Mac Miller, "Watching Movies With the Sound Off" (Rostrums)

When Miller released 2011's "Blue Slide Park," which debuted atop the Billboard 200 album chart, he did more than just rack up points for indie-label hip-hop. He rang the big bell for white-boy party rap, the very thing the Beastie Boys fought for, long before Miller and Asher Roth made for a stoner's delight. Old-school in the best way, Miller's lean, unadorned sound was perfect for his mad tales of beer, babes and bongs.

Strange, then, that "Watching Movies" is more experimental than its predecessor. The Pittsburgh rapper never even hinted at anything outre, let alone ruminative, before this. There's still plenty of simple sonics, dumb fun and even awkward misogyny. Yet, throughout, Miller plays well with other MCs (like Earl Sweatshirt), something that didn't happen last time. Miller rides comfortably atop oddball rhythms and crabby atmospheres provided by avant-hop producers Flying Lotus ("S.D.S.") and Diplo ("Goosebumpz"). Mainly, on tracks such as "Aquarium" and "Objects in the Mirror," Miller looks inside himself — selflessly and selfishly — rather than looking for the next party.

A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer


Booker T. "Sound the Alarm" (Stax)

The recent reactivation of Stax Records has brought organist/producer Booker T. Jones back to the label that featured his sound on so many great recordings of the 1960s and '70s, including those by Otis Redding and Sam & Dave as well as his own albums, fronting Booker T. & the MG's.

This album has the hallmarks of those great Memphis sessions of yore — sultry organ work, a lithe rhythm section and lots of meaty horn accents — with touches that bring it comfortably into the 21st century.

Jones draws several guests into the spotlight — singers Estelle, Anthony Hamilton, Mayer Hawthorne, Luke James and instrumentalists Gary Clark Jr., Raphael Saadiq and the retro rock-R&B band Vintage Trouble.

"66 Impala," which features Sheila E., lets Jones explore the Latin-rock corner of the R&B universe, while the insistent gospel-soul "Your Love Is No Love" is the closest thing to a lost Redding track. The instrumentals "Fun," "Feel Good," "Austin City Blues" and, spotlighting Jones' guitar-wielding son Ted, "Father-Son Blues" mark a welcome return to the timeless sound of the MG's.

Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times