singles have begun to render the “album”—that is, the long,
varied yet cohesive musical statement—nearly obsolete. And
it’s ironic that such rapid advances in technology have pushed
us back to something similar to post-WWII, pre- Beatles teen
culture, where the 45 RPM single was all-important and the
LP secondary at best. Nonetheless, even artists that are deeply
embedded in the pop mainstream still occasionally court the
concept of the “important” album.
There was Green Day’s American Idiot, My Chemical Romance’s
more recent swipe at epic grandiosity with The Black Parade
and Nine Inch Nails’ extremely recent Year Zero, which
wrapped cyber-punk, obliquely political statements in the
same old clever industrial din. (Trent Reznor’s dark, nihilistic
shtick will continue to sell records as long as there are
disenfranchised young people who mistake its one-note anger
for redemptive power. But, much like the pretend vindication
of role-playing games and graphic novels, the “redemption”
is ultimately hollow. Did anyone else find something uncomfortably
Leni Riefenstahl-meets-Matrix about this album?)
I think the new album concept should simply be this: A CD
that has good songs from end to end, and that works somewhat
cohesively as an artistic statement. I know I’m describing
what an album is already supposed to be, but clearly most
current mainstream artists are bucking my concept. But if
you’re looking for one that fits the bill, the sure money
this month is on Feist.
Canadian singer-songwriter’s greatest achievement may be that
she is able to telegraph to the listener that her music is
“alternative” while painting in colors that approach bossa
nova and lounge-cool jazz. But The Reminder is not
jazz, and Feist never seems like an interloper: Her own sui
generis aura consumes things, and her music sounds timeless
and downright beautiful. There is also something stark about
this album at times—lots of spaces and slow, organically cresting
On this, her second LP (or third, counting a now out-of-print
1999 release), she creates something earthy and poetic, without
letting the helium of her pop intentions disperse the songs
off into airiness. Feist has found that there is still purchase
in the suburbanized land of pop music for subtle reinvention.
“My Moon My Man” rocks out while being primarily driven by
bouncy bass notes on the piano. She overlaps little piles
of sounds in subtle, small ways and is also a deceivingly
versatile vocalist, able to play ’60s Euro-pop chanteuse one
moment (“So Sorry”) and revert to a sad, hollow, prairie wail
the next (“The Park”). Brilliance never shouts “look at me!
look at me!” like some people would like it to.
I remember another Canadian, Avril Lavigne, as a petulant
child with too much eye makeup singing about stuff that was
way too adult and bragging about her songwriting prowess to
Rolling Stone even though hired hands did most of the
heavy lifting. The Best Damn Thing is more like her
debut album in 2002 (“Complicated,” etc.) and lacks the stalled
attempts at deepness that were all over her sophomore album.
“Girlfriend” is guitar-driven kiddie punk with finger-wagging,
screw-you lyrics; “I Can Do Better” is guitar-driven kiddie
punk with finger-wagging, screw-you lyrics; and the title
track is guitar-driven kiddie punk with finger-wagging, screw-you
lyrics. I know I’m not the audience for this, but this time
around Lavigne’s angry, in-your-face woman-child brio is guaranteed
to annoy even her intended audience.
similarly young Arctic Monkeys are the sound
of British guitar pop circa 2007, enjoying all of the NME
endorsements that such a distinction allows. I never quite
understood the enthusiasm for their first album, which seemed
yet another case of British music-press hype, which always
has a wistfully imperial ring to it (that is, the idea that
they can occasionally retake the colonies via young lads with
guitars and cute haircuts).
But beyond British hyperbole, this group does a nice update
on the class of ’77 (Elvis Costello, the Jam, the Clash) on
Favourite Worst Nightmare. They are loved in England
because they sound so distinctly English; they ape their Anglian
forebears and Alex Turner sings in marble-mouthed Sheffield-isms.
“Fluorescent Adolescent” is lightly infectious; otherwise,
I still find the Arctic Monkeys pretty good, but don’t get
the nationalist adoration.
For a while I thought that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
were a UK band, but they’re actually from California,
except for an English drummer. For 2005’s Howl, the
group changed up their noise-pop, shoegazer- influenced approach
for Americana (landing them in the pages of No Depression).
For Baby 81, they’ve returned to their bracing guitar
attack, molding an album that seems equal parts Jesus and
Mary Chain and Detroit garage rock. This is tough, gut-punched,
brooding rock & roll.
pounding, searing tribalisms of “666 Conducer”—which holds
its mean-ass groove so long it becomes hypnotic—has a whiff
of Spaceman 3 about it. Elsewhere, there is uninspired rock-riffery
and wordplay (“Lien on Your Dreams,” “Berlin”), but my favorite
tracks here, “Not What You Wanted” and “Weapon of Choice,”
display a group that is dark, tough and melodic.
is an electronica artist I’ve followed for a while and
have written about a lot. Aka Jimmy Tamborello, he’s perhaps
most known for collaborating with head Death Cab for Cutie
man Ben Gibbard in the Postal Service. He pioneered bedroom-electronic
and uniquely glitch-driven tracks. (Besides the brilliant
Boards of Canada, he is the only über-experimental electronica
maven I consistently listen to.) In truth, I wish the world
discovered Dntel via earlier works, but there are still great
moments on Dumb Luck. You needn’t like electronica
to get into this stuff. Fitting Tamborello’s pedigree, there
are lots of hip indie vocalists (Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst,
Jenny Lewis), but Grizzly Bear’s Edward Droste propels the
best track, “To a Fault,” whose collision of various organic
and manufactured textures and pretty melodies defy my description.
On the rap side of things, Lil’ Flip emerges from the
same Houston scene that has produced DJ Screw (great) and
that man of the diamond-embedded grill, Paul Wall (not so
much). His strangest musical achievement is his most recent:
a MySpace single that doesn’t appear on an album and which
is a tribute to the Virginia Tech victims. Here, he basically
plays (and hardly even samples) Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After
Time,” rapping well-intentioned, if unfocused, sentiments
over it. Musically, it’s an aberration (worked on for all
of an hour, at best); in spirit, it’s golden. On his current
album proper, I Need Mine, the beats and rhymes seem
scattershot and blurry. Thematically, it’s loaded to the gills
with N-words, profanities, numerous threats of gun violence
against associates and boasts about financial solvency. It
is one of the most musically anemic, ethically bankrupt, boorish
and stupid albums I have ever heard. I have to wonder if the
V.T. tribute song on MySpace was drastic P.R. scrambling.
Actually, I don’t wonder.