1 = Skip it
5 = Try it
10 = Buy it
Pete the Undergrad
An ex-Brooklynite who books bands for his eating club at Princeton, where he’s a music major. Recent CD purchases include Blackalicious, Broken Social Scene, and Boards of Canada.
Aviva and Grace the High Schoolers
Indie-loving students at the Beacon School. Grace (a sophomore) writes a music column for the school paper; Aviva (a senior) is founding an all-girl art-rock outfit.
Barrett the Fifth-Grader
Eleven years old as of last month. Resides in East Hampton but used to live in Nashville, where a twentysomething musician living downstairs turned him on to rock and roll. Huge Beck fan.
A self-consciously stripped-down effort from the famous crooner, featuring uncharacteristically non-bombastic settings courtesy of producer Rick Rubin. Diamond calls himself “a lucky old dreamer” and apparently sees it as his mission to save souls through song. This entails a lot of earnest discussion of heartbreaks, trials of faith, and dreams deferred, not to mention addressing the listener directly as “you” on nearly every track. The unabashedness of these grand gestures is actually somewhat refreshing in our age of elliptical, ironic lyrics. And the backing musicians—Billy Preston, Brian Wilson, and others—are superb.
Best Track: “Hell Yeah”
We thought maybe Rick Rubin would give this album the dark, edgy sound he gave Johnny Cash in his later records, but we forgot that Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond aren’t exactly the same person. The corny lyrics and that classic Neil Diamond buildup are still present in every song. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the folkier, darker songs are a nice change of pace.
Best Track: “I’m On to You” From the first track I could tell the album would pretty much stay the same the whole way through. The songs are all too slow. There’s not much melody. It’s pretty much like spoken word. Diamond speaks as if he is at the end of his life. It’s boring.
Best Track: “Delirious Love”
Black Sheep Boy
Austin, Texas, indie-scene stalwarts use a cover of the sixties tune “Black Sheep Boy” as a starting point for forays into thematically dark, sonically expansive folk-rock. A very passionate album—the rockers and ballads alike are all about the frustrations of growing up in the Rust Belt, and the combination of the dark lyrics and the lead singer’s quavering voice makes listening a pretty intense experience. The songs are arranged with beautiful inventiveness, combining old instruments like electric pianos and pump organs with loud, distorted guitars. I’m not sure what to call it—progressive folk?
Best Track: “In a Radio Song” Is this not Bright Eyes? Both of us independently looked up this band to see if Conor Oberst was anywhere to be found. He’s not, and that sucks. The songs call out for sympathy, but neither of us really felt like answering. The album succeeded only at depressing us.
If Conor Oberst were in this band: 7
Because he isn’t: 3
Best Track: “For Real” Okkervil River … I am still not sure how to pronounce their name. After I listened to the first song on the album, I said, “Hey, these guys sound like Bright Eyes.” Throughout the album they sing of sheep, kings, queens, and people in love with a stone. I have heard their lyrics are dark and depressing, but to me they seem plain funny.
Best Track: “Black”
Right About Now
Billed as a “mix tape,” the Brooklyn rapper’s latest nonetheless features his usual high-quality funk-soul production and guest appearances from other cerebral M.C.’s. Most hip-hop albums—even good ones—are marred by superfluous, weak, way-too-long tracks, but this one isn’t. Kweli is one of the few rappers who understands the importance of concision. There’s no point in quoting one verse or chorus; they’re all amazing. It’s like grad school for rappers. I’d call it a near classic.
Best Track: “Who Got It” We both loved this CD. The beats are reminiscent of old-school hip-hop, as is the fact that the lyrics actually address meaningful subjects. And in a time when so many other rappers are going for the same slurry, laid-back tone, it’s a novelty just to hear Kweli’s unique, superintense vocals. He has his own flavor. And it’s awesome.
Best Track: “Ms. Hill”
I don’t usually like rap. Knowing that this is a rap album gave me the idea that it would be an explicit piece of crud just like the style called crunk that you see and hear everywhere. But Kweli raps about a tsunami, Dave Chappelle running away to Africa, Judge Judy, and Lemony Snicket. I’ve never heard a rapper say anything about Lemony Snicket. If there’s one thing I could criticize on this album, it would be the constant cursing. Though for any rap album that’s extremely common.
Best Track: “Ms. Hill”
Apologies to the Queen Mary
The Internet-buzz-reaping band combines numerous dominant indie tropes—eighties instrumentation, passionately strangled vocals, being from Montreal—on its debut. When will Montreal get a superiority complex potent enough to turn its songmen and -women into complacent hacks? Not yet, apparently. You can tell from listening that the band approached this album with the idea of making every single part interesting and necessary, not just doing things because that’s the way they’ve been done before—for example, they don’t even have a bass player. The best songs manage to be both wistfully poignant and catchy at the same time.
Best Track: “Shine a Light” Fabulous. They pull off the garage-rock sound that so many new bands have been trying for, but their music is still catchy and danceable. There’s a whole bunch of eighties punk and New Wave here—Richard Hell stands out as a major influence—but can we talk about the real issue? They have the rock-star look down, complete with trendy handlebar mustaches, and that’s all that really counts. These guys are fine!
Grace: “It’s a Cure”
Aviva: “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son”
I’d heard a lot about them. I have noticed that many rock groups are putting the word wolf in their band name. I have no idea why. It must be the hot new thing. Anyway, Wolf Parade has nice vocals. Like Bono from U2, and I like him. There’s just something really good and cool about them.
Best Track: “Modern World”
One Way Ticket to Hell … And Back
Britain’s finest retro arena rockers return with another half-sincere, half-ironic mix of power ballads, raging guitar solos, and pan-flute interludes. Their influences are so obvious, they’re like a grown-up version of the School of Rock band. It’s like listening to a medley from your favorite classic-rock station, except that would be free. And people say this band is clever, but is this seventies-parody stuff any better than what you’d find on Mad TV? Still, I can’t criticize the big hooks and ripping solos.
Best Track: “Hazel Eyes”
We can’t help but love the Darkness’s awesome tackiness; they pull off the over-the-top leather-pants retro style flawlessly. As far as the music goes, it’s an improvement on their last album—the lyrics even display a little maturity, despite song titles like “Knockers.”
Best Track: “Knockers” The seventies hard-rock sound they give this album isn’t the greatest. The only seventies rock I listen to is the Ramones. This pretty much stays the same the whole way through. Maybe on one or two songs the sound and instruments get softer and the music becomes more pleasant. I’m not sure, but I don’t think they put much effort into making this album.
Best Track: “Is it Just Me?”