I See You
(Young Turks ***1/2)
The xx's tricks are two. Singers Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim talk to each other in song, carrying on a musical conversation like a post-modern Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner or anxiety-ridden Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. And ever since their self-titled debut album in 2009, they've made the most of minimalism, getting maximum emotional impact out of restrained arrangements that communicate unease while almost always opting to hold back rather than cut loose. However, it's the third wheel - keyboard player and producer Jamie xx (real last name: Smith) - who's the difference-maker on the British band's third album. Smith stepped out as a solo artist with 2015's In Colour, and on I See You, he fills out the band's sound in inventive ways throughout, starting with the pitch-shifted sample of Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" that takes the album's superb lead single "On Hold" by surprise. Madley-Craft and Sim have always been skilled at conveying unresolved sexual tension that's best suited to the dark corners of the chill-out room. Here, they brighten up and get moving to the dance floor.
- Dan DeLuca
The Flaming Lips
(Warner Bros. ***)
Recent albums from the Flaming Lips have been confrontational in their psychedelic wildness, whether 2013's abrasive The Terror, 2014's bizarro cover of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Fwends," or their surprising collaboration with Miley Cyrus on 2015's Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. Coming after that string, the melodic and relatively sedate Oczy Mlody is a relief that recalls the more placid moments of high watermarks The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
It still offers heavy doses of psychedelia, but the songs are less likely to invoke nightmares than to be reveries about frogs and unicorns and sunrises. It's a keyboard- and electronics-based album, so when a guitar takes the lead for a moment, for instance on the closer, "We Are Family" (with a Cyrus cameo), it evokes nostalgia. Wayne Coyne's melodies drift like dreams - or trips - but Oczy Mlody is the most grounded and accessible Lips album in a long time.
- Steve Klinge
The Flaming Lips play at 8:30 p.m. March 4 at the Fillmore, 29 E. Allen St. Tickets: $45. Information: 215-309-0150 or www.fillmorephilly.com.
(A Country Called Earth.com *1/2)
If hip-hop had an equivalent of Miles Davis - incendiary, caustic, poetic, uncompromising - it's Mos Def, the rapper/actor/activist who, in 2011, changed his name to Yasiin Bey and, in 2016, announced a retirement from music and film. With that, the soon-to-be-retired Def/Bey claimed his last records - Negus in Natural Person, As Promised, and the first of that finale, December 99th with producer Ferrari Sheppard. Def/Bey has changed plans before, so who knows that December 99th won't be the end? From its slimed sound and dulled fury, it should be. For a close-out sale, this dated outing is a dismal mess and a true cheat to fans of his once-towering artistry.
Like Davis at his worst, Def/Bey can be lazy and distracted. That's the rapper we get on everything from "NAW" on down: mumbling, lethargic, disconnected, not as an elliptical art form, but as a toss-off, sans wit or energy. He even whistles as though he has forgotten he was in the middle of a recording session. "We experience tests today / Above all, we are blessed today," he sleepily sing-songs on "Local Time," one of 99th's better tunes. What works here is Sheppard's moody production - an experimental soundscape of No Wave punk and avant-garde jazz. If Def/Bey had matched that sound, this album would be brilliant. Instead, it's slop unworthy of him by either name.
- A.D. Amorosi