The Roots, Undun

Ryan Reed

By Ryan Reed

on 12.06.11 in Reviews

The Roots
Sounding even sharper

When Philly rap legends The Roots signed on as house band for Jimmy Fallon’s late night show, certain fans shuffled the “sell-out” card, worried the crew’s gritty street edge would soften in the face of corporate fluff. Instead, they delivered 2010′s outstanding How I Got Over, silencing doubters with a tight, striking set of melancholy gems. Three years into their talk show tenure, The Roots sound even sharper with their 13th album, Undun. The band’s dexterous live punch has never sounded mightier on album, and there’s nary a second of filler here. Expanding upon How I Got Over‘s spaced-out sonics, Undun is dominated by vintage keys (soothing Wurlitzer, purring Hammond) which pulsate ominously over ?uestlove’s hard-hitting beats. No Roots album is complete without eclectic guest stars: Sufjan Stevens pops up to re-hash his Michigan instrumental “Redford” and piano virtuoso D.D. Jackson lends a free-jazz freak-out to Undun‘s closing suite. Highlights overflow (Check the throbbing, organ-drenched soul of “The OtherSide” or the bass-driven atmospherics on “Lighthouse”), even if the album’s vague concept — which traverses (in reverse) an inner city thug’s rise-and-fall — doesn’t hold water. As always, the guest rappers are overshadowed by Black Thought’s poignant, mesmerizing flow: On “Make My,” the band’s most quietly beautiful single to date, he’s a defeated street-poet staring Death straight in his beady eyes: “To whoever it concern, my letter of resignation / Fading back to black, my dark coronation.”