New on CD: Kanye West isn't at the top of his 'Graduation' class

Rapper's latest is full of boasts, a beguiling debut from Jesca Hoop.

Jesca Hoop – Kismet (Columbia): Tom Waits likens Jesca Hoop's music to "swimming in a lake at night." To see what he's getting at, dim the lights and fully immerse yourself in "Kismet," one of the year's most invigorating albums. Like Kate Bush and Björk, two primary influences here, Hoop orbits pop's fringes with an individualistic oeuvre that's simultaneously adventurous and accessible. On Hoop's debut, a surprise lurks around every verse. A melody will be floating serenely downstream and then suddenly plunge into a swirling eddy of choral harmonies and counterpoints, as on "Seed of Wonder" and "Dreams of the Hollow." Just as unpredictable: Hoop's lyrics, which range from straightforward ("Love Is All We Have," a lament about hurricane Katrina's devastation) to maddeningly abstract ("Intelligentactile 101," a supremely catchy tune that might make sense in "Alice in Wonderland"). From start to finish, a dazzling accomplishment. Grade: A
– Stephen Humphries

Kanye West – Graduation (Roc-a-fella): Kanye West's new album is full of boasts, most of them hyperbolic but none of them dull. In short order, he jokes that his head is so big, "you can't sit behind me"; he also admits that "by his self he's so impressed." Writing about West in The New York Times, critic Jon Pareles called this sort of chest thumping "starcissism, a pop star's mixture of self-love, self-promotion, self-absorption and self-awareness." That's not wrong, exactly, although it does imply that West should be taken at his word. And "Graduation" is a knowingly grandiose affair, from the neon flare of Takashi Murakami's cover art, to the bloated, overweight samples. The best parts of the album stagger under its own slick production, while West, his tongue firmly in his own cheek, leaves gravity behind. Go ahead, laugh along with the muscular "Stronger": "There's a thousand you's," the "graduate" barks, "and only one of me." Grade: B
– Matthew Shaer

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