Kanye West, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (Def Jam)
On the fifth studio album by Kanye West, the music saunters on with the typically high level of production glossiness that has distinguished previous albums in his catalog, “The College Dropout” withstanding. Lyrically, the hip-hop artist and producer continues to explore the consequences of his ego, whether in personal relationships or within the larger context of his public persona. But though public controversies add contextual weight to his current suite of modernist music, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” simply encapsulates the best aspects of his previous four albums. Not to say that's a bad thing. These 13 songs are at times the stuff of near brilliance — connected by a narrative of a young man reveling in his own arrogance, but also questioning it as his personal Achilles' heel. Featuring co-production by the likes of Virginia native Bink, No ID and the RZA, Kanye steers the production throughout the entire album, which greatly benefits from clever sampling, cinematic flourishes and collaborations including Jay-Z, John Legend and Bon Iver. “Lost in the World” excels because of its lyrical expression of sincere vulnerability while “Monster” and “So Appalled” thrill with their all-star lineups of smarter emcees spitting clever verses. “Fantasy” is not a great Kanye album, but it's exceptionally good, making it a full step above the rest of the marketplace.
— Jerome Langston
[image-2]DVD: “Ten Thousand Points of Light” George King (Dust to Digital)
Anyone who's read Elvis Presley's letter to President Nixon asking for federal powers to secretly fight the hippies and Black Panthers knows the paranoid mess the King became in his twilight years. It almost follows that the Townsend family of suburban Atlanta — who for eight years invited the public into a brick ranch house around Christmas to tour a bedazzling holiday shrine to Elvis and Jesus — might also be a little trigger happy.
This 30-minute documentary shot on VHS in the late '80s documents the annual tradition begun by chain-smoking Granny Margaret, who covers every square inch of her house with blinking and glittering crap, while the crowds are patrolled by her son, who carries a gun in case anyone starts “smart talkin'” or touching things. The film isn't on par with the kitsch cult classic, “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” as it lacks steady belly laughs, but it's similarly interesting in an anthropological sense. We meet 'round-the-clock, TV-addled family obsessed with Christ and the King, with a streaming group of curious visitors, including several nuns, who treat the shining palace of creepy dolls and lights as some sort of demented Sienna Cathedral.
Filmmaker George King consciously tries to avoid poking fun at the family, mostly through his editing — but the soundtrack (Tennessee Ernie Ford crooning “How Great Thou Art”) and delicious details (an edible nativity scene made of chocolate and graham crackers with a marshmallow baby Jesus) are enough to ensure some guffaws. Here, the heavenly blue glow of pop worship never leaves the building, much less makes it to the top floor. —Brent Baldwin
[image-3]Jimi Hendrix “West Coast Seattle Boy” (Experience Hendrix/Legacy)
It's amazing how much legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix accomplished during his meteoric six-year career in the '60s, well chronicled over this four-CD and one-DVD box set. The most enticing new draw here, however, is disc one, which represents Hendrix's little known years as a sideman with groups such as the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, the Icemen, King Curtis, Rosa Lee Brooks and Don Covay. The latter's two excellent R&B-soul tracks are included, “Mercy Mercy” and “Can't Stay Away.” Together these songs give you a sense of a young guitarist with technical skill and great rhythmic sense, burning to emerge from the shadows and create a whole new world for the electric guitar. The other discs feature unreleased alternate takes, live cuts and demos, including an instrumental “Are You Experienced?” that's a primer on bluesy Hendrix chord structure and a soulful acoustic take on the Dylan-Band classic, “Tears of Rage,” recorded in a hotel room with harmonica player Paul Caruso. The documentary DVD, “Voodoo Chile,” is a nice addition as well, telling Hendrix's colorful life story through his own words, softly voiced by the all-time great funk bassist, Bootsy Collins. By the end you realize that no matter what Hendrix did — playing guitar or writing postcards home — he did it artfully and with sincerity. —Brent Baldwin
[image-4]Schiavone “My Only Secret” (Self-released)
Best known as the lead singer for alternative rock act Fighting Gravity-Boy O Boy, Schiavone McGee emerges from a brief musical respite with his first solo offering — the 10-song “My Only Secret.” Time spent away from the industry has given him a new lease on life. In what he describes as a “very intimate” album, McGee accentuates lyrical themes about taking chances, undaunted love and perseverance by massaging the harder edges of his former group with thick atmospheric layers. Along with co-writer and producer Chip Johnson, he's also arranged tinges of '80s new wave, U2-style majesty, and synth-heavy indie rock into these splendid modern rock songs. Emotions are unbridled as McGee smartly allows his vocal range to shine through as much as possible, with choruses soaring over sassy, meditative drumbeats and crunchy guitars. Sweeter, more ethereal tracks such as “Save Me” and “Finally Awake” and downright dark and contemplative songs such as “Right Place” and “The Healing” round out the album. Mostly, as evidenced by the new non-album dance single, “In My Dreams,” McGee seizes upon propulsive, chiming rhythms to buoy his personal revelations on an unforgettable debut. — Mike Rutz
Schiavone McGee performs at the Capital Ale House on Dec. 17. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Show time is 10 p.m.
[image-5]This Time It's War “Terror Plots” (self-released)
The self-financed debut from the Richmond-based metal quintet This Time It's War is one great Frankenstein of an album. That's not to say that the CD and packaging is physically composed of the decomposing remains of executed criminals, but that it contains a little bit of everything. But it's what you haven't heard that makes what you have heard interesting again. The tight, syncopated guitars and the frantic drumbeats are mainstays of modern metal. The screams are classic Lamb of God, and the doom-filled growls are reminiscent of Opeth. Yet the clean vocals, on tracks such as “Into the Abyss” and “Lord of the Flies,” give off an early-Killswitch Engage vibe; and even in the midst of the heaviest, most doomy shrieks, the music hijacks the tone, hybridizing the galloping, toned-down style of metal with the complexity and lush rhythms common to progressive rock bands such Dream Theater and Rush. Quite frankly, it's mind-bogglingly stupid just how talented This Time It's War has become since its formation in 2004. And while “Terror Plots” is a wonderful showcase, the strongest aspect of this album is not what it contains, but what it promises. — Eric Steigleder
This Time It's War performs Jan. 2 at Strange Matter in Richmond. $5 door. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 7.