Okay, so Stellastar sucks and everybody knows the New Pornographers latest is great. You might also know that the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has gone cowboy-gospel to good effect, while I’ve blogged about the new Vanderslice at length previously. But what else is out there? See below for a few recommendations. I also suggest Sleepover Disaster (brainy and cool), Vacation (brainless but lovely raw), and Tsar (fun! fun! fun!). (Newsflash: the new Michael Penn is pretty annoying.)
Please feel free to add your own recommendations by posting a comment.
APOLLO SUNSHINE – Apollo Sunshine
I don’t even know what to call it, except to say I really love it. It’s such an odd mix of cinematic music, rock and roll, pop, and low-fi, but it works. Yet another cool bright thing born of the Elephant Collective. I’ve been listening to this over and over again.
ART BRUT – Bang Bang Rock and Roll
One listener on Amazon called this “basically the new Fall album.” Well, sure, and that’s a good thing, but it’s also nice in a world composed of often-indistinguishable-from-one-another-pseudo-Brit-pop bands (which I often find irresistible, admittedly) to find something that isn’t arch, ironic, “cool,” hip, or artsy-fartsy. Straight-forward songs with solid hooks, but something about the lead singer and the funny/clever but honest lyrics lifts this above the norm. My favorite track is “My Little Brother Just Discovered Rock and Roll.”
CAESARS – Paper Tigers
This CD has been slagged by some reviewers, especially in the UK, probably because of the recent inundation of high-profile pop bands and also because the Caesars have been featured in iPod commercials with their song “Jerk It Out.” Don’t listen to them. This is one of the best pure pop-rock CDs I’ve heard in the last few years, with seamless production (yet not over-produced). “Jerk It Out” is included on the CD, but is really the least of the gems to be found here. In some ways, this is a strangely beautiful CD.
THE CHURCH – Momento Descuidado
A finalist for Australia’s prestigious Aria Award, this unplugged CD provides a new view of The Church’s fine musicianship and the band’s beautifully mysterious but never self-indulgent lyrics. Steve Kilbey’s voice is in fine form. Songs like “November” are mysterious and a bit chilling while renditions of hits like “Under the Milky Way” have marvelous warmth to them. “Sealine,” off their last CD, is a stunning song with lyrics that send a little shiver up the spine. A good way to catch up on current Church songs while revisiting old favorites.
CLOUD ROOM – The Cloud Room
We got to see this band when they opened for The Pernice Brothers and, frankly, they blew The Pernice Brothers away. If you get a chance to see Cloud Room live, do so. Now, their debut CD might sound a little Interpol, a little Brit-pop, but it’s also got some weird other influences on it, and what sounds poppy on the CD sounds like raucous rock-and-roll live. These guys are not just another anonymous pseudo Brit-pop band. They deserve your serious attention. Favorite songs include the incendiary “Blackout!!!” The thing Ann and I like about them the most is that the tempo and emphasis changes throughout the song, with some relatively complex arrangements. There’s a little Bowie in this CD, a little glam rock, too.
DANDY WARHOLS – Odditorium
The last Warhols CD I loved the first five times I played it, and then I couldn’t stand it. Odditorium, on the other hand, I hated the first five times I played it, and now I can’t stop listening to it. All of the slick production of Monkey House is gone, as is the pseudo Duran Duran posturing/influence. Instead, they’ve gone back to what made them great on Bohemia mixed with the stuff on the earlier CDs that was listenable.
FRANZ FERDINAND – You Could Have It So Much Better
Right. So everybody has heard about the new Franz Ferdinand CD, I’m sure. What you haven’t heard is that the reviewers are wrong. This isn’t the same formula from the first CD carried forward. You Could Have It So Much Better features a wider variety of material, with some slower songs and some very Kinks-influenced mid-tempo songs as well. It’s a more fragile CD than the first. It seems as wonderfully disposable as their first, but it lingers a bit longer.
THE GIRAFFES – The Giraffes
You’ve got your Led Zep rip-offs and then you’ve got your Led Zep rip-offs. Some of you prefer White Stripes for that kind of thing. I prefer Giraffe. Giraffe’s a little more on the heavy metal side of things, although just a tad. Really thick, tight guitar progressions. A general attitude of belligerence that works well. The sludge rises and it is good!
GOGOL BORDELLO –Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike
Ukrainian immigrant punk-folk insanity. Everything will be illuminated if you just listen to this CD. I’ve been a huge fan of GB ever since I heard them, and this CD is as good as their previous infectious concoctions. Great energy and fusion of influences.
LITTLE BARRIE – We Are Little Barrie
White funk/R&B music, produced by Mr. Orange Juice himself. The second track, “Burned Out,” is particularly smoldering. Yes, it’s a bit of a throwback, but another nice variation given the amount of pop-rock out there. The CD is probably a couple of tracks too long, however, as it begins to all seem similar.
NINE BLACK ALPS – Everything Is
A Manchester-based Nirvana? Yeah, pretty much. But you know what? I don’t mind one bit because most of the American grunge coming out of Seattle sucked. This doesn’t suck. It’s mindful of its influences but it has a bloody minded edge all its own. (Evil Monkey: What does that mean? Jeff: I don’t know. It’s close to dinner time. Don’t press me. Evil Monkey: Jerk.) Tracks like “Ironside” are slash-and-burn grunge without the deep-voice-but-still-I’m-whining feel of most grunge.
OK GO – Oh No
So what happens if you create the perfect pop CD that just happens to reference a lot of different influences? Apparently, you get slapped down by reviewers. This is another underrated CD that deserves your attention. This stuff is the shit, as they say. Check it out. It’s the most fun I’ve had all year, to be honest. Check out the “A Million Ways” video on their website—it’s hilarious.
PERNICE BROTHERS – Discover a Lovelier You
We saw the Pernice Brothers a couple of nights after Katrina hit New Orleans and they were clearly bummed out. It was not the best show, certainly not as good as the first time we saw them. Discover a Lovelier You, however, ranks with their best, even if it’s beginning to seem they’ve got a pop-rock formula they’re following on every CD.
POSIES – Every Kind of Light
The dumbest thing Ann and I have seen in concert recently is the Posies. (The Deathray Davies, opening for them, completely and utterly blew them away. The DD were absolutely awesome in every sense.) Mostly because the Posies’ lead singer was “rocking out” even on the slow or mid-tempo songs. Oh—there he goes again. Is he having some kind of fit? Speaking in tongues? No. He’s just rocking out again. Wow. He really gets into these songs. Every. Single. Last. Song. That said, the new Posies CD is probably their best, mostly because there is simultaneously a darker tone to many of the songs and yet stripped down production, with lushness added only where it’s most required. While listening to this CD, I kept thinking of velvet, but not the dogs-playing-poker kind. Even if you haven’t liked the Posies before this, you might like this new one.
SILVER JEWS – Tanglewood Numbers
Any CD with song titles like “Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed” and “How Can I Love You If You Won’t Lie Down” has to be considered semi-eccentric, and it’s true the lyrics on the SW’s latest release are sometimes just obscure rather than meaningful, but for once all of the self-indulgent guitar noodling is kept to a minimum and we get a set of complete songs instead of fragments. Does this mean it’s better than past releases (which I really liked)? No. But it is more cohesive.
SONS AND DAUGHTERS – Repulsion Box
Part Scottish folk, but also kind of Goth, kind of Nick Cave, the most impressive thing about Repulsion Box is the stripped-down approach, which allows the voices to carry the songs and allows the listener to focus on the lyrics. Since Sons and Daughters like to tell stories, that’s a very wise decision. Any additional layering of the music would have taken away from the comfortable feel. At the same time, the music itself is very detailed and lively.
VIERS, LAURA – Year of Meteors
Viers is a bit like Suzanne Vega—part pop, part folk—but her work is altogether more mysterious and cohesive. Her previous (quite beautiful) CD revolved around the theme of water. This one revolves around travel, in its various forms. I prefer the more upbeat songs on Year of Meteors, whereas I preferred the quiet stuff on her last release. But the lyrics on Year of Meteors are a little more polished. I liked it, but can’t yet tell if it’ll stick with me.