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by Luke Baumgarten and Andrew Matson & r & & r & Danielson Ships 3.5 STARS & r & Art pop is art pop, right? You know what to expect. It'll be like pop, except artsy. It's one of the easier genres to prepare oneself for. A disc that labels itself as art pop will either be proggy and digressive or twee and cutesy, with perhaps a hint of subversion. Ships is mostly the latter: highly melodic, upbeat and childlike throughout, Brother Daniel's compositions have the tortured edge of growing up as a freak in a farm town.

The album falters when it mismanages this tension, either going too cutesy (as on "Ship the Majestic Suffix," which is strangely Sufjan Stevens-y) or foregoing melody for meditative texture ("My Lion Sleeps Tonight"). Those songs that ply the midground between these extremes are a powerful metaphor of child as merchant ship, alone in an expansive sea, beset by the storms of growing, the barbarism of other child-ships, and the fear of an unseen destination. -- Luke Baumgarten & r & Check Out: "Did I Step On Your Trumpet"

Roc 'C'All Questions Answered 4 STARS & r & Stones Throw Records is a forward-thinking label, but they aren't trying to be highbrow. Persistently championed by snooty vinyl fiends the world over, Stones Throw has taken on a mystique it never intended to foster. Setting the record straight, the new Roc 'C' LP arrives like a thug in an art gallery, and if he makes the other patrons uncomfortable ... good.

Straight out of Oxnard, Calif., Roc 'C' steps fully correct with All Questions Answered, a disc full of hard rhymes and def beats. Oh No handles the production bulk, turning in beat after beat of bugged-out, hard-edged snap-crackle -- seriously impressive stuff from a guy who loves exceeding expectations. Rule of thumb? Deep stacks = neck snaps. Add that to the fact that Roc 'C' raps like Game at his best (sans all the verbal star-screwing) and you've a good thing going. This is much-needed proof that the streets listen to Jean Grae and gangstas still care about mic skills. -- Andrew Matson & r & Check Out: "Hear Me Now"
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