear. Though the release says, "Their goal is to create a sound aesthetic which adapts itself to a club as well as a concert hall," Brandt, Brauer and Frick shouldn't get their hopes up for being a nightclub sensation.
That said, "You Make Me Real" has more intense drive than standard jazz, fully employing the looping and layering techniques of techno. Percussion propels the pace, and the piano is practically reinvented.
The lively songs' intros often suggest great things to come ... yet they ultimately settle on merely entrancing their audience (if not aggravating them with tedious repetition in overlong arrangements). As a result, "You Make Me Real's" overall effect is kicky ambience, the kind of music suitable as an accompaniment for having cocktails or working on an artistic project.
Some of those who are fascinated by the construction, deconstruction and reinterpretation of music might