Sound advice 

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The Octopus Project


Peek-a-Boo Records

Buy if you like: Flaming Lips, Stereolab

Austin's Octopus Project earned media raves for a mind-boggling multimedia performance of this material at SXSW, but these audio-only renditions still manage to evoke a cinematic experience. Tracks begin with simple, repetitive melodies upon which the multi-instrumentalist Octopi build. And build. And build. Melodic movement takes a back seat to multiplying lattices of texture and sound, and ethereal whimsy is anchored by the satisfying punch of synthetic and organic interplay. It's the aural equivalent of a month of sunny days, on time lapse, with large parades occurring each day. Tracks like "Korakrit" go a bit mushy before their expiration date, but the technique connects with the toothsome synths, churning drums and buildup/breakdown/buildup of "A Phantasy" and "Circling." Repeated visits to the Hexadecagon may require some patience, but it's a place that everybody should see at least once. — Nate Warren

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Kid Rock

Born Free


Buy if you like: Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen

Kid Rock has always deserved more respect than he gets from critics, but this time, he's outdone himself. Maybe he's finally outgrown the swaggering pimp, rock 'n roll Jesus persona — or maybe he's just laying it down for now. Whatever. With producer Rick Rubin and friends Sheryl Crow, Martina McBride and T.I. (the latter two on the showstopper, "Care," on which T.I. does the album's only rap), as well as Zac Brown, keyboardist Benmont Tench, drummer Chad Smith and even his hero, Bob Seger, he's delivered a batch of thoughtful tunes that still rock in all the right places. Owing much to Seger and John Mellencamp, he addresses the world's woes, feels mortality and regret ("When It Rains"), and actually sings well. Fist-pumping party songs are not completely forsaken, but it's the arm-waving ballads and mid-tempo rockers like "Purple Sky" that are downright impressive — and sure to reach every row in the arena. — Lynne Margolis

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Star Trak

Buy if you like: Santigold, Beck

N.E.R.D main man Pharrell Williams has been around long enough now to be considered an elder statesman of hip-hop. Long enough to learn that songs can't live by catch phrase choruses and simple hooks alone. Williams also remains a first-rate producer who offers up new sonic tricks on Nothing, an album that's musically multi-dimensional, melodically rock-solid, and generally deeper than a series of boasts about parties, women or his latest ride. On the swirling ballad "I've Seen the Light/Inside of Clouds," he evokes a bit of classic Philly soul. "It's In the Air" (included on the deluxe album) brings to mind Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, while "Help Me" has an edgy urgency generated by repeated guitar and bass lines, taut rhythms and intermittent bursts of horns and synthesizers. Nothing proves Williams and his N.E.R.D-mates, with four albums to their name, are still as smart and soulful as ever. — Alan Sculley


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