Sound Bites

Posted: Thursday, May 01, 2008

Lil Mama "VYP: Voice of the Young People" ★★★

By the time she was 18, Niatia Kirkland had appeared on remixes power-poppy (Avril Lavigne), hip-hoppy (Rihanna), and in-between (Britney Spears), making each hit snazzier with her off-kilter flow.

Luckily, MC Mama's debut album offers much of the same smash-hit slap-and-tickle to play upon. With the aid of resident rump-shaking producers like T-Pain and Danja, tunes like "Shawty Get Loose" (costarring Chris Brown, pop-hop's reigning prince) and "Lip Gloss" happily occupy themselves with age-appropriate concerns. Nobody's ever given M.A.C. brushes or L'Oreal Watermelon Crushes the sort of dippy gravitas Mama has.

But that doesn't mean Lil Mama eschews the grave or the raw. While "Broken Pieces" and "One Hit Wonder" take the wind out of childhood loves and fleeting fame, "L.I.F.E." truly cribs from a life not-so-well spent: "Ain't got no pictures of my mother/She was a crack fiend," snaps Lil Mama. That the young MC's mom died during Mama's 2007 tour adds a prickly poignancy to the proceedings. And poignancy isn't something you get a lot of nowadays - not from kids, not from pop.

Portishead "Three" ★★★½

Portishead invented a genre with its brilliant 1994 debut, "Dummy." The melange of Beth Gibbons' eerie, disembodied vocals floating amid Geoff Barrow's and Adrian Utley's trip-hop beats, DJ scratching, and glacial guitars and keyboards sounded otherworldly at first, but it quickly became co-opted as a hip sound for boutiques and coffeeshops. A slew of artists followed the lead of the trio from Bristol, England.

Aside from a live album, the band has been silent since its 1997 self-titled second release, so "Three" qualifies as an event. And it does not disappoint: It's a worthy successor, but better still, it's an evolution. "Three" is harder, heavier and louder than its predecessors, while retaining Portishead's characteristic atmospheric beauty.

The churning, Radiohead-like guitar riff of "We Carry On" and the abrasive electronics of "Machine Gun" may not go down well as lifestyle music, but that's a plus.

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