Rating system:
1 = Skip it
2 = Try it
3 = Buy it

(Illustrations by James Taylor)

Jamil the Old-School Canadian
Grew up in Toronto loving hip-hop but thinks few of today’s rappers are as compellingly inventive as mid-nineties groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang. Now sates his idiosyncrasy jones with indie types like Sufjan Stevens and Björk.

Stacey the Fashionista
Designs her own clothing line called alice + olivia. Wore leggings as a second-grader to honor Madonna and has “never given up either one.” Current favorites: She Wants Revenge, Franz Ferdinand, Nouvelle Vague remixes, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Sarah the Schoolteacher
Shares favorite indie-rock albums with her Park Slope students (they really like the Go! Team). Has been listening nonstop to the Mamas & the Papas for several weeks.

Photo: J. Michelle Martin-Coyne/Warner Bros.

At War With the Mystics
The Flaming Lips
Another batch of catchy melodies and soundscape tangents from the eccentric rockers, whose history of producing music for audiophiles and hallucinogen lovers long predates their recent status as indie-critic faves.

Jamil: Even if this were the first Flaming Lips album I’d listened to, I’d still assume they were a veteran crew. They’re self-assured, by which I mean they’re secure enough about themselves to mess around with all the experimental noises one associates with the Flaming Lips without veering into hey-look-how-avant-garde-we-are obscurity.
Rating: 7
Best track: “It Overtakes Me/The Stars Are So Big, I Am So Small… Do I Stand A Chance?”

Stacey: Gotta love the Lips—eighties indie rock done in a groovy, cosmic, Paris’s Colette–meets–Pink Floyd kind of way. I like playing it over and over while I design mod, mini, Edie Sedgwick–inspired stuff.
Rating: 9
Best track: “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”

Sarah: The kids love this album. “The way they stop singing and just play the music, it makes me so dizzy. In a happy way,” one of them says. They don’t know the word psychedelic, but they know what it means, and they hear it here. They twirl around on the rug, saying things like “Far-out, man.” I love the songs, too; they wander all over, but with purpose, each song coming apart at times and then meshing again beautifully. “I wish all music made me feel like this,” one kid says.
Rating: 9
Best track: “Mr. Ambulance Driver”

Photo: Scott Schafer/Def Jam

Ghostface Killah
The Wu-Tang Clan’s most exuberant member delivers tales of street life in the lyrically euphonious—if occasionally nonsensical—style that made him famous (e.g., “I’m James Bond / in the Octagon”).

Jamil: From the time I heard him kill his verse on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ ” (from Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, which I am proud to say I owned on cassette), Ghostface has been my favorite Wu member. I wish there was more rap like this these days: imagery that’s graphic but accessible, delivered flawlessly. I also appreciate the chorus of “Kilo”: “All around the world today, the kilo is the measure.” As a Canadian, I wholeheartedly agree.
Rating: 10
Best track: “The Champ”

Stacey: Amazing!!! Well, amazing for the next night I decide to grab a 40, blow up the two-way, and grind at 4 a.m. Songs like “Clipse of Doom” and “Whip You With a Strap” are so evocative that this is a little too ghetto-fab for my taste.
Rating: 6
Best track: “Kilo”

Sarah: Regular readers of this column may remember that the only hip-hop I own is a mix my dry cleaner made me (heavy on Kurtis Blow), but I loved this album. The stories he tells are vivid, astonishing, and sometimes heartbreaking. More than once this week, I’ve gotten so caught up trying to catch every word that I missed a subway stop.
Rating: 8
Best track: “Underwater”

Photo: Susanna Howe/Capitol Records

Vision Valley
The Vines
The teen idols of the garage-rock revival release their first album since intra-band squabbles and legal problems led to their lead singer’s being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

Jamil: The Vines are not actually that bad when they’re trying to sound like the Vines—i.e., loud and immediate. It’s the frequent attempts to mature that make this album so boring. “Dandy Daze” was clearly an attempt to write something reminiscent of the Beach Boys; what it actually sounds like is an Old Navy commercial.
Rating: 4
Best track: “Fuk Yeh”

Stacey: Not my favorite, but I love the idea of combining garage grunge and pop-ish radio punk, and I love that the band met at a McDonald’s in Australia. A few of the tunes—“Don’t Listen to the Radio,” “Fuk Yeh”—are definitely at least worth adding to the iPod.
Rating: 6
Best track: “Vision Valley”

Sarah: I have to edit what the kids can hear from this album thanks to lame outbursts like “people are full of hurl.” They notice the same thing I do—it’s divided pretty evenly into melodic songs and blaring, jarring rock. “It’s like they’re two different bands,” one girl notes. We both like the melodic band much better. The rock songs are just background noise. “This is giving me a huge headache,” one kid says of “Anysound.” Yeah.
Rating: 3
Best track: “Take Me Back”

Back to the Web
Elf Power
The Athens, Georgia–based cronies of indie stalwarts Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel return with an Eastern-flavored take on those groups’ signature combination of fantastical lyrics and elaborate retro instrumentation.

Jamil: I have no idea what the members of this band look like, but after listening to the album, I picture a long-haired, long-bearded dude strumming his guitar by a fire while his shirtless friends jig around adding their two cents on various handmade instruments. It’s an entertaining enough vibe that I could see jigging right along with them from time to time, but it’s not an album that bears repeated listening—the lyrics aren’t that interesting, and the lead singer’s voice is kind of bland.
Rating: 7
Best track: “King of Earth”

Stacey: Sounds like the Middle East meeting seventies rock somewhere in organic suburbia. Like if my yoga teacher had a band playing at the Mercury Lounge. The mellow mood works in a hypnotic, Wilco-ish way—it grows on you the second or third time around.
Rating: 7
Best track: “Peel Back the Moon, Beware!”

Sarah: I asked a boy in my class to listen to two Elf Power songs. “Somewhere Down the River” reminds him of “going to India,” which is right on. (I’m not sure what to make of his comment that “23rd Dream” reminds him of “hobos wearing bow ties.”) Many of the songs have simple, almost snake-charmer-like melodies, and the lyrics are chanted as much as sung. It’s a droning, folkie quality that the kids like—they claim it helps make their cursive handwriting better—but it just makes me a bit bored.
Rating: 5
Best track: “Peel Back the Moon, Beware!”

Photo: Aliya Naumoff/Interscope

Show Your Bones
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
In addition to physically personifying the concept called “Williamsburg,” artsy-chick queen Karen O’s trio moonlights as a band—one that’s gotten slightly mellower since their debut, Fever to Tell.

Jamil: I’m hard-pressed to think of another artist I’d forgive for just yelping “Ooh-ooh” as an entire chorus, as Karen O does on “Gold Lion”—but when she does it, it’s a contender for single of the year. She has a naturally distinctive voice, but she uses it well: She’s unpredictable in a way that a lot of rock singers aren’t (see Elf Power).
Rating: 9
Best track: “Gold Lion”

Stacey: Psychedelic punk. I’m into it. Karen O’s voice is sharp and clear—I’d love to hear it live. The songs have a commercial feel but a Velvet Underground vibe; Andy Warhol would appreciate the tunes and the fact that, instead of lyrics, the CD leaflet features a collage for each song.
Rating: 8
Best track: “Honeybear”

Sarah: Karen O, new hero to Brooklyn’s fourth-grade girls. “She makes it so obvious that girls are cool,” one of them says (they also feel sorry for her that “someone gave her such a bad haircut”). The songs themselves don’t do much for me, though: Maybe I’m getting old, but when a girl starts screaming as a guitar blares in the background, I start rolling my eyes.
Rating: 6
Best track: “Honeybear”