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Bongzilla
Gateway
Relapse

Every sentence in the band's bio includes a handy pot reference. Very nearly every song title -- certainly every one on Gateway, their second full-length -- does the same. Couple that with custom van-style artwork, an unabashed willingness to be labeled "stoner rock," and, er, their name, and what does it spell? Why, "gimmick," that's what. Gateway sounds exactly like what one should think an outfit called Bongzilla, on a heavy rock label like Relapse, would: monolithic down-tuned droneage overlaid by screamy, throat-ripping vocals. They're obviously attempting to come off as a caricatured apotheosis of the genre, the stonedest, most Sabbath-copping stoners ever to cop Sabbath. What they end up with, however, is an unoriginal quasi-joke drawn out far beyond its ability to intrigue. There are no new riffs or inventive arrangements here (save the Spartan fuzz-bass workout of the title track), just the same big, tired grooves. Bongzilla's big innovation is the sporadic addition of movie/dialogue samples. Hmm, can you guess to what each and every one of them pertains? I bet you can. Insert the old joke about why they call it dope here. Sure, the quip is trite and completely predictable, but then again, so is Bongzilla.-- Scott Harrell

David Cross
Shut up, you fucking baby!
sub pop

it's finally ok to dig stand-up again. David Cross, hipster comedy favorite and co-creator of HBO's Mr. Show with Bob Odenkirk, has offered up a double-disc's worth of scathing and socially insightful banter good enough to stand with the genre's most provocative names. Obviously an acolyte of the late, great Bill Hicks (who himself took a cue from immortals like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Eric Bogosian), Cross eschews polished inoffensive patter in favor of a rambling, slightly buzzed social discourse that cagily uses shock to break down the politically correct facade of cultural conditioning. But Cross isn't a sociology teacher, and he's just as funny when taking on America's insubstantial post-9/11 patriotic lip-service ("If Gabriel doesn't Rollerblade to Chelsea Piers, then the terrorists have won.") as he is when talking about religion, youth marketing, cliched morning DJ teams and The Promise Keepers. These subjects (and much more) are raked over the coals, though his comfortable, conversational persona keeps things from ever lapsing into a tiresome rant about how the world is going to hell. Highly recommended, so long as you're not a Christian, a lemming or instinctively repelled by repeated use of the word "motherfucker."-- Scott Harrell

George Harrison
Brainwashed
capitol

It's a bittersweet joy to note that George Harrison's last CD is a beautiful work of art -- wonderful because the late Beatle so neatly wrapped up his recording career with one of his best contributions, and sad because it marks the too early end of a great chapter in popular music. This is perhaps his most positive, uplifting lyrical statement: full of love, humor, faith in God and a satisfaction that he had weathered terrible storms but steered his ship into port. The CD opens with "Any Road," a fast-paced folky number sung in a style reminiscent of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." "Pisces Fish" is a leisurely tune whose lyrics contrast the crazy Beatles days with his slower post-1970 life, while "Looking for My Life" and "Rising Sun" mine one of his preeminent themes, the need to find spiritual enlightenment in a dangerous world. And the closing title track encapsulates the essence of George Harrison: This exquisite rocker sums up the artist's views of how misled we are by so many institutions and how critical it is that we embrace the peace that is within ourselves. Harrison ultimately closes with a Hindu chant and gives the comforting impression of a man who had found contentment.-- Douglas Young

The Roots
Phrenology
MCA

Although The Roots probably burst onto the scene with the help of Erykah Badu and Eve with "Baby, You Got Me" from 1999's Things Fall Apart, they've actually been working at their craft for much longer. Their newest release, Phrenology, shows them as polished and practiced as they've ever been. Always eager to show off their knowledge not just of hip-hop but of music in general, The Roots wind you through a magical journey of sounds including everything from classic R&B flavor to punk rock, and throw in a little classical strings action ("Break You Off"). There's even a crazy sample out of Nintendo's classic Metroid ("Something In The Way Of Things") floating in and around the words of the talented Amiri Baraka that will floor you. The guys seem to have jumped on the "guest appearance" bandwagon with this album, though their choices (Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, Tracy Moore of Jazzyfatnastees) seem a bit more solid than what has become typical of the hip-hop community -- even Nelly Furtado puts in a solid performance. But what keeps you coming back for more is the incredible talent that The Roots have always possessed. Whether it's the technically superior musicians (yes, "rappers" can play instruments), the solid lyrics or the massive minds behind them, The Roots never fail to impress.-- Molly H. McKinney

RUN-DMC
Greatest Hits 1983-1993
arista

We lost another important voice in the hip-hop community late last year. Jam Master Jay of the famed RUN-DMC, a group not even associated with all the violence of "Gangsta Rap," was senselessly murdered at his Queens studio toward the end of 2002. But fans of The Master, Reverend Run and D.M.C. (Darryl McDaniel) can now get all the hits in one place on this compilation. This album contains such smashes as "King of Rock," "It's Tricky," and "Sucker M.C.'s," as well as the ever-present holiday tune "Christmas In Hollis." Keep the vinyl just to say you have it, but this is the perfect addition to your CD shelf.-- Molly H. McKinney

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