Big PunisherYeeeah BabyLoud Records

Yeeeah Baby might've been Big Punisher's big-bank album—might've been, if he hadn't died of heart failure in February (Big Pun was just 28, but he weighed close to 700 pounds). Like his multiplatinum debut, Capital Punishment, this disc is filled with tight beats and an incessant harmonic flow. The intro (dubbed “The Creation”) throws out quick references to his rap, rock and comedy influences—Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy—and his wish to borrow a piece from each to become a kind of one-man entertainment conglomerate. There's something very Scarface about “Off Wit His Head,” in which Big Pun proclaims loyalty to his friends and describes the horrible things that could befall the guy who messes with them. It's no surprise that the album's first single is “It's So Hard,” an excellent blend of what drives hip-hop:rhymes, a little R&B, and club beats that keep the bodies moving. But “100%” might wind up best defining Big Pun, confirming his ethnicity (pure Puerto Rican) and blending hip-hop and salsa with subtle grace. Sadly, it only leaves you itching for more—and now, of course, there won't be any. SONIC YOUTH

Longtime Sonic Youth fans have liked the band as much for its punk-as-art/art-as-punk idealism as for its ability to turn all that noise into a kick-ass rock song. But Sonic Youth stopped writing kick-ass rock songs a while ago—now they aren't even writing songs. Each of the eight tracks on NYC Ghosts N Flowers shrugs off the shackles of verse-chorus-verse songwriting in favor of jammy buildups that pay off with jarring, noisy climaxes. Ditching tradition seems like a great idea, but it's not a new one: Sonic Youth have always created tension by exploiting creative boundaries. Even their more recent, headier album work contained powerful hooks on which they hung long, wailing tapestries. This time, NYC Ghosts N Flowers relies on the ability to tangle instruments into skewed patterns —you'll hear good, scrunchy riffs or strange, endearing melodies, but then those will morph into something entirely different, not to be heard from again. The friction of all this can lead to some brilliant sparks of energy, as when Thurston Moore yelps (in his still-snotty voice), “Midnight princess fight tonight!” on “Renegade Princess,” or when Kim Gordon tells us, “Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider/Girls go to Mars, become rock stars” on “Nevermind (What Was It Anyway).” The lyrical abstractions work all right in the music, but “open to interpretation” is the only real way to describe their content. While that may not be nearly as fun as a teenage riot, the polished jams of NYC Ghosts N Flowers are still a great elixir for the radio blues. (Michael Coyle)

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