WuBlock.jpgWU BLOCK: Wu Block

eOne Music, 56 minutes

Rating: 3.5/5

Wu Block is Clan MVP Ghostface Killah and D-Block (formerly The LOX) rapper Sheek Louch. Their first collaborative album benefits from a lack of immediate context; soundtrack to Rza’s movie The Man with the Iron Fists aside it’s been a relatively quiet year for Wu projects. No solo albums, little news of an official reunion.

So while most of Wu Block feels overly familiar, a yearly return to this territory isn’t such a bad trip. Hearing Method Man’s pop flow play off Ghost’s density (“Pull tha Cars Out,” “Stella”) is something I always look forward to. A requisite update on how New York is doing (“Drivin’ Round” with Erykah Baduh) haunts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Ghost’s storytelling and Sheek’s sly wordplay carry mostly hookless tracks. Beats, by EPMD’s Erick Sermon (“Do It Like Us”) Termanology (“Drivin’ Round) and others are effective, if largely anonymous. Curiously absent is the pre-release single “Union Square,” which could have lightened up the menacing mood these guys specialize in.

TimHeckerCover.jpgTIM HECKER & DANIEL LOPATIN: Instrumental Tourist
Software, 55 minutes
Rating: 4/5

Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin (a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never) are two relatively big names in experimental music, but aside from a lack of singing their musical commonality isn’t immediately apparent. Lopatin is something like a classical composer, his work often beautiful and varied. Hecker’s stuff is more single-minded - distorted, imposing waves of sound.

One thing they do share is a lack of appeasement. You either get what they’re doing completely or not at all. If you’re not a tourist to nonverbal composition, as it were, you may find their first collaborative album a yearly highlight for outré music. Largely improvised, its appeal comes from their interplay; I’d doubt any track is largely the work of one of these two artists, and some - “Grey Geisha,” “Whole Earth Tascam” - move between their styles almost invisibly.

It’s sometimes too obvious who’s done what on Instrumental Tourist, but while Hecker and Lopatin don’t push each other into new territory their work is exceptional, as always.

el_perrocover.jpgEL PERRO DEL MAR: Pale Fire

Memphis Industries, 42 minutes

Rating: 3/5

The music of Swedish songwriter Sarah Assbring / El Perro del Mar is an interesting example of how even the most unabrasive pop music can be hard to listen to. If you’re not in a contemplative mood or coming down from a stimulant her songs have an overly translucent quality; softly-spoken, barely-there, emotionally remote. They don’t crave attention.

But there is a time and a place for that kind of thing, and when you find it Assbring’s music becomes wholly valuable. There’s a greater focus on rhythm in Pale Fire than previous El Perro albums but it seems like an afterthought; “Home is to Feel Like That” has the texture of a Robyn track but would feel cold and insufficient on an actual dance floor. “I Carry the Fire” and “To the Beat of a Dying World” resemble early ‘90s house hits, but with a ghostly air that undercuts their warmth.

Again, you’ve gotta be in the mood for this. If you are Pale Fire easily rivals Assbring’s 2006 self-titled El Perro del Mar debut in the way it adds a cool level of darkness to a pop formula. If you’re not, you’ll wonder why she keeps strong tunes at such a distance.

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