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Usher: Confessions
By Nina Zhang, 17, Whitney HS

Although Usher‘s latest album Confessions delivers mature lyrics and soulful sounds, the 17-track album has too many slow songs that kill the excitement of the faster songs.

"Yeah!" and "Caught Up" stand out by their exciting beats and fast rhythm. "Yeah!" about spotting and then dancing with an attractive girl at the dance club, is a real treat, featuring Lil’ John and Ludacris. Lil’ John’s and Ludacris’ deeper and richer voices blend well with Usher’s more mellow voice. With its fast rhythm, "Caught Up," about feeling panicky and losing control after being turned on by a girl, also pumps up the adrenaline.

In contrast, the ballads "That’s What It’s Made For," "Do It to Me," and "Can You Handle It?" are repetitive. They are slow and tender and vividly describe Usher’s sexual desires, which bored me. Also, the background music sounds the same in many of his songs.

Nonetheless, Usher’s autobiographical album has sold 5.3 million albums since March. He has gone deeper, showing his own growth as a man and a musician. In fact, his hit "Confessions Part II" was written shortly after his break-up with Chili from TLC. Usher spells out the more physical aspects of love, from temptation to lust to regret. He has successfully changed his image and his music after a tough transition from a boyhood of acne and voice cracking to a manhood of dealing with sexual desires and the ups and downs of long-term relationships.

Kinky: Atlas
By Guianna Henriquez, 18

Like the labyrinth described in the song "Minotauro," this CD is a maze that you can get lost in unless you discover the key that makes it all work. Even though Kinky‘s lead singer has improved his English dramatically, it’s still hard to understand what he says in both English and Spanish without the lyrics. It wasn’t until the fourth time I listened to it, booklet in hand, that I had any idea what the CD was about. But once I got over the fact that this isn’t your typical rock en Español like Juanes, or the mellow, alternative Spanish rock I’m used to, I realized that Atlas’s fresh and modern music was just the thing I needed. This is Kinky’s second album and, unlike the first, it combines Spanish and English lyrics sung by Gilberto Cerezo, the frontman for the band from Monterrey, Mexico.

Kinky’s sound is a fusion of alternative rock and electronica. It’s not techno, but a lot of the background noise is a mixture of guitar, latin/salsa sounds, strong percussion, weird electronic beats and sometimes even an accordion. Though Kinky’s unique melodies are part of the reason I liked the CD, I also enjoyed hearing Gil’s soothing voice and meaningful lyrics, like "Moments are just like pictures/ Seconds are color paints/ Frame by frame life continues this is your new snapshot." Though he sings better in Spanish, as in "Presidente," the English songs are good, because they make you think, unlike all the repetitive pop on the radio these days. Usually, all I need to do to escape the likes of Maroon 5, is switch over to the Spanish rock/pop station 107.1, but even that is being invaded by Paulina "Pau-pau-pau-latina" Rubio and Thalia. From now on, I’ll just stick to Kinky.

And you will know us by the trail of dead: Source Tags and Codes
By Alex Avila, 17, San Gabriel HS

There is a lot of paint-by-number rock out there, so shouldn’t someone actually try to restore some innovation in music? Leave it up to this quartet from Austin, Texas, to put together 11 tracks of inspired rock.

Once you hear the first song on And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’s Source Tags & Codes album, "It Was Here That I Saw You," you notice how well singer Conrad Keely’s voice blends in with everything else. That includes the machine-gun drums, a smooth violin and a guitar that sounds like it got lost in Sonic Youth’s "Daydream Nation"; it has the same alt-rock feel to it. The same can be said for tracks like "Another Morning Stoner" and "Relative Ways." There is never a place where one instrument dominates; it’s just a palette of music.

Every band member knows at least three instruments, ranging from piano to sitar to harpsichord. Almost all of these are used in Source Tags. It’s even more interesting when you mix these sounds in with punk-style rhythms like on "Baudelaire" and "Homage," where guitarist Kevin Allen mixes in a harp.

There are other bands who have made somewhat similar musical statements. More and more orchestra-like instruments have been thrown into the mix. More recent examples include the Polyphonic Spree and Mission of Burma. Still, no one has done it better. And when the harp solo in the title track finale to the album closes out the song, it serves as that huge exclamation point.

This album, despite being the band’s major-label debut, is hard to find in stores, but it is available to download on or to buy on If you are fortunate enough to come across it in a store, buy it. It will blow you away.

A Tribe Called Quest: The Anthology
By John Ochoa, 18

Behind the genius of A Tribe Called Quest lies a sense of respect for music of all kinds. That respect is noted in The Anthology, one of the best and most original hip-hop albums in music history. Full of jazzy vibes, unique samples, and original lyrics, Tribe’s Anthology lets off a feeling of true hip-hop that is lost today.

The so-called hip-hop that hits the radio waves today focuses too much on money, girls, 24-inch rims, and the like. Tribe’s philosophy, however, ranges from love, as heard on "Bonita Applebaum," to a conversational rap session between Tribe members Q-Tip and Phife on "Check the Rhime."

Anthology contains beats and rhythms that embody the essence of hip-hop. Breaking beats, synthesized keyboard chords, soft and mellow drum beats, and eclectic samples go hand-in-hand with Q-Tip’s smooth voice. After hearing Anthology, true hip-hop fans with be introduced and reintroduced to what hip-hop is supposed to be.

See, Anthology isn’t necessarily a "greatest hits" album; think of it more as a "best of" album. This is surely the best of Tribe and possibly the best of hip-hop.

I’m a big fan of music. With hip-hop, the beats and rhythms are the essence of the song, to me at least. Lyrics are next on that list. What appealed to me most about Anthology was the classic feeling that in a sense laid a concrete foundation for hip-hop. The album goes great at any time of the day or night. But, the best time to hear it is right after a Chingy, Ja Rule, or Nelly song. Compare the Tribe to either of the latter artists and one will see how the hip-hop has changed for the worse.

Fans of A Tribe Called Quest may enjoy music from De la Soul and The Roots.