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Three citizen critics with different tastes offer competing takes on noteworthy recent albums.


1 = Skip it
5 = Try it
10 = Buy it
Brian Battjer, Product Designer and Blogger, 34
The former metalhead’s first concert was Lollapalooza’s 1992 stop in Stanhope, New Jersey. “I looked like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, except with a ponytail and the sides of my head shaved.” A more recent obsession: Best Coast’s debut. “As soon as it was over I wanted to hear it again.”
Erin Chapman, TV Producer, 33
Erin grew up in northern Florida; her first show was Nirvana at the Tallahassee civic center, where she was most likely wearing “baggy corduroy pants with a Waffle House T-shirt.” Erin was also way into Dolly Parton, and, after some bad behavior, was not allowed to watch the TV broadcast of 9 to 5. “A dark day.”
Mike Damski, Sculptor, 28
The Bushwick-based artist pays the rent in the art department on a TV show. He grew up in L.A. listening to the Germs and Circle Jerks before his brother, Nick, turned him on to Charles Mingus and Miles Davis, thus destroying Mike’s cred with his punk friends.
The Cars move like this Front man Ric Ocasek swore a reunion would never happen, and yet here are all three surviving members (Benjamin Orr died in 2000) attempting to re-create the band’s shimmery pop magic, for the first time since 1987. I’m a huge Ric Ocasek fan, and I can’t believe how great he still sounds after all these years! Two and a half minutes into the second song, “Too Late,” you hear one of the signature Cars keyboard hooks. This song could be from their heyday back catalogue. It’s great to hear music coming from the originators after 30 years of appropriation. Rating: 8 Best track:
"Too Late"
I found this insufferable. At first I thought every track was six minutes long. In fact, they average under four, but time seemed to expand, like a black hole with eighties sounds leaking through the space-time continuum (but sounds that would have been rejected 30 years ago). I went immediately to ­YouTube to remind myself of how awesome the Cars were. This is for people who now watch concerts from the skybox. Rating: 1Best track:
"drag on forever" (an honest title, at least)
The album walks the line between staying true to their sound and sounding outdated. The verse of “Blue Tip” is like an LCD Soundsystem song, with hard-driving drums and clean, simple synth, but the chorus is total Cars and catchy as hell. “Too Late” is something you might dance to at a John Hughes prom: super-cheesy with no sense of irony. Still, the record is the perfect antidote to the doldrums of my daily J-train commute. Rating: 8Best track:
"Blue Tip"
The Felice Brothers celebration, florida The country-rock collective centers on two brothers from the Catskills who grew up playing backyard barbecues, then the New York subways. Their fourth LP trades hootenanny hipsterism for an electro-dance sound. This is like bluegrass hip-hop or Arcade Fire if they were from the Ozarks. The album is interesting, but also strange and disjointed—each song is totally different. Of the two I really liked, “Honda Civic” is a folksier version of a Cake song, and “Back in the Dancehalls”—with its minimalist beat, violin, and great synth tone—could have been on the Revenge of the Nerds soundtrack. I bet they’re great live. Rating: 5 Best track:
"Honda Civic"
An overwrought pastiche of influences that never coalesces into coherence. As a native Floridian, I begrudge them their underwhelming appropriation of my home state’s metaphorical value. There should be a Wagnerian cycle written about the town of Celebration. This is not it. I want to have a serious conversation with people who like this, the same way I wanted to do with people who voted for George W. Bush in 2004. I don’t want to judge. I just want to understand. Rating: 2Best track:
Hipster music at its worst. Listening to it bummed me out. These are obviously ­talented musicians who would be better served picking one style rather than trying to do every­thing at once. That said, any song that refers to Mike Tyson’s trainer (“Cus’s Catskill Gym”) is a plus for me. Rating: 2Best track:
Cus’s Catskill Gym”
Art Brut Brilliant! Tragic!Their 2005 debut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, combined cheeky dork swagger with celebratory rock. After some post-breakout ennui, the British fivesome return to their winning wit-plus-sincerity formula, with Frank Black producing. Sounds a lot like their first record: clever, whispered rhyming couplets over dueling jangly guitars. I’d like to hear them do more structured songs like “Ice Hockey”—a cross between the Pixies and Billy Bragg—and less of the “I’m speak-singing an ironic story.” I’ve seen Art Brut live, and this album doesn’t really do them justice. Rating: 6 Best track:
"Ice Hockey"
Lyrics like “How can you bear to hold his hand/I bet he signs his name in Comic Sans” amuse me. “Axel Rose” strikes a nice balance between earnest irony and ironic earnestness; every time the singer says “fucked” or “fucking,” it’s got the tone of 13-year-old who’s showing off, but still secretly finds obscenity shocking. I really liked half the album; the other half, meh. The record’s at its weakest when it reaches for musicality and can’t seal the deal. Rating: 6Best track:
"Axel Rose"
I had trouble making up my mind about this album. I enjoyed it instrumentally, but the vocals are overwhelming and annoying. There’s no continuity. The record made me think about how important identity is for a band: If they were merely a punk-rock band, they’d be awesome, but they’re trying too hard to be an art-rock band and not succeeding. Rating: 5Best track:
"Axel Rose"
Danger Mouse & Daniele LuppiRomeAn homage to Italian film music, recorded on vintage equipment by musicians who played on Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti-Western soundtracks (with guests Jack White and Norah Jones). I love how lush this record is. It’s more of a continuous, flowing musical narrative than a track-by-track album. It made me want to be driving somewhere warm with the windows down. But it’s also great to listen to while doing work. This will be big anywhere people are sketching, programming, or pushing pixels. In figure-drawing class, this is on your headphones. Rating: 7Best track:
None. It’s hard to think of this album as separate songs.
Italian spaghetti and Giallo soundtracks are my favorite. I proselytize for Morricone, Nicolai, and Fidenco. When I read about this, that the album reunited Alessandroni’s choir and that they got Edda Dell’Orso, I was intrigued. But while the musicians who were killing it in the sixties are still killing it, there’s no sense of character or story arc to pull you through. And the tracks with vocals by Jack White and Norah Jones made me cringe.Rating: 4Best track:
Theme of ‘Rome’
I really enjoyed this album. It definitely tears a page out of Ennio Morricone’s songbook. It has that epic quality of sixties and seventies film soundtracks but maintains a funkiness. Great for a dinner party at home or a mellow, after-hours type of place. Rating: 9Best track:
Ellie Goulding LightsThe wispy-voiced singer is a rising pop star in Britain. Goulding performed her cover of Elton John’s “Your Song” at the royal-wedding reception, has performed on SNL, and Rihanna wants to collaborate. I don’t think I’m the target audience. “The Writer” induced “butt hurt,” which is when you are so embarrassed you clench your ass cheeks with discomfort. These are the lyrics to the chorus: “Why don’t you be the artist and make me out of clay/Why don’t you be the writer and decide the words I say.” Three listens in a row would make a virile man sterile. But the title track is great! Rating: 4 Best track:
When I first heard this, I thought, This is a lady who has a music video with a horse in it. I checked it out. I was right. And that’s okay. Girlfriend likes horses and hand claps and performed at the royal wedding. Can you hate that? You might disdain, but can you hate? I can’t. Rating: 6Best track:
Under the Sheets
It isn’t bad bubbly pop music, but I’m not a fan of bubbly pop music. Also, she might want to reconsider her name: Ellie Goulding sounds too much like Elliott Gould. Rating: 2Best track:




Illustrations by James Taylor.


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