Beck returns with a fantastic new single. Plus: Check out music from Wyclef Jean, the Hives, and others

By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Updated August 23, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

”Timebomb” is Beck at his best

BECK, ”Timebomb”
The days when Beck reinvented himself from the ground up with each new release are long over — not necessarily any great loss, as much fun as those early records often were. His new stand-alone single extends the mature groove he found with 2005’s Guero and last year’s The Information. Paranoid chants and bright bleeps, washed-out chords and crisp rhythms come together in a pleasantly disorienting whirl. Beck’s figured out exactly what he does best, and he’s doing it better than ever. (Buy it on iTunes)

JESCA HOOP, ”Intelligentactile 101”
This NorCal newcomer’s debut CD, Kismet (out Sept. 18), comes with an elliptical endorsement from no less a musical legend than Tom Waits, whose children she once nannied: ”Jesca Hoop’s music,” he offers in a press release, ”is like a four-sided coin.” (Sure, Tom, whatever you say.) Hoop shares some intriguing imagery of her own on this standout track, where she crows about ”swinging from the stars/On an umbilical cord.” What does it all mean? With a melody this bewitching, you might not care. (Download it from her management company’s site)

The Fugees are often credited with paving the way for the last decade’s alt-rap and neo-soul movements ? yet Wyclef Jean’s oft-dismissed solo albums have proven just as influential in the long run. Just take his 2001 hit ”Perfect Gentleman,” which pretty much furnished the blueprint for Akon’s and T-Pain’s recent run of vaguely Caribbean synth-pop/hip-hop/R&B songs about strippers. Akon graciously returns the favor by guesting on Wyclef’s latest contribution to the form; Lil Wayne shines, as always, on his verse (”She used to be the sweetest girl ever/Now she’s like sour amaretto”); and young R&B prodigy Niia Bertino caps it all off with some background cooing of her own. (Stream it from AOL Music)

THE HIVES, ”Tick Tick Boom”
No one’s ever accused these Swedes of overthinking their music. Five years after they made their big U.S. splash with ”Hate to Say I Told You So,” here’s frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist shouting yet another unstable-sounding catch phrase while the rest of the band punches away at one of the same two or three garage riffs that have turned up on every single one of the band’s previous songs. Still, there’s something endearing about the Hives’ reluctance to switch up their formula, and before you know it, they’ve crashed their way through yet another quick-and-dirty tune without wearing out their welcome. (Buy it on iTunes)

THE SECTION QUARTET, ”Time Is Running Out”
Linda Perry’s written and produced massive hits for Pink and Christina Aguilera, among others. Her latest pet project? Producing the new album from this L.A.-based chamber group, who perform classical string arrangements of familiar rock and pop songs. Her options were limited here ? it’s not as if she could tell the quartet to up the distortion on their unadorned orchestral instruments ? but Perry’s famed ear somehow triumphs once again. This Muse cover, to pick one highlight, plays up the original’s overblown prog bravado to a tee. Who needs guitar solos when you have a wailin’ viola? (Buy it on iTunes)