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Elements of Pop

Seven new albums, each scored on how well you can sing to it, dance to it, marvel at it, mope to it, and just plain crank it up.

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DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS
Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
Alabama’s answer to Bruce Springsteen, the Truckers are the leading chroniclers of the subprime South—just check out the song titles: “Daddy Needs a Drink,” “You and Your Crystal Meth,” “The Man I Shot.” Their last record was a bit too tight and spiffed up; this one is looser and more sprawling, nineteen tracks of lap-steel-tinged ballads and rockers. New wrinkle: Bassist Shonna Tucker makes her auspicious lead-vocal debut.
Singalongability: 7
Danceability: 2
Artistic Merit: 7
Bleakness Factor: 8
Crank It Up: 9


VAMPIRE WEEKEND
S/T
If they’d shown up at CBGB circa 1978, these outré Ivy League preppies probably would’ve been beaten with bicycle chains. For a recent article in GQ that judged their debut record “nearly perfect,” they posed as trust-funders lounging on a veranda. Such is the state of New York that they are now the toast of post-bohemian downtown, beloved for peppy, multicultural rock self-consciously indebted to Paul Simon’s Graceland.
Singalongability: 7
Danceability: 8
Artistic Merit: 5
Bleakness Factor: 2
Crank It Up: 7


MAGNETIC FIELDS
Distortion
The news that Stephin Merritt wanted this record to sound like the Jesus and Mary Chain was not promising at first blush. Must everyone these days rob the grave of the eighties? But the distortion that fizzes and screeches behind these songs has surprising depth and richness, while retaining enough coarseness to bring out the sweetness of Merritt’s melodies, which are as inventive as any in his impressive catalogue.
Singalongability: 8
Danceability: 1
Artistic Merit: 9
Bleakness Factor: 8
Crank It Up: 5


BABY DEE
Safe Inside the Day
A veteran of Coney Island freak shows, as well as a Bronx church where she spent a decade as musical director, Baby Dee brings all the weird, retro splendor of vaudeville to her work. Like Tom Waits, she plows across musical boundaries—blues, folk, jazz, classical, stuff you couldn’t put a name to—and just when you’ve had it up to here with the relentless nuttiness of it all, she surprises you with poignancy.
Singalongability: 2
Danceability: 1
Artistic Merit: 8
Bleakness Factor: 8
Crank It Up: 2


CLUB 8
The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming
Labrador Records isn’t behind any of the Swedish party bands that have made a name for themselves in the U.S., but the Stockholm label has for the last decade churned out exquisite pop music from a coterie of overlapping bands. This duo consists of angelic singer Karolina Komstedt and studio genius Johan Angergård, who is a Labrador founder, and they play sweet, wistful songs undergirded by a subtle rhythmic complexity.
Singalongability: 9
Danceability: 4
Artistic Merit: 6
Bleakness Factor: 7
Crank It Up: 5


MGMT
Oracular Spectacular
Put the last eight years of Williamsburg micro-genres in a blender— all that electroclash, disco rock, retro glam, and psych-folk—and you’ve got a sense of the charming mess that is this Connecticut-via-Brooklyn duo’s debut. With Flaming Lips producer Dave Friddman putting a smooth, trippy sheen over everything, the best songs burst forth like little you’ve ever heard before.
Singalongability: 5
Danceability: 8
Artistic Merit: 8
Bleakness Factor: 5
Crank It Up: 9


HOT CHIP
Made in the Dark
Synthesizers were supposed to have superseded guitars years ago, and if that had actually happened, there’d be many more bands that sound like Hot Chip. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing. This U.K. band, which is signed in the U.S. to James Murphy’s geek-cool DFA Records, delights in bending, twisting, and otherwise disfiguring all manner of musical forms, while still basing its songs on killer melodies.
Singalongability: 8
Danceability: 8
Artistic Merit: 6
Bleakness Factor: 4
Crank It Up: 7


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