The Best CDs of 2007

The CD of the Year

In the mid-1970s Graham Parker was portrayed as a quintessentially Angry Young Man®, a pub rocker with an attitude who helped shape the British New Wave (a movement that remains perhaps the most creatively vital five years in recent rock history).

15 years later he had matured into a Responsible Adult®, with 1991’s Struck By Lightning offering us songs about marriage, domesticity, kids and dogs. As he sings in “A Brand New Book”:

I once read the story of somebody’s life
I had a few moments to spare
He was a good man who lived with his
wife with the usual kids in his hair
There was happiness a lot of weirdness and a sprinkle of tragedy
I pulled it by chance from a second hand bin
But it could’ve been written just for me

Because the words came out not twist and shout
Cause that’s not what a grown man writes about
That chapter’s over, let it blow over
I found that I’ve become the owner of a brand new book

For talented artists who begin their careers with the sort of verve and energy Parker brought to his first few efforts, the arrival of the family life is often the kiss of death. But that wasn’t the case for GP, who managed to maintain his edge even as he “settled down.”

But surely by the time he hits his late 50s he’d be on the lounge circuit, right? Well, you might think so, but in 2007 Parker released Don’t Tell Columbus, the rich, reflective story of one Brit’s “discovery” of America.

But I had that positive feeling
I knew I was on the right track
When a Flat Earth Society member
Told me I must turn back
He said I’d reach the abyss
And keep on going down
So I gave him my last pencil
And I flattened him to the ground
Then an army of Christian soldiers
Broke through the ranks and charged
With their ice cream vendor buddies
And their milquetoast rearguard
They had wheelbarrows full of elastic
And paper mache hearts
And things I did not recognize
Impaled upon their darts

What’s most remarkable, perhaps, is how GP manages both the acerbic edge of the young man and the thoughtful wisdom we’d expect of a man his age. Nowhere is the wit more apparent than on “Stick to the Plan,” his Bushevik-centered homage to Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.”

Well God said to the president listen to me
I will advise you on the way it’s gonna be
So the president got to his knees
And accepted his fate
It’s a done deal now if you got
Some objections too late
Meanwhile in the corner there’s
A drunk on a stool
Slurpin’ up ketchup and acting the fool
Pretending to fight for the truth
But he ain’t getting far
Because he’s workin’ for the same team
Just from the other side of the bar

As I ponder the accomplishment of Don’t Tell Columbus – and make no mistake, if GP never produces another note, this CD will serve as a fitting cap for an epic career – I was struck by how much it reminds me of Hart Crane’s The Bridge, an ambitious but little-remembered long poem that cast the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge as a metaphor for the greatness of America. Like Crane, Parker is erecting a mythology about America, a parallel that’s most evident in “Suspension Bridge.” Of course, Parker’s portrait of his new homeland is a tour de force of ambivalence.

We born-n-bred Americans often get myopic about our beloved Republic, and the fact that we’re fed a steady diet of slobbering Toby Keith/Lee Greenwood-style self-worship doesn’t help. So there’s tremendous value in stepping back and seeing ourselves through the eyes of people who weren’t raised on red, white and blue pablum. Parker has chosen to be here, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t aware of the glorious shining beast’s dark underbelly. In this sense, perhaps Parker’s greatest discovery arises from what’s best about America – the fact that we’re free (for the moment, anyway) to look in the mirror, critique what we see and work to improve on it.

Don’t Tell Columbus is five stars our of five and a certified A+, and I’m proud to present Graham Parker with the not-terribly-coveted Slammy for 2007 CD of the Year.

Welcome back to part two of our annual music wrap-up. Today we award the Platinum LPs, given for superior achievement. (If you missed part one, click here to review the Gold LP winners, updated to include three inadvertent omissions.) These appear in no particular order.

Platinum LPs

The Birthday Massacre: Walking with Strangers
Toronto’s The Birthday Massacre is a study in contradictions. While sometimes labeled a “goth revival” act (and it’s true that you’ll hear all kinds of ‘80s post-punk and goth influences), there’s something very contemporary, even forward-looking, about their sound, which manages to be appropriately dark and bright to the point of chirpy. Hard, yet, achingly beautiful. Thematically discomforting, yet not remotely nihilistic. And so on.

This is hands-down my favorite CD of the year to simply listen to – lush, rich, driving and ambient all at once. The worst thing I can find to say about Walking with Strangers is that it’s probably not much better than their previous effort, Violet. Of course, that was a damned fine effort, too.

Blonde Redhead: 23
A lot of times I’ll fall in love with a dreampop/shoegazer/noisepop band and it feels like I’m the only one, but this year’s superb release from NYC-based Blonde Redhead seems to have popped up on a number of year-end lists. Their debt to My Bloody Valentine is obvious, but they also bring a haunting sense of melody to their music in ways that MBV and some of their other followers never managed.

Droning, shimmering, sweeping, dissonant but irresistibly lovely – 23 is a songwriting tour de force in a genre known a lot more for its atmospherics than for its tunesmithing. Simply remarkable.

The Clientele: God Save the Clientele
The most delightfully upbeat CD of the year. From top to bottom, this bright exercise in indie chamberpop feels a carefree stroll through one sunny park after another, and if I make it sound insubstantial, you have my apologies. GStC is anything but trivial. One reviewer, AMG’s Tim Sendra, calls it “a stunning batch of songs that will break your heart, pump it back full of life, and send you off to dreamland with a warm feeling filling your soul.” Not far off the mark, that – despite the warm, feel-good vibe, there is a lyrical depth here, but even when things go badly we’re never allowed to forget that the sun rises again tomorrow and with it comes a fresh burst of hope.

In its best moments – and there are many – The Clientele reminds me of Luke Haines on a good day. Tonally reflective, musically rich and warm – wonderful to listen to whether you’re paying very close attention or not.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen: The Good, The Bad & The Queen
Once upon a time Damon Albarn produced an iconic CD about life in London, Blur’s classic Parklife. After a couple insanely innovative outings at the center of Gorillaz, he’s now looped that aesthetic back into the task of yet another definitive set of snapshots depicting life in London. This time, though, the mood and storytelling are considerably bleaker.

Albarn has recruited a noteworthy cast this time around, and TGtB&tQ feels more like an actual band than Gorillaz ever did. Guitars are handled by Verve’s Simon Tong, Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen and Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and each brings a healthy dose of what made them famous to the project. Still, the disc feels more like Demon Days than it does Parklife, Urban Hymns or London Calling.

Albarn has now produced epic efforts in three different incarnations, and it’s hard not to number him among the greatest auteurs in rock music today. In sports terms, he’s an automatic first-ballot hall of famer even though he’s still in the middle of his career. Of course, rock doesn’t have a hall of fame….

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Raising Sand
Did you see this one coming? Because I know I didn’t. Metal legend teams with one of the brightest lights in contemporary bluegrass? Okay-dokey.

Of course, it’s brilliant, oscillating between folk, Americana and country, and perhaps thanks to T-Bone Burnett’s laid-back influence the whole things comes off as really effortless. Warm, organic, and maybe a little less explosive than I might have expected (Krauss only plays the fiddle on a couple of tracks), the result is what happens when legit superstars are willing to subjugate their individual talents to the requirements of the team.

VAST: April
Over the past decade it’s hard to find a band or performer that’s been more consistently outstanding than VAST, aka Jon Crosby. April represents a break from past form, though, in that it’s a bit more acoustic and also in Crosby’s willingness to let other people into the studio, a move that helps infuse the CD with some of the dynamism of the VAST live show, which is simply one of the hugest sounding things I’ve ever encountered.

April is probably not quite the masterpiece of 2000’s Music for People, but its suite of haunted, stunningly beautiful songs of love and loss still prove the merit of a brilliant artist. Even his second best work is markedly better than the best efforts of most others.

Amy Winehouse: Back To Black
Graham Parker says this is the best thing anyone has done in a very long time, and I’m very close to agreeing with him. Winehouse has reached back into the vaults, dragged out soul and R&B, dusted it off, and made it new again. This isn’t an easy thing to do – these styles have been done, done some more, and then done to death, so the vibrancy of Winehouse’s neo-soul sound is nothing short of remarkable. The songs are stellar and her performance of those songs suggests a power and experience that you rarely find in a 24 year-old. It’s a shame her personal soap opera has dominated public conversations about her – really, it should be all about the music.

P. Hux: Kiss the Monster
Track 5 is called “Come Clean,” and it begins this way: “I’m gonna tell her everything / I’m going to say I slept around.” Talk about two short lines that got my attention – I wanted to jump up, grab a phone and see if it was too late to stop him. It was: “I heard some feet go pitter-patter / A window on my pick-up shattered / fucking really fucking matters.” Parthenon Huxley has been around awhile – is career started in the Carolinas in the ‘80s – and the experience shows. A lot of power pop seems so constrained by the form and by the need to touch all the right bases influence-wise that it never quite establishes a serious depth, but that’s not an issue for Hux (and hasn’t been for some time, actually). Thoughtful guitar pop at its best.

The Lost Patrol: Launch and Landing
Damn. Just, wow. Twangy, epic widescreen music for empty western landscapes at sunset. Somehow TLP conjures the Old West and layers it with a twinge of goth electronica in a way that’s relentlessly cinematic. Their sound is defined, in some ways, by the connotive power of echo and reverb, yet it’s never overpowered by studio tricks. Instead, the focus never leaves the staggering accomplishment of the songs themselves, which manage to be as transcendent in impact as they are simple in structure and conception.

Oh, one more thing – this is a self-release. Somehow music this masterful isn’t worthy of label attention? You’re kidding, right? Well, that was the fate of the last Jets Overhead record, too, and it struck me as being the best release of 2006.

Radiohead: In Rainbows
I’ve always respected Radiohead for their willingness to explore and innovate. That respect hasn’t always translated into a high regard for the finished product, though. This year, though, the band has translated some of their experimentation into actual songs, and the result is frankly pretty impressive. In fact, I think it’s probably their best in several years. The commitment to more traditional structures has infused In Rainbows with a direction and a sense of control that hasn’t always been evident on the last few discs, and with luck this is the start of a new phase in the band’s considerable career.

Gold LP

The National: Boxer
Critics loved it. It was one of the top downloads at eMusic. And I sampled it, but was unimpressed. Finally a friend convinced me to spring for the download, and on about the fourth listen I all of a sudden realized what the hype was about. Its thoughtfulness and nuance didn’t strike me at first (and I’m admittedly bad about this – some of the greatest albums of all time I didn’t begin to grasp until the fifth spin), but it has a depth that grows on you, with each listen revealing a little more than the last.

LoveLikeFire: An Ocean in the Air
Outstanding dream/noisepoppers from San Francisco (what is it about that town, anyway? – BRMC, Minipop, these guys…) fail on only one count: the disc is too darned short. Seven tracks, under 30 minutes, so I guess it’s an EP. Still, there’s such a nice resonance to these songs.

The Choir Practice: The Choir Practice
Imagine if your favorite indie pop artists joined your high school choir and kicked the director out of the building. It’s kinda like that. Same concept as The Polyphonic Spree, only better than this year’s TPS effort. Unassuming, bright-eyed even in its dark moments – perhaps the year’s most irresistibly likable CD.

Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Another heavily hyped release that’s probably best known for its Billy Joel knockoff, “The Underdog,” but the disc is even better when it’s not riffing on pop icons. “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” is about as perfectly conceived and executed as any power pop song I’ve heard in awhile. Like infectious guitar rock/pop? You’re going to want this one.

Lily Allen: Alright, Still
The cheeky, pottymouthed Brit was the source of some animated debate on at least one of my lists this year. Is she a pop genius or simply the beneficiary of a lot of hype? I gotta tell you, I think her songs are clever as hell, both lyrically and musically. Cute, too, but a note for all the guys out there: you don’t ever want to be her ex-boyfriend. Or relative. In fact, if you’re at a party and somebody introduces you to her, run as fast as you can.

Mitch Easter: Dynamico
This is Easter’s first release since … when? The last Let’s Active album in 1988? Has it been that long? It’s certainly been too long. Easter has never been a great vocalist, exactly, but these are fantastic songs and the ringing guitars here make clear why Robert Plant has tried so hard through the years to get Easter into his band. This may be the best Mitch has ever sounded, and represents (along with Ian Hunter’s Shrunken Heads) one of the two best comebacks of the year.

The Frames: The Cost
Did you see Once yet? If not, go see it right now. Frames frontman Glen Hansard is the male lead, and you’ll recognize some of these tunes from the film. Earnest, quietly dramatic, and heartfelt in a way that proves you can be an emotive guy without being a simp. (Once you have this, go get his 2006 duet release with co-star Marketa Irglova – it’s at least as wonderful.)

Jag Star: The Best Impression Of Sanity
Let’s see. Chick singer who’s actually hot enough that she’s landed a national deal as a make-up model, songs that sound like they were crafted by an army of industry hookmongers, and a band that’s smart enough to stay the hell out of the way. Sounds like another cynical Avril-esque put-up job. Except that the hot chick, not The Matrix, wrote those songs, and they’re a real band, not a corporate prefabrication. Damn, it’s just one oughta-be-hit right after another, and Sarah Lewis (yeah, the hot chick has a name) can both sing and command a stage. If you’ve followed the curious career path of former indie diva Liz Phair, I think this is the thing she’s been trying to be. Congrats to Jag Star for proving that “pop” doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad word.

Sarah Nixey: Sing, Memory
The former singer for Black Box Recorder offers up a witty, breathy debut that’s sort of the Imogen Heap/Goldfrapp moment of the year. There’s a wealth of engaging electronic girl-pop out there, stuff that seems to draw from a fusion of mid-‘60s California pure pop and ‘90s trip-hop – think Burt Bacharach meets Portishead – and while it’s comparatively easy to do, it’s not at all easy to do it this well. The year’s best CD to grab a martini and chill with.

Fountains of Wayne: Traffic and Weather
When you’re consistently great you run the risk of people getting lost in the “consistent” and losing sight of the “great.” Such is the case with FoW’s latest. It’s not really any better than anything else they’ve done, but it’s not much worse, either. Which means that Traffic and Weather is insightful, clever, and hooky as hell – yet another brilliant series of snapshots capturing the drama of the American Mundane.

Ian Hunter: Shrunken Heads
I just kind of assumed that Hunter had retired and was living on a private estate somewhere trying to figure out how to spend all his money. And then, out of nowhere, comes Shrunken Heads. What’s oddly gratifying is how his reliance on a back-to-basics approach manages to feel very contemporary instead of self-consciously retro. It’s certainly not going to remind you of Mott the Hoople and “All the Young Dudes,” and maybe not even “We Gotta Get Out of Here” – instead he comes off a little more like Warren Zevon. Which isn’t a bad thing at all.

Ron Hawkins: Chemical Sounds
One of the surprises of the year. I’d never heard of Hawkins (or his old band, The Lowest of the Low) until a friend turned me onto them. Wow – intelligent, energetic guitar pop-rock that works really well as a driving-around soundtrack and works even better if you’re sitting and concentrating closely. A real gem – forget that you never heard of him before.

Apparat: Walls
Slightly avant electro-pop. Trippy in spots, ambient in others, and even borderline melodic/poppy on occasion. Challenging, and not the warm/fuzziest release of the year by a long shot. But awfully interesting, and a potential revelation for people looking for something a little different from their normal fare.

Nicole Atkins: Neptune City
The best word I can think of to describe Atkins’ voice is “epic.” When she hits the chorus of “The Way It Is” she conjures a landscape empty of all but longing and loss, and then she fills it with the most amazing beauty. In other spots she comes off as a darker reincarnation of Dusty Springfield. She’s not doing anything terribly new, but the sheer passion with which she trods the familiar path is remarkable.

Black Francis: Bluefinger
This, I believe, is the first time Charles Thompson has used the Black Francis persona since The Pixies split – previous solo efforts have been produced as Frank Black. Regardless of which incarnation you’re listening to, BF is always grating and in your face, and Bluefinger is classic in that respect. A disjointed homage to Dutch painter Herman Brood, Bluefinger is a veritable full-Monty parade of lust, decadence and strangeness, and I’ll leave it you to decide whether we’re lamenting or celebrating.

The Chromatics: Night Drive
A late-in-the-year discovery, Night Drive is another of these wonderfully languid electro-pop bands fronted by a seductive female vocalist. Downbeat, trippy, moody and atmospheric in a way that occasionally recalls Saint Etienne’s outstanding Good Humor CD, with at least one haunting descent into brooding goth ambience. Features a nifty update of Kate Bush’s classic “Running Up That Hill.”

The Flaws: Achieving Vagueness
If I’d had to place a bet 20 years ago on which bands would be exerting the greatest influence on music in the last half of the ‘00s, I can’t imagine I’d have plunked any chips down on Joy Division. But here we are, and from Interpol to The Killers to She Wants Revenge to any number of other neo-post-punk nu wavers dotting the landscape, the legacy of Joy Division is now clear. In a nutshell, The Flaws are JD meets The Killers with a smattering of Johnny Marr. Achieving Vagueness isn’t achieving anything terribly innovative, but the songs are compelling and the execution is more than accomplished. Great CD for the indie crowd, and I suspect a lot of people who grew up in the ‘80s are going to like it, too.

The Killers: Sawdust
All good outtakes discs need to offer B-sides, demos, alternate versions, remixes and covers, and it helps if there’s a solid new track, too. Sawdust delivers on all counts. The tracks from the Sam’s Town and Hot Fuss sessions were clearly omitted from those records for good reason (although the good news is that The Killers are obviously good at knowing what to leave out – a talent many other bands should work on cultivating), but the alternate takes (an acoustic piano version of “Sam’s Town” and a techno remix of “Mr. Brightside”) provide outstanding new perspectives on songs that most fans have probably only imagined one way. The cover of Dire Straits’ iconic “Romeo and Juliet” doesn’t surpass the original, but it’s faithful, pretty, and earnest in a way that makes clear the respect Brandon Flowers has for one of rock’s greatest bands. It also adds a bit of fuel to the Springsteen comparisons that seem to annoy many Killers fans, because the piano on the Dire Straits original was provided by none other than the E Street Band’s Roy Bittan. Hmmm. The cover of Joy Division’s “Shadowplay” (which they also performed live on their 2007 tour) is fun, too. The most intriguing track, though, is “Tranquilize,” a pitch-dark collaboration with Lou Reed. Sawdust is a must-own for Killers fans, and there’s plenty here for the non-hardcore, as well.

Ligion: External Affairs
So many of the cool new bands these aspire to the indie ethic, which is to say they’re basically plinky, twee little wankers who’ve turned their lack of talent into an aesthetic philosophy. They hope you won’t notice that they can’t play and when it comes to production it’s just easier not to even try, right? Ligion is sort of the opposite of that. Their goal seems to be to make huge, radio-ready arena-scale rock like the great ones did back in the day. In this sense, then, they probably live in the wrong decade, but I appreciate a band that comes at me with some attitude and polish. External Affairs manages to be an old-style rock record without sounding like they’re trying to knock off the classics, and that’s a plus, too. It’s a fresh hard-charging sound, and here’s hoping they have enough success to inspire some of their contemporaries to, you know, practice a little more.

Minus the Bear: Planet of Ice
Is there any such thing as “indie prog”? MtB was one of the most startling discoveries of the year, as they manage to fuse the clean spareness of indie rock with a structural aesthetic that suggests ‘70s progressive. They do so without seeming quite as obvious about it as, say, a Coheed and Cambria, and the result is a surprising fusion of complexity and accessibility. Maybe it’s not quite fair to invoke King Crimson here, but this is a CD I can imagine Robert Fripp liking quite a lot.

Maria McKee: Late December
One of McKee’s best efforts, either as a solo artist or as founder of Lone Justice. Less country than You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, less homicidal than Life is Sweet, but still distinctly McKee – edgy, full-throated, folk-inflected rock Americana that calls on influences as wide-ranging as Phil Spector, Tammy Wynette and Brian Wilson as appropriate. McKee has matured from a swaggering juke-joint bad girl into a confident, nuanced woman who’s as comfortable with her mind as she is with her body. It’s a shame the American musical mainstream has insisted on overlooking her rare talent for so long.

The New Pornographers: Challengers
Disclaimer – The New Pornographers are practitioners of a style that I’ve never fully loved. It’s a little too self-consciously … twitchy? … for me. However, there’s no denying the critical acclaim that follows them everywhere they go (although I think the consensus is that Challengers isn’t their best work). This is an awfully likable and thoughtful record, and it’s also one with some fabulous high spots (I love “My Rights Versus Yours” and the title track). It’s also guilty of unevenness, with a couple of tracks (like “Myriad Harbor”) that I could go the rest of my life without hearing again. (And The Choir Practice’s version of “Failsafe” is infinitely better than the NP take here.) If this list were about “like” instead of “good,” I probably wouldn’t include Challengers. But it would be grossly unfair not to credit the disc’s considerable depth and craftsmanship.

The Polyphonic Spree: The Fragile Army
Historically you don’t really know about a band until their third album. The first two PS records could have emerged from the same session, but on The Fragile Army we begin to see a more … worldy? … group. They’ve traded their colorful choir robes in for black uniforms that seem almost military and while their songs are plenty melodic, there’s a darker undercurrent at work. It’s an accomplished disc, to be sure, but maybe I was hoping for something a little less professional. Still, I always value growth and evolution, and while I still prefer the debut, this is on my Gold list, isn’t it?

The Primary 5: Go!
Did you like Teenage Fanclub? Then you’re going to like The Primary 5, which is headed up by former TF drummer Paul Quinn. Jangly guitar pop that recalls The Byrds’ happier moments – like some other stuff on this list it’s not breaking any new ground, but it’s certainly chock-full of bright toe-tappers.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights
If you don’t know the Daps, here’s the short version: they’re essentially dedicated to pretending that the last 30 years or so never happened, serving up a faithful brand of neo-R&B and soul that sounds (all the way down to the production values) like it could have appeared on the same card as James Brown back in the late 1960s. So yeah, it’s a novelty act, albeit an incredibly good one – had they appeared alongside the Godfather, the question is would Sharon Jones have stolen the show. 100 Days, 100 Nights is a bit of a progression for the band, though – it’s darker, smokier and sultrier than their first two releases, with the focus having shifted from the dance floor to the bedroom. I hate to make too much of a fuss over the unapologetically retro, but it’s just that damned good.

Skinny Puppy: Mythmaker
One of the pioneers of industrial (they’ve been at it since Reagan’s first term) is back with an effort that’s very much a Skinny Puppy record. Faithful to their legacy, not really feeling the need to break new ground, but nonetheless solid and accomplished. It’s kind of like what I said about the last Cure record. This is a Skinny Puppy disc, and if you like Skinny Puppy discs you’ll like it. End of story.

Trances Arc: XOXOX
One of the two or three best power pop/rock releases of the year. Sadly it’s only eight tracks and 35 minutes long, which leaves you wanting more. But if you’re a fan of boys with guitars and a highly developed sense of melody and harmony, XOXOX is for you.

Minipop: A New Hope
While significantly less dissonant than Blonde Redhead, these two bands share a lineage, as Minipop derives more from the ethereal Cocteau Twins side of the shoegazer family tree. Their brand of dreamy, hypnotic swirl-pop seeks to hook the listener with a blend of pure sweetness and deceptively assertive power chords, and the end result is perhaps like drifting through space with a morphine drip. Some critics accuse them of lacking any real depth, and this is perhaps true – A New Hope isn’t what you’d call literary. But it succeeds quite nicely at the task it sets for itself.

Editors: An End Has A Start
If Editors don’t remind you – a lot – of Interpol, then your ears just aren’t programmed like mine. Huge doses of post-punk influence (maybe a little too much in spots), especially Joy Division, perhaps limit the potential of the band, but that said there’s an art to constructing and executing a compelling song, regardless of influence or genre. And this is a CD chocked full of engaging, atmospheric tunes.

We Start Fires: Magazine
Musically, We Start Fires aren’t doing anything that Elastica didn’t do. They are, however, doing it very well. There is a refreshing sort of in-your-face feminist edge on things, though – almost reminiscent of Micki Berenyi’s songs for Lush. Kind of a fun change of pace in an age when so many of indie’s most interesting bands are taking their cues from post-punk – here’s a group settling into that Wire/Elastica lineage, and while they’re not breaking a lot of new ground, they’re also young enough to keep an eye on.

Honorable Mention

Drowning Pool: Full Circle
Decent effort, as 2000s metal goes. The main attraction here is the ass-kicking cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.”

White Rabbits: Fort Nightly
A talented group of players, but if you caught them on Letterman their stellar rendition of “The Plot” might have led you to think their a lot more accessible than their quirky avant-pop actually is.

My Teenage Stride: Ears Like Golden Bats
Seems like every year there’s an artist or band whose debt to their influences is so strong that they’re barely a step away from being a Holiday Inn tribute act, but that despite their lack of originality they still manage to put out a record that’s damned enjoyable. Last year it was She Wants Revenge, this year it’s My Teenage Stride, which poaches gleefully from New Order, The Smiths, the Go-Betweens, REM and Jesus and Mary Chain, to name a few. I’m not asking you to respect its originality, but I am suggesting that sometimes plagiarism can be fun.

Fauxliage: Fauxliage
The latest side project from the kings of the side project, Rhys Fuller and Bill Leeb (aka Delerium, Noise Unit, Synaesthesia, Front Line Assembly). Fauxliage is a collaboration with Sixpence None the Richer’s Leigh Nash, who had worked with Fuller and Leeb on Delerium’s Poem and Chimera CDs. Short version: this effort lacks the spark of Delerium’s best work (1994’s Semantic Spaces and 1997’s Karma), but is still quite nice. If you loved those discs you’ll like this one.

Stars: In Our Bedroom After the War
Sophisticated, theatrical, occasionally dramatic chamber pop – not your run-of-the-mill indie fare by any stretch. Engaging and ambitious, but I’m left thinking that while they’re very good, they’re certainly never going to be great.

Angelique Kidjo: Djin Djin
A lot more joyous and overtly “African” than her last couple of releases – and more satisfying for precisely that reason. The high spot is her cover of “Gimme Shelter.” Yes, that “Gimme Shelter.”

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