THE LOW END THEORY
A Tribe Called Quest (Jive) Last year, A Tribe Called Quest helped quell rap's long-held lust for lyrical brutality and rhythmic ferocity. Slow and ambient, their hip-hop style (along with De La Soul's), helped forge a more spacey, contemplative approach to the form. So give 'em a nod for originality, but before their album is through, one is more inclined simply to nod off. With repeated listenings, their easygoing sound verges on the narcoleptic. The problem continues this time around, though here the group has done well in one area. Jazz bassist Ron Carter fleshes out the low end of the sound on one track and throughout they've sampled an amazingly rich array of bass lines. Still, the rest of Quest's sound can be so minimal, and their raps so ambivalent, that after you get past the striking aridness of it all, you just feel parched.
House of Freaks (Giant)
Don't let their name confound you. House of Freaks is a thoroughly accessible pop band (a la Crowded House and Smithereens) with just a few rural blues and folk licks tossed in. Their "freaky" credentials come entirely from the unkempt immediacy of their production sound. Despite the fact that "Cakewalk" represents this Richmond, Va., duo's major-label debut, they've made it sound like a total home job.