Monday, May 14, 2007

And the Hits Keep On Coming

I buy more music than I can fully digest, and sometimes I think that I’d enjoy it more if I acquired less. Back in December, I made a breakable pact with myself to rein it in a little. Well, I’m going to have to push that idea back a year, because 2007 continues to bring a flood of top-notch releases. Here are five more personal recommendations (Trip, feel free to ignore number four).

Sloan, Never Hear the End of It
Power pop confections with grown-up ambitions, Sloan packs thirty tunes into seventy-six minutes, the kind of effort we used to call a double album, but now we typically deem excessive. But not a note here seems superfluous. Gods in Canada, but mostly unknown to me previously, Sloan fully explores the possibilities of two guitars, bass, drums, harmonies and the kinds of melodies that make your head snap around. I’m going to have to spend a lot more time with this album to fully unlock its mysteries, but on the surface it’s a stunner.

Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare
This record should have been a disaster. Instead, it’s a revelation. Rather than crumbling under the weight of their debut (“Fifth-best British album ever!”), Arctic Monkeys come back even stronger just a year later. The time on tour supporting the first album has paid dividends – this band is tight – and the songs remain machete-sharp, with the benefit of textures and shadings not heard before. On one level, it plays like a sequel to Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (think Pretenders II without the couple of missteps). On another, it plays like a jumping-off point for a band that could be with us for the next fifteen years.

Ceu, Ceu
Sexy, sultry, languid contemporary Brazilian pop that suggests what Astrud Gilberto might have sounded like had she emerged from a trip hop band rather than Joao’s bed. A solid, out-of-nowhere cover of Bob Marley’s “Concrete Jungle” sounds perfectly at home here, without a trace of novelty. The whole album exudes a cool wee-small-hours vibe. Play it around smart, sophisticated women, and it will make them like you.

Antibalas, Security
Recently, Trip lauded The Red Button, a couple of California cats who recreate the sounds of 1960s London down to the Davey Jones dialect in their pronunciation of “gihl.” This Brooklyn band likewise approximates brilliance with a sound straight out of 1970s Nigeria, complete with Fela Kuti’s “shuffering and shmiling” patois. This is supple, powerful, slow-boiling world funk that shall provide the soundtrack for my summer ’07 backyard barbeques. Here’s my only reservation about recommending the disc to you. On one hand, it sounds just like Fela, and Fela is great. On the other, it sounds just like Fela, and his albums are still in print. So, if you’re not already acquainted with Mr. Kuti’s revolutionary work, buy this first, and then grab Security.

Lucinda Williams, West
I’ve had this since it came out in February, and at first I was not impressed. The problem may have been me. Whenever Lu releases an album, I expect brilliance, and I go in pursuit of it, tearing through the disc for something as immediately affecting as “Changed the Locks” or “Drunken Angel.” But this effort requires passive listening. It does the work for you. Give it time, don’t concentrate too hard, let it wash over you. Words that seem awkward on the page reveal themselves in fragments, guitar lines float to the surface. Producer Hal Willner gives the whole thing a warm, fluid sonic sheen that pairs perfectly with the worn edges of Lucinda’s voice. In short, West is a grower that I expect to like even more by the fall.

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