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Listening

The January 2008 Leak Report

Happy New Year, everyone! Wasn’t 2007 nuts?

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the business at hand: 2008 is going to be a banner year for music, despite all the doomsayers of the supposedly dying industry. To wit, here’s a look at some of January’s most anticipated releases, leaked and a-flowing for your consideration. Let’s all just maybe think about resolving to actually buy more music this year, OK?

The Magnetic Fields, typically considered darlings of the New York art-rock scene, formed in Boston circa 1990 under the leadership of multi-instrumentalist and savagely witty frontman Stephen Merritt. Most of the group’s studio work has focused on broad thematic elements, most painstakingly literal in their execution: 69 Love Songs couldn’t deliver more directly on its premise, and the album i features a list of song titles that all begin with the letter “i.” The band’s upcoming release, Distortion, while still delivering on the title, is a less literal collection of variations on a theme. Paradoxically, having admitted that he feels rock music currently has little to offer, Merritt looks backward to look forward by attempting to recreate one of rock’s greatest group’s sound, that of the Jesus and Mary Chain. The result is a strange brew of art-nerd synth-pop and reverb-thick guitar sleaze. It’s more interesting than sublime, but songs like the Shirley Simms-sung “California Girls” and the darkly humorous “Too Drunk to Dream” prove this particular experiment something of a success.

» Listen to “California Girls”
» Listen to “Too Drunk to Dream”

Black Mountain rocks. Hard. They rock in a way that only men raised by timber wolves to play electric guitar through vintage amps on lightning-lit mountaintops in shimmering wizard’s robes can rock. They rock as much as anything they got in Guitar Hero III rocks, with the added benefit of actual musicians playing actual instruments in actual rock venues to actual tattooed groupies. Or so I assume. Drawing heavily from beautifully bloated ‘70s arena rock gods like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Mountain adds little new to these groups’ venerable equations, save for an occasional female vocal, but so what? It rocks. Soon-to-be-released In the Future’s opening track “Stormy High” gets things off to an appropriately mighty rock ‘n’ roll beginning, but tracks like “Stay Free” remind us all that hard rockers can be, like, sensitive and crap too.

» Listen to “Stormy High”
» Listen to “Stay Free”

Featuring a sound that bassist Senon Williams describes as, “a waterfall far from its source, taking in all the creeks and streams until it builds its self into a massive cascade… that you can dance to,” Dengue Fever (named after the tropical maladies also collectively known as “bonecrusher disease,” which I personally think is a way cooler name for a band) has one of the most unique originations in modern pop. Holtzman brothers Zac and Ethan took a trip to Cambodia and noticed how strong the influence of Western, Farfisa-fueled ‘60s pop was on the local music, and they decided to recreate the sound upon returning to the States. After finding Chhom Nimol, a Khmer singer in a Cambodian nightclub in L.A., they were pretty much set. On the band’s third studio album, Venus on Earth, they continue to hold true to their mission by producing some very catchy, familiar, yet undeniably exotic pop music. The lounge-cool “Seeing Hands” starts things off with a shifty keyboard line that gives way to lushly buzzy guitars. A few tracks in, “Tiger Phone Card” sets a Phnom Penh-to-New York romance to a swinging beat.

» Listen to “Seeing Hands”
» Listen to “Tiger Phone Card”

Rising from the ashes of De Facto, which in turn rose from the ashes of At the Drive-In, the Mars Volta has been leading fans on a psychedelic freak-out of punk-prog provenance since 2001. Known for their free-associative lyrics, harshly energetic sounds, improvisational live shows, and meticulously crafted studio albums that defy any sort of pop conventionality, the band has served as something like the Second Coming to people who are into those sorts of things. Honestly, where the Mars Volta is concerned, I never have been, as good as it all sounds on paper. The Bedlam in Goliath, the band’s fourth album, comes out at the end of this month, and depending on your relationship to their previous efforts, you will feel much the same about this new release. If nothing else, curiously named songs like “Aberinkula” and “Wax Simulacra Idle Tooth” are good for freaking out the squares.

» Listen to “Aberinkula”
» Listen to “Wax Simulacra Idle Tooth”

Much like Mark E. Smith’s Fall or Stephen Merritt’s Magnetic Fields before them, Xiu Xiu (named for a Chinese film and approximately pronounced “shoe shoe”) is more or less the brainchild of the band’s only consistent member, Jamie Stewart. Stewart has an earnestly pleading voice similar to the Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, but occasionally detours into schizophrenic shrieks and whispers. Xiu Xiu’s sound, while multifarious in its orchestration, especially its peculiar use of percussion, owes a clear debt to post-punk forebears like Joy Division, but manages a unique desperation and touches of levity all its own. Not really for dancing, but it’d be good to have on a nice long drive. The only song I could find off their upcoming album Women as Lovers is “I Do What I Want When I Want,” which features what sounds like kazoo flourishes and all manner of ratchet and clank accompaniment in the backing tracks.

» Listen to “I Do What I Want When I Want”

Electro as all get-out, Hot Chip has been getting certain kinds of asses (shaking, bouncing, etc.) on the dance floor since 2000. One of the best-loved (and best-reviewed) bands in the U.K., they’ve had relatively minor influence or success in these United States. Perhaps their new album, Made in the Dark, will change all that. I for one think that tracks like “Ready for the Floor” and “Shake a Fist” are more finely nuanced, as dance music goes, than the stuff Britney or Timbaland have been practically phoning in all decade. Another resolution: Let’s make these suave and sassy Londoners feel at home this year.

» Listen to “Ready for the Floor”
» Listen to “Shake a Fist”

biopic

TMN Editor Erik Bryan is living the dream. He grew up in Florida, but he’s from all over. He likes playing chess, making cocktails, smarting off, and not freezing to death in Brooklyn, where he currently resides. More by Erik Bryan

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