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by LUKE BAUMGARTEN AND ANDREW MATSON & r & & r & PRODIGY


Return of the Mac


4 Stars


After underperforming for years, Prodigy is back with near-classic material. Entirely produced by Prodigy's longtime collaborator Alchemist, Return of the Mac is an ostensible "mix tape" intended to wet whistles for an upcoming solo album. But it easily stands on its own.





As a member of rap group Mobb Deep, Prodigy differentiated himself from the gangster herd by embracing depression as a permanent way of life, continually depicting his home (in New York's Queensbridge projects) as a hell on earth where joy and happiness make you an easy target. Then he got lazy, confusedly playing to the tastes of younger, BET-watching audiences with generic Scott Storch beats and music videos set in (of all places) nightclubs with pretty women. Now he's back in touch with his scary side, rapping over sweaty blaxploitation funk, filming videos set in dingy apartments full of drugs, knives, and Hennessey half-gallons. It's disturbing, focused, thrilling stuff.


-- ANDREW MATSON





DOWNLOAD: "Mac 10 Handle"





BAND OF ANNUALS


Let Me Live


4 Stars


"Filthy." "Nasty." These are not words to throw around idly. They convey a certain hipness mixed with mastery of technique and embodiment of spirit. They're not words that get applied often to anything (a rapper's flow here, a thrashy guitar lick there), and almost never to a country band. The exceptions are notable and Band of Annuals is certainly one. Let Me Live has everything so much of mainstream country lacks: careful instrumentation, love of craft, sense of time, some truly nasty pedal steel and filthy, filthy lyricism.





Last week, I geeked out for 150 words on nothing but the gorgeous "Don't Let Me Die." The album's other 12 tracks, while failing to match that track's meandering grandeur, are excellent, powerful examples of the form. "Blood on My Shirt," in particular, employs a lilting banjo, mournful steel and some truly sly words to paint the slow realization that a bullet has just torn through your chest.


-- LUKE BAUMGARTEN





DOWNLOAD: "Don't Let Me Die"
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