Nine Inch Nails Year Zero (Nothing Records)
Usually, concept albums like Year Zero, especially those with as lofty a goal as predicting the future, falter in spots. Not this time. Thankfully, political messages couched in NIN language never dictate the music. True, it's not a bangy, industrial-only disc. But Reznor's able to break the bounds of a genre he served to the mainstream. He even had the good sense to enlist the help of vocalist and poet Saul Williams on "Survivalism." Our furious rock gods are growing up. We're just lucky some of them got smarts and haven't overdosed on heroin.
Brother Ali The Undisputed Truth (Rhymesayers)
If you miss the days and pace of vintage hip-hop, Ali's third solo record has the right amount of tarnish and rust to make it cling and clank like an old-schooler. Truth feels worn, spooling out beats of another era beneath Ali's urgent tenor flows. The words themselves are well-chosen, though the timbre and variation of the rhymes occasionally grow tedious. Intimate and honest, the albino Muslim will surely strike a few chords, pulling no punches regarding his life or devotion. As with all great hip-hop, he holds up his woes as links to a broader struggle.
Goon Moon Licker's Last Leg (Ipecac Recordings)
What do you get when you mix together three lesser-knowns from big bands (Manson's Twiggy, QOTSA producer Chris Goss, Hella drummer Zach Hill)? An artsy, unfocused mash-up of all three sounds. Goon Moon is that project of musicians doing the things they wish they could do with their payday gigs. Promising experimental segments segue into lifeless rock. All the trappings are in place: Breakdowns with funny effects on the vocals, word-redundant hooks, horridly non sequitur lyrics. But there's no rawk in this rock. Just, you know, (yawn) rock.