CD reviews of The Roots, Death Cab for Cutie and Flogging Molly

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The Roots

— "Rising Down"

The Roots tell you right off the bat: Contents under pressure. Do not shake.

As fans of the ever-innovative Philly rappers have come to expect and appreciate, "Rising Down" boils over with frustration and retaliation at societal struggles, including a militaristic government, a "world spinning out of control" and a climate that has "Mother Nature doing backflips."

The title track opens the album - after an eye-popping phone recording from '94 - with a strong hook that lets Roots rapper Black Thought and guest Mos Def lay down themes that, as the album progresses, ultimately sound fatalistic, as "your city is an island / where you can't find a boat / you're hoping for a raft / and praying that hope floats."

But "Rising Down" isn't all gloom. Arriving just in time for summer, "I Can't Help It" is no doubt already shattering pelvises in clubs. "@15" unplugs Black Thought for a throwback a cappella rhyme. The album's most reflective track arguably is "Criminal," which touches on the importance of family.

Like "Game Theory" before it, the tone of this Roots album is at once angry and bemused, combative and escapist, rising and down. It gives you tracks to blast at a barbecue and thoughts to stick in your head, while showing yet again that The Roots are without question one of the most entertaining hip-hop acts of their time.

Rating: ''''

- Mike Lawrence, 4 Points

Death Cab for Cutie

"Narrow Stairs"

On the sixth track of "Narrow Stairs," Death Cab for Cutie singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard shares a sentiment that's deeper than he might have meant it to be:

"I have to face the truth, that nobody could ever look at me like you do / Like I'm something worth holding on to / These times I think of leaving, but it's something I'll never do / Because you can do better than me, but I can't do better than you."

This probably is how most of the music critics who hate everything about Ben Gibbard feel about his music. They don't actually hate him. They just feel like they could do better - and that Gibbard probably could, too.

"Narrow Stairs" is a continuation of 2005's "Plans," a mix of melancholy and pop rock that is plenty palatable, even if it is exaggerated in its emotions. It's not music for every occasion, and it's not really supposed to be.

The five-minute introduction to the album's single, "I Will Possess Your Heart," shows Gibbard allowing himself to indulge symphonic tendencies and embrace structures he hadn't considered before. The effect is darker and more solitary than Death Cab's previous output, a shift that broadens the band's range and gives "Narrow Stairs" an unpredictability that wasn't there before.

Gibbard still is a little rocky with his use of metaphor ("Long Division" is especially unfortunate), and he still is a little too stompy in sadness for his own good.

But "Narrow Stairs" is full of quality, thoughtful and emotional pop songs - tracks that don't make Gibbard the god of modern songwriting some tout him to be, but that don't make him despicable, either.

Rating: '''

- Margaret Hair, 4 Points

Flogging Molly

"Float"

Flogging Molly is one of the most deliriously entertaining shows you can see.

And while it's hard to beat the fiendish energy that drives Flogging Molly stand-bys such as "Drunken Lullabies," "What's Left of the Flag" or "Devil's Dance Floor," the make-up of the band's fourth record, "Float," does a pretty good job of it.

Propped more on sonic tradition than rock acts such as Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly leans on classic instrumentation to give original songs the feel of a bar-chant standard. It's a folk sound that might not have as much tooth-breaking grit to it, but carries all the swagger expected of an Irish rock act that goes past a party atmosphere to crafting its own style.

Lead man Dave King is a personal and honest songwriter, packing the kind of regret and unfortunate shared experiences in his lyrics that give Flogging Molly tracks that universal, messed-up spirit that has characterized the band since its 2000 debut.

And while "Float" sounds somber compared to previous releases, it also sounds older, which for Flogging Molly is a good move.

Rating: '''

- Margaret Hair, 4 Points

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