- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

Atlantis: Hymns for Disco


Virgin Records

Leave it to a Canadian to take an American art form to a whole new atmospheric level. Toronto’s K-OS (born Kevin Brereton) has been doing just that ever since he entered hip-hop big time with 2002’s “Exit,” a slick piece of music archaeology.

The artist dug up ‘80s break beats, old soul, roots reggae and jazz, then repackaged them with smoothly sung vocals and thoughtful rhymes in an undeniably modern format. The gist: John Legend’s musical ingenuity, Lauryn Hill’s vocal versatility and the Roots’ kinetic and intelligent vibe.

“It’s the end of the jiggy era,” K-OS proclaimed on the fierce, jazz-sampling break “Superstarr Pt. Zero,” and for those lucky enough to discover the innovator, it was indeed a new day.

After winning International Album of the Year at the 2003 Source Awards, K-OS followed up in 2004 with “Joyful Rebellion,” which enjoyed huge commercial success thanks to tracks such as the Southern romp “Crabbuckit” and old-school-goes-new-school jam “B-Boy Stance.”

Infused with more Spanish guitar than island spice, the record racked up three Canadian Juno Awards and went double platinum in K-OS’ homeland.

Now, the Mos Def of the north returns with “Atlantis: Hymns for Disco,” a disc that, true to form, feels like the unearthing of a lost city. This music “ungenre” may never have existed before, but man, does it sound familiar — and it’s fantastic.

All the artist’s standard elements are represented, as are his album building blocks: b-boy nods, introspective guitar ballads and extraterrestrial rap tracks. However, with faster tempos and loads of raw rock ‘n’ roll energy, K-OS gives this record an intensity and fervor missing from his last outing.

Fans who fear change should proceed directly to “CatDiesel,” a killer cut made for head spins and windmills with a James Brown thang goin’ on. Also, as the artist tells us in his liner notes, the ubercatchy “FlyPaper” grew from the same neuron as “Crabbuckit,” although an even more infectious melody backs a similar modern-day alienation message.

Alternately, those willing to explore the musician’s new territory will be rewarded. “Equalizer” bridges Elvis and Run-DMC in one metaphysical rap song, while “Born to Run” is the Hives meets “Beat It.”

The album’s most successful sonic undertaking, however, is “Valhalla,” a sort of “Cecilia” on speed that features K-OS singing rapid-fire and Sam Roberts and Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew adding texture with triumphal supplemental vocals. Warning: You may want to test-drive it with a car and an open road.

Other tunes, including the T-Dot-repping “AquaCityBoy” and better-day message song “Ballad of Noah,” show Mr. Brereton in a deep, self-revelatory mode not seen to this extent on earlier offerings.

It seems he’s ready to put it all on the line with this one — in both experimental and confessional senses — and for listeners, the gamble pays real dividends.

Look out durrty, durrty; an artistic assault is coming from the northland.

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