People Under the Stairs Stepfather (Basement)
The long-awaited full-length release from this Los Angeles hip-hop duo is arguably the tandem’s most meticulous and spirited disc to date. The benign subject matter that makes up PUTS’ flows (songs about food and hitting on girls at barbecues are the norm) are matched by the similarly low-key, self-produced beats. It won’t get the party started, but it will give you a nice soundtrack to wind down to after the keg is cashed.
Elan Together as One (Interscope)
Despite the kudos earned by being produced by No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal and the fact that its myriad guest vocalists include A-lister Gwen Stefani, Elan’s Together as One is plagued by an almost UB40-ish lack of authenticity. The overproduced “island beats” are not aided much by lyrics about grinding on the dance floor and outrage over generic political issues. As is the case with Elan, when a press release is all about how “authentic” and “talented” an artist is, the person they’re promoting probably suffers from a deficiency of both qualities.
John Ralston Needle Bed (Vagrant)
John Ralston conveys emotion through his lyrics like Bright Eyes’ Connor Oberst and croons a little like Elliot Smith. However, what’s most remarkable about the young Floridian is his debut release is so wholly impressive from top to bottom that it’s instantly graspable and masterfully irksome at the same time. Imagine a wet-behind-the-ears Tom Petty with an indie-pop bent and a reservoir of pain hidden deep within. Ralston attacks with the ferocity of someone who feels he’s got something to prove and has packed an excess of ammunition to get the job done.