Once a member of Underworld, Emerson left to make his mark as a DJ, and his departure posed the question of how Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, the remaining duo in the band, would manage without him. The answer is “very nicely, thank you.”
Their new disc reaches across the musical spectrum, from banging dance-floor tunes to country-blues and a soft guitar meditation. Such reach is rare for dance acts, and is part of why “A Hundred Days Off” is so successful.
Underworld creates vibrant music, particularly on the single “Two Months Off,” with keyboard chords laid over a percussive rhythm track, and vocals deep in the mix. But on other tracks it adds funky grooves, flashes of techno, and even elements of psychedelia.
Meanwhile, Emerson has teamed up with Deluxe for a two-CD dance compilation of energetic and tech-style house. They mix club and chart hits (Deluxe's own “It Just Won't Do” and Layo & Buchwacka!'s massive “Love Story”) with lesser-known tracks, and percussive Latin-tinged workouts with other, more relaxed and ambient cuts. The discs are expertly mixed.
Clearly, going their separate ways hasn't hurt either Underworld or Emerson.
- RICHARD PATON
This intriguing college rock soundtrack features up-and-coming bands performing a dozen tracks, most of which came out this year, with the oldest released in 1997. The disc starts with new Australian band Pacifier and waits until the end to crank up the pace with a rollicking finale from Ash. The overall tone in between can be a little dark and edgy at times, but it's not especially over the top for a thriller.
- TOM HENRY
Disturbed is back in the metal spotlight with nearly a full hour of mosh pit-crunching guitar rock. On headbanging tracks such as “Intoxication” and “Liberate” the foursome from Chicago opens with heavy guitar riffs laced with lyrics that explore a skeptical view of religion. Missing are the guttural gruntings that are a trademark of singer David Draimam and Disturbed's sound. He steps up his crooning on this album, and it's a welcome progression to rock fans with an ear for harmony.
- JAKE JONES
It was only a matter of time before someone revisited the 1970s experiments in fusion-jazz made popular by Weather Report and Miles Davis, among others. Here, the visitors are saxophonist Joshua Redman, drummer Brian Blade, and keyboard wizard Sam Yahel.“Elastic” stretches from soul/funk to swing and is the best attempt in years to meld the sonic qualities of acoustic and electronic music. The melodies are strong, and the improvisations are creative and intelligent.
- LARRY ROBERTS
Foster fulfills the promise of his earliest success with solid story-telling and better melodies than we've heard from him in a long time. The instrumental work is top-notch and nonintrusive on Foster's pensive lyrics. The music remains country, but there is an infusion of contemporary folk, with even a cello making an appearance. The songs shift without jarring from uptempo honky-tonkers to smoother, reflective ballads.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
Old 97's leader Rhett Miller sheds the alternative country stylings of his band, fashioning an impressive set of hard-driving pop songs. The disc kicks off at a full sprint with the first four songs, each a tightly wound rocker or ballad with smart vocals, prominent hooks, and well-honed lyrics. Things slow down as the disc wears on, but this is a solid - sometimes spectacular - release from an artist who has proved he can work without the safety net of his band.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
The four-man rap crew fails to fulfill the potential that the title track suggests. Though the group delivers in terms of lyrics and flow, it seems to be terribly matched with the style of music. The problem is that the disc is comprised of R&B tracks. That may be by design, to create a different sound, but it doesn't work. The tracks have a muted bottom end, and the music and vocal arrangements are melodic. It's too smooth and pretty, and simply not hip-hop.
- STEWART WALKER