1 = Skip it
5 = Try it
10 = Buy it
Andre the Music Snob
Immerses himself in neo-psychedelia and no-wave, and takes ironic pleasure in southern rock. Favorite band of all time: James Chance and the Contortions.
Madison the A&R Chick
A pop fanatic since she first heard Rumours, by Fleetwood Mac. Depeche Mode defined her teenage years. Obsessed with finding the next Prince.
Howie the Sleepless New Dad
In college, he listened to nothing but rap. Now his taste tilts toward gentle folk-rock that won’t drive his wife from the room. Hates Maroon 5 with a passion.
The Norwegian pop star, who has won a global following for her infectious dance singles and has been touted in this country as Britney Spears for hipsters, finally gets her U.S. release. How exactly did pop tart Annie become the darling of cred-sensitive indie kids last year, signed by the manager of Brooklyn’s Pan-hipster conglomerate Vice? Annie knows how to slither and coo on a track, but with neither Madonna’s pop instincts nor Christina Aguilera’s vocal chops, she’s only as good as her neo-disco production.
Best Track: “Heartbeat” Not as cool as Blondie but much cooler than Kylie, Annie has a shot at making it in the U.S. She isn’t an amazing vocalist, and I’m not sure she has anything earth-shattering to communicate to us, but it’s fun, with a lighthearted appeal. If you’re into Euro-pop, this diva could be a fine addition to your collection. By Christmas, you will have forgotten all about her, but what’s the harm in that?
Best Track: “Heartbeat” This wears me out. I’m not too old to appreciate a disposable dance tune, but as far as I can tell, what you’ve got here are two good songs—“Chewing Gum” and “Heartbeat”—and then a whole lot of filler that wouldn’t pass muster in a spin class. The singer can’t really sing, and the endless trebly synthesizers get on my nerves. Where the hell is the bass? Isn’t that what dance music is all about? Still, if “Heartbeat” came on at a party, I’d get up and dance—or, you know, consider it.
Best Track: “Heartbeat”
Get Behind me Satan
The fifth album from Detroit’s favorite pair of exes departs from their bluesy guitar-and-drums minimalism with a much wider-ranging though still blues-oriented sound. Paging Jim O’Rourke: Jack White has made off with your marimba. Satan is dizzying, eclectic, and visceral, as much a repudiation of the Stripes’ garage-scuzz past as of fans’ expectations. “My Doorbell” sounds like Jack’s take on an old Stax standard, and the outstanding “I’m Lonely (But Ain’t That Lonely Yet)” could be a guide vocal from the last Loretta Lynn album. Or perhaps it’s a rebuke to ex Renée Zellweger—and more country than anything her new beau, Kenny Chesney, has ever done.
Best Track: “Take, Take, Take”
As always, the White Stripes take chances, and thank God somebody does. The seventies vibe catches your attention right from the start. Although it’s not commercial in the traditional sense, the pure originality will give the album the legs it needs. This duo always seems to be in the right place at the right time, doing the right things. As a result, they have been able to break the rules and make it work.
Best Track: “The Denial Twist” I can’t get over how bizarre Jack White is— on the CD cover, he looks like a silent-movie villain. And the album is all over the damn map. A lot of tiresome diddling around on instruments, like he’s just learning to play them. But the best songs here, maybe half a dozen of them, are excellent and constantly surprising. When I put the disc on in my car recently, I really thought a helicopter was coming in overhead.
Best Track: “My Doorbell”
In Your Honor
A two-disc set—one hard rock, the other acoustic (including a collaboration with Norah Jones)—from the band fronted by Dave Grohl, the former drummer for Nirvana. Foo Fighters typically get a pass on their toothless songwriting because of Grohl’s legendary affiliation (and maybe also because he’s such a nice guy). Here, finally, they don’t need it. The title track and “No Way Back” ooze hair-metal pomp, and “DOA” and “The Last Song” sport gargantuan, glorious hooks. The shock, though, is disc two, a thoughtful acoustic set indicating that, between air-guitar poses in the mirror, maybe Grohl’s been checking out Iron and Wine.
Best Track: “Razor,” disc two This double album feels like it ought to have been two separate releases. Disc one is classic Foo Fighters, if somewhat more aggressive. The amazing songwriting usually identified with the band starts to emerge a little more on “DOA” and is sprinkled throughout the CD in tracks like “Resolve” and “End Over End.” Disc two is Dave’s acoustic side, which is in such a different style that it comes across a little like a compromise or afterthought. Standing alone, this collection of heartfelt acoustic tracks would hold up better.
Best Track: “DOA,” disc one
The rock disc is hard, headbanging stuff, the kind of songs I used to live for when I was 16. The lyrics would sound silly if I quoted them to you—so I won’t—but they have that flair for self-dramatizing that inspires the teenage mind. It gives me a nice, warm burst of nostalgia. Plus, on a utilitarian level, I could run to it, if I ever had time for that anymore. The acoustic stuff is fine.
Best Track: “DOA,” disc one
Humming by the Flowered Vine
The country singer was raised in Nashville, went to Columbia, and worked on Wall Street before turning full-time to music. This is her third album, recorded in Cobble Hill. Laura Cantrell’s first two albums were full of enchanting, dusty country that nodded to the Carter family. But Vine is schizoid—too dense, too blatantly modern to stand with her earlier work. She comes across like a small-town girl rendered dizzy by the sheer bigness of the city.
Best Track: “Bees” She’s a little bit country, she’s a little bit light rock and roll, and I’m a lot confused. There is none of the pathos of country greats like Patsy Cline, nor the edge of her alt-country contemporaries. Although there are beautiful musical moments in “Bees,” it never quite crosses over into pop either. The songs are not to blame; it’s that the hooks are minimized by a lack of conviction in the vocals. Laura sings beautifully, but without distinction.
Best Track: “Bees”
I have found that my 10-week-old daughter likes it when I sing pretty songs to her. She will probably grow out of it. However, that basic desire is what I think of when I listen to Laura Cantrell. Her songs have beautiful melodies, they tell stories, and you can really sit there and listen to them, not just have it on in the background. Although it works nicely that way, too.
Best Track: “Bees”
The veteran Chicago-born rapper’s sixth album, produced by Kanye West, continues his ascent out of the underground with a blend of lefty politics and sophisticated sampling. Teaming up with fellow bombaster West proves to be a boon for the long-underappreciated M.C., who counts Jay-Z as an admirer but whom Jay-Z’s fan base typically ignores. “The Corner” and “They Say” are luscious, throwback soul tracks, perfect complements to Common’s Everyman musings. And “Testify,” driven by a Honey Cone sample, is as sharp a storytelling rap as the genre has seen in years.
Best Track: “Testify” Be starts out with a bang and slowly fizzles. But the high points are so good that it doesn’t bother you so much that the whole body of work isn’t genius. The production, thanks to Mr. West, is amazing. There are times when Common’s voice is so present and believable he feels like he’s in the room with you. He’s definitely a left-of-center sell for the hip-hop world, but worth the effort. Common knows who he is, likes it, and is a real artist.
Best Track: “Go” I wish I liked this more than I do. The rapper has a great voice, the lyrics feel genuine and artful, and the samples are really polished and well done. But by halfway through most of the songs, I am itching to click through to the next one. Everything is so understated and mellow, to the point where it doesn’t quite hold my interest. This is rap for a late night—at home.
Best Track: “The Corner”