Addis Acoustic Project
Much in the spirit of Cuba’s Buena Vista Social Club, this six-piece ensemble from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa breathes new life into the music of a bygone era: the pre-electronic sounds popular during the twilight of Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign in the 1950s and ’60s. Warm, subdued and nostalgic, each of the 15 tracks is built on an uncluttered bed of rhythms furnished by traditional percussion and double bass. Jazz- and folk-inflected arrangements leave ample room for agile but unhurried exchanges between the band’s leader, guitarist Girum Mezmur, and its mandolin, accordion and clarinet players.
European, Middle Eastern and Central African themes percolate throughout the album. A plea for national harmony, “Selam Yihoun Lehoulachin,” showcases mandolinist Ayele Mamo, who appeared on the original hit version in the 1960s, and has something of an Anglo-Celtic lilt. “Ambassel,” featuring mandolin and accordion, named for both a musical mode and a well-known African folk song, blends Balkan and Latin elements. “Yene Hassab” is an Armenian love song; a pair of tracks originated in Sudan, Ethiopia’s neighbor. The warm, breezy melody of “Fikir Ayarejim” is supplied by its composer, Sudanese oud player Ahmed Elmak.
A few numbers, such as the stirring party anthem “Alemoush Mambo,” feature vocals. The focus here, however, is on the spirited interplay among the band’s instrumentalists, and maybe nowhere so much as on “Yigermal,” an Ethiopian folk song galvanized by a gamboling pas de deux written for clarinet and mandolin.
— Bill Friskics-Warren
Recommended tracks: “Selam Yihoun Lehoulachin,” “Fikir Ayarejim,” “Yigermal”
Gucci Mane & Waka Flocka Flame
Just how rich are Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame? Richer than you, unless you, too, are so flush with cash that you’re burping hundred-dollar bills, as the rappers claim to be on “15th and the 1st,” one of the best tracks on their new joint offering, “Ferrari Boyz.”
In these deflated times, even the most boastful rapper might think twice about such an unappetizing claim, but then again, few rappers possess Mane and Waka’s very specific combination of idiocy, outrageousness and nerve.
A full-length collaboration between the two was probably inevitable. Mane is the super-slick, oft-arrested Southern rapper whose tattoo of an ice cream cone on his cheek earned him rap’s all-time-least-threatening moniker, “Dessert Face.” Waka, the protege with whom he has often feuded, is growly, scrappy and hit-prone (“O Let’s Do It,” “Hard in Da Paint”). He is not known for his rapping skills.
Their disparate styles gel nicely on “Boyz,” which is lunkheaded and overstuffed, massively entertaining and incredibly clunky. Waka is the more manic performer, capable of elbowing his way through most of a song before the more deliberate Mane can even get to his feet. Waka hollers. Mane . . . oozes.
Certified bangers such as “Break Her” and “Pacman” succeed partly because they highlight the disparities between their styles, although as great as “Boyz” can be, it’s probably doomed. The other highly anticipated superstar rap collaboration of 2011, the horizon-obliterating “Watch the Throne,” dropped the day before its release.
— Allison Stewart
Recommended tracks: “Break Her,” “15th and 1st”
Florida noisemakers Trivium aren’t afraid to make albums that are BIG: big in scale, big in melody and crushingly, punishingly big in riffage. After years of genre-hopping that included scenic stopovers in prog and emo metal, they’ve settled on super-shiny, commercial-minded, near-traditional metal for their latest release, “In Waves.”
“In Waves” suggests a combination of the band’s best disc, its 2005 breakthrough, “Ascendancy,” and “. . . And Justice for All”-era Metallica. Trivium clearly has a healthy interest in mainstream success: Nobody sounds this much like one of the world’s most successful metal bands by accident — and “In Waves” is, in its growly, pummeling, death- and misery-obsessed way, as accessible a record as they’ve ever made.
Much of “In Waves” consists of intensely melodic metalcore that’s carefully structured and adeptly played, with Trivium’s usual, split-the-difference mix of screamed verses and crooned choruses. Lyrically, it’s the usual Metal 101 philosophizing about “the colossal void,” cancerous relationships and the sweet release of death. (“I know that death approaches fast,” lead singer Matt Heafy sums things up on the propulsive title track. “What’s the purpose if this life won’t last?”)
The band throws in a few paint-strippers like “Dust Dismantled,” but Trivium is at its core shamelessly likable and as polite as Canadians (the title of one of its best songs, 2008’s “Kirisute Gomen,” famously translates to “Pardon me while I cut your head off”). They couldn’t be scary if they tried.
— Allison Stewart
Recommended tracks: “Built to Fall,” “Black”