Aesop Rock's mind is a scary, thorny labyrinth of dark ideas, his rhymes packed with grim portraits of a dystopian future. His latest, Skelethon, is cinematic in scope. Call him the Blade Runner of hip-hop: His words twist and coil with such complexity they make Inception look like a Saturday morning cartoon. There are many plots to pick through and characters to follow in the album's 15 songs: antiquated gentlemen outlaws; a Ferris wheel of vitriol; blood-soaked butchers; changing ocean temperatures reeking havoc on seal populations; ghost crabs; and secret symbols scrawled underneath dressers. You know, all in a day's work for the San-Francisco-by-way-of-Long-Island emcee. The beats of Skelethon match Aesop's black-as-night intensity, and the overall effect is a nuanced 1000-words-per-bar peek into the abyss. It's a nightmare you won't want to wake from. 8– Brian McManus
Falling Off the Sky
This is the first album in 30 years by the original lineup of the dB's — Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Gene Holder, and Will Rigby. That's the foursome who in 1981 and '82 delivered the one-two punch of Stands for deciBels and Repercussion. It was the jangle heard 'round the world, helping set the template for indie-pop.
Falling Off the Sky proves to be a winsome return. Melodic pop songcraft again holds sway. The songs, meanwhile, retain a certain air of youthful earnestness while also reflecting the musicians' advancing age. They can be yearning ("Send Me Something Real") and wistful ("Far Away and Long Ago"), sweetly romantic ("Before We Were Born,") and poignant ("She Won't Drive in the Rain Anymore"). But a sharper edge also surfaces, as on the punchy, garage-rock-inflected opener, "That Time Is Gone." In that vein even drummer Rigby gets into the act — his pointedly clever "Write Back" is his first composition to appear on a dB's album. – Nick Cristiano
The Very Best
(Moshi Moshi )
The Very Best debuted with a 2008 mixtape that mashed-up hits from Vampire Weekend, M.I.A. and others with the joyful singing of Malawi's Esau Mwamwaya. Their first proper album, 2009's Warm Heart of Africa, showed that the trio, including London-based producer / DJs Etienne Tron and Johan Karlberg, could translate that sunny aesthetic into original songs, like the buoyant "Julia" and the title track, which featured VW's Ezra Koenig. MTMTMK is just as joyous: it's a perfect summer album.
Now a duo of Mwamwaya and Karlberg, The Very Best manage to sound both very contemporary and Western, using Diplo-like beats for "Adani" and "Kondaine" and drafting a guest turn from rapper K'Naan on the irrepressible "We OK," without losing a distinctly African character, not only on "Bantu," which features Amadou & Mariam and Baaba Maal, but throughout. So often these sorts of fusions fall flat: this one is effervescent. – Steve Klinge
The Very Best with Seye play 9:15 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 12, at Johnny Brenda's, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. Tickets: $13. Information: 215-739-9684, www.johnnybrendas.com.
Country / Roots
Brooke Shive and the 45's
Way Past Gone
Brooke Shive and the 45's grab your attention right from the start with "Lie, Lie, Lie," a bristling slab of R&B with a tough, defiant vocal to match by Shive. This Bucks County band, which includes Shive's father, Steve, on drums, then proceeds to hold that attention for the rest of this 10-song set.
Way Past Gone is an energetic and expertly executed amalgam of R&B, rock-and-roll, soul, and country. Fine originals like "Kiss the Sky," "Way Past Gone," and "Simple Plan" sit easily alongside chestnuts by Elvis, Etta James, and Otis Redding, ensuring that the music doesn't sound like just an exercise in retro.
Brooke Shive can really belt, in James-like fashion, providing plenty of attitude. But she's no one-trick pony. Her sultry take on Elvis' Sun-era "Trying to Get to You" and Redding's anguished Allen Toussaint-penned ballad "Pain in My Heart" show her impressive range and underscore the deep feeling she and the 45's bring to everything here. – Nick Cristiano
Brooke Shive and the 45's perform at 7 p.m. July 25, Promenade at Sagamore, 500 Route 73 South, #E1, Marlton. Admission free. Information: 856-985-3846, thepromenadenj.com. They also perform, with opening act Charles Ramsey, at 8 p.m., July 28, at Puck, 1 Printers Alley, Doylestown. Tickets: $10 advance, $12 day of show. Information: 267-327-4613, www.pucklive.com.
Flip the Script
There comes a moment on pianist Orrin Evans' new CD when he takes on Gamble & Huff's "The Sounds of Philadelphia," quietly passing through the tune alone. The piece is powerful and tragic, a resonant meditation on the gap between jazz and R&B and perhaps the shortcomings of his adopted town.
Evans also dips into Luther Vandross' "A Brand New Day" from the 1975 musical The Wiz, but the tune is a much more orthodox outing, with Evans flying across the keys and pulling chords out like fresh kindling. Throughout this trio session, he burnishes his own modernist chops while paying debts to fellow pianists Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner.
Working with bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Donald Edwards, Evans sounds hard-driving, percussive, and always willing to confront nubby issues. A liquid take of "Someday My Prince Will Come" becomes a welcome respite. – Karl Stark
Evans and his quartet, featuring saxophonist Tim Warfield, hold a CD release party from 8-11 p.m., Friday at Chris' Jazz Café, 1421 Sansom St. Tickets: $15; Information: 215 568-3131.
Preludes, Books I and II, Trois Nocturnes, and Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun
Alexei Lubimov and Alexei Zuev, pianos
(ECM, two discs, )
Much is made in this release about pianist Lubimov's search for Debussy's sound world on the basis of the composer's own piano rolls and written descriptions of his playing. To that end, Lubimov alternates between a 1913 Steinway he discovered in the Polish Embassy in Brussels (Paderewski is said to have played it) and a 1925 Bechstein; the two are heard together with Zuev in Afternoon of a Faun and the Nocturnes (orchestral works heard in duo-piano versions).
Lubimov has long been one of the most probing pianists out there, and his overarching idea that Debussy was closer to the expressionism of Schoenberg than the more ingratiating piano writing of Chopin — and this recording makes a great case for that. Without the usual misty dreaminess, Debussy hasn't a hint of vagueness. In fact, the music is downright explosive. How the actual instruments contribute to that is best accessed by piano connoisseurs. In any case, Lubimov seems to be stimulated into peak form. Those who subscribe to this anti-impressionist viewpoint and hear Debussy in terms of the more gothic terrain he was exploring in his unfinished opera Fall of the House of Usher, this is the recording to have. –David Patrick Stearns