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Bright Eyes: Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
By Katie Havard, 15, Beverly Hills HS

I know your type. You’re sitting in your dark bedroom with your two best friends in the world, Mr. Ben and Mr. Jerry. You are crying bitter tears because the kid you were dating has left you for some hussy in red low-rise Chuck Taylors, and you’re listening to what? "All by Myself" by Celine Dion? No. Stop it right now.

Put on some Bright Eyes. Conor Oberst feels your pain. You cool music connoisseurs rejoice, for his voice is a mournful, boyish wail and his lyrics envelop soft, melancholy melodies. His album, Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, is full of catchy but plaintive songs like "Waste of Paint." As he wails "I’m a waste … of breath … of space … of time," you have a soundtrack to your gloominess.

Be forewarned, not every song is completely brilliant. I cannot, for all my love of Bright Eyes, sit through the song "Don’t Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come." It seems to drag on forever, his voice warbling endlessly. "Lover I Don’t Have to Love" however, is amazing. The lyrics and melody are hauntingly beautiful. It will make up for any song you hear and don’t like.

His lyrics are sometimes crude. Mr. Oberst tends to hit the bottle a bit and write about it a lot. (He has said he had a drinking problem.) In "Lover I Don’t Have to Love," a girl yearns for "a boy so drunk he doesn’t talk." He is not for the feint of heart, but for the sad or the hopeless romantic of heart? Most definitely.

B2K: Pandemonium
By Jasmon Smith, 17, Inglewood HS

As a 17-year-old girl, I look at the hot hip-hop group B2K, which came from L.A., and go crazy! Pandemonium! was definitely the perfect name for the CD.

It contains 17 R&B and hip-hop tracks on which the four guys melt the hearts of their young fans with their soothing, sexy tunes. Omarion, the lead singer, is only 19 years old but his voice is mature. It reminds me of early Michael Jackson because it is smooth and flows just like his. Raz B’s raspy voice adds flavor and soul while Lil Fizz raps and J-Boog talks.

There’s "Bump, Bump, Bump" featuring P. Diddy. Its catchy beat makes you want to dance. In "Girlfriend," a slower dance jam, they explain how they wish they had girlfriends. They sing, "I need a girlfriend, girlfriend, someone to call my own, spend some money on, gonna take her out, show her what I’m all about." The lyrics make fans think they have a chance of becoming their girls. "What a Girl Wants" is a sexy slow jam about respecting women. Omarion sings to a friend, "What a girl needs, what a girl wants/ honesty, love and a friend."

My favorite song is "Everything" because it touched me from my own experience. It’s about how they missed their girls while they were on tour. I could relate because I dated someone who traveled a lot. But not all the songs are great. "The Other Guy" is annoying because the background singer sounds like he’s crying.

B2K split up in January 2004 and all four members are doing solo projects.

The Streets: A Grand Don’t Come for Free
By Rachel Erickson, 17, The Linden Center

I have never been a fan of rap music, and although they call themselves rap, in many ways The Streets are far from it. This underground British group led by artist Mike Skinner isn’t like the rap music you hear on the radio.

Skinner sounds like he is at an open-mic poetry reading because the way he raps is so mellow. It almost sounds like he is talking to you. The music is mostly drum and bass, unlike regular rap music, and it isn’t over-produced. Also unlike regular rap music, Skinner doesn’t gloat about his cars and women. My favorite song on this album is "Dry Your Eyes," which is about facing the fact that you’ve lost your girlfriend. "Dry your eyes mate/ I know it’s hard to take but her mind has been made up/ There’s plenty more fish in the sea." I enjoy listening to this song because it’s something Skinner doesn’t usually do, which is get sweet and sentimental.

The entire album is a story. The first track is about losing a shoebox full of money, then another track continues with him accusing his friends of stealing it, and the album ends with him miraculously finding the money inside his broken television. I really enjoyed that this album kept me on my toes. A Grand Don’t Come for Free is a saga of Skinner’s everyday battles, ranging from having a day go completely wrong to getting high on God knows what at a nightclub and looking for friends who haven’t arrived yet.

I also recommend The Streets’ first album, Original Pirate Material.