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Assisted Listen: Erykah Badu's 'New Amerykah'

"More action. More excitement. More everything." So opens Erykah Badu's newest release, New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War), a sonically ambitious album that mixes collages of old and new sounds, spoken-word samples from old films, and Badu's signature fragile vocals. New Yorker magazine music critic Sasha Frere-Jones says the album is worth another listen.

Early in her career, Badu was often lumped into the neo-soul genre, but on this record, Frere-Jones says she's more an extension of the black avant-garde vocal pop of the past. Her influences point to early George Clinton and Funkadelic, D'Angelo's Voodoo, and Marvin Gaye, yet songs such as "Twinkle" go further out into more experimental and energetic territory.

Frere-Jones says that Badu has become less conservative, with "long extended tracks with noises where you don't know where they're coming from. And there are people who might have less patience for that, although a generation that's come up with up with electronic music and Radiohead and bands like that might not be fazed at all."

Badu describes New Amerykah as being cerebral. But, according to Frere-Jones, "it's cerebral, but it's more like an improvised cerebral thing. But it feels like these were all things on her mind. Not everyone can get away with an album this loose and formless in places."

Though the presentation is bold and challenging, Frere-Jones says this is the perfect time for a radical record from Badu. "I think there are artists," he says, "who are beginning to realize that with the collapse of not just the music business but of hit radio, there's no consensus place to go, other than American Idol, to have a hit. So if you've got an organic audience who loves you, as she does, she has an audience now that's going to stick with her. And she can't get a huge radio hit now, so why even try to make that record?"

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