Death Cab for Cutie, Pity and Fear (download)
Let me be perfectly clear about this: I don’t want to read your poetry, I will not be coming to your solo acoustic performance at the coffee shop, I don’t care one whit about whichever fashion marketing undergraduate just totally messed with your mind or if you’ve ever really felt loved, and, finally, I think your haircut is stupid. All that being said, I kinda dig Ben Gibbard, and Death Cab for Cutie by extension. It’s not really fair, though, to continue to lump D.C.F.C. in with all that emo dross considering how far they’ve come, especially when considering Narrow Stairs, their seventh studio album, due out May 13. Tracks like Pity and Fear suggest a whole new direction, one that utilizes tabla and synthesizers, but retains Gibbard’s signature wistfulness. Is this prog? Whatever it is, it rocks like nothing I would’ve expected from the group.
Islands, Pieces of You (download)
Toward the forefront of the powerfully influential Canuck Invasion of the past few years, Islands, made up of former members of the Unicorns, are set to release a second album, titled Arm’s Way, on the 20th of this month. The album sounds appropriately sophomoric, jumping about style and only casually flirting with the indie populism that has made them critics’ darlings. Whereas I usually found the Unicorns’ halting, non-linear melodies and showy senselessness too precious, Islands have managed to smooth out the pretense, such as on Pieces of You, and the result is a genre-skipping delight delicately balancing kooky and classy with confident transitions holding the disparate parts together. Which is to say, I think it works.
Scarlett Johansson, Falling Down (download)
When the news was released back in late 2006 that Scarlett Jo-freaking-hansson would be recording and singing an album of Tom Waits covers, not only was the music world left scratching its head, but many (in particular, I) felt license to dismiss it out-of-hand. I mean, it’s not like she’s the best actor, and I know from personal experience how persistently she refuses to date poorly financed music writers, so naturally I assumed it would bomb. Well, she wasn’t kidding, and Anywhere I Lay My Head will be upon us (officially) on May 20. Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio produced it, David Bowie sings on two songs (as on Falling Down, above), and members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Celebration backed Scar Jo up, and although I think her vocals are suspiciously low in the mix, the result is not bad. Let’s just hope she remembers who’s giving her the thumbs up on this one: this guy right here.
Ladytron, The Lovers (download)
Sounding exactly like a cross between the cool indifference of Honda’s Asimo and the delightfully despicable abandon of human lust, Ladytron has stayed the course of savvy, sexy dance music for darkened clubs since 1999. On their fourth studio album, Velocifero (meaning bringer of speed, due June 3), the quartet from Liverpool proves that growth comes not always in the form of departure from pre-existing forms but in their refinement. Though their approach has changed little, the beats are more sure-footed, the synths more expertly chosen and mixed, and their overall tenor is a more focused professionalism. Songs like The Lovers don’t overstay their welcome. They get in, do their job, and wrap up, teasing the listener into repeated returns. If you were this hot, you’d expect no less.
Aimee Mann, Little Tornado (download)
Occasional rocker, soundtrack puncher-upper, and all-around heroine of the singer-songwriter form Aimee Mann has built a long and steady career out of adroitly seeing through others’ bullshit, of which, according to her music, there seems to be a great deal out in Los Angeles. To create a new approach for @#%&*! Smilers, her seventh solo album, she decisively eschewed electric guitars, turning instead to Moogs, Wurlitzers, and other analog synthesizers, as well as production by her sometime bassist, Paul Bryan (unfortunately, no relation). The result is a record every bit as personal and excellent as her previous work, but displaying a spacey bent and vaguely experimental mood. Which is not to say that her weary, worldwise troubadour style is not front and center. This is still that Aimee Mann, too. Oh, and supposedly that’s Dave Eggers whistling on Little Tornado, for whatever that’s worth.
Spiritualized, Death Take Your Fiddle (download)
After only narrowly beating a near-fatal bout with pneumonia in 2005, Jason Pierce returned to work with his rotating group of musicians that comprise post-shoegazer, post-gospel British group Spiritualized. Songs in A & E, released May 26, will be their first album since 2003’s Amazing Grace. On this most recent outing, Pierce’s voice has the same wounded frailty, his lyrics the same obsession with drugs and religion, and the music has the same American blues and gospel influences and wall-of-sound production. True to form, Pierce has described the album as the work of the Devil with a little guidance from me, but it all seems quite in line with the Spiritualized output to date, though the eerie respirator sounds on Death Take Your Fiddle" certainly add a sinister foreboding to the proceedings.
Wolf Parade, The Grey Estates (download)
It’s getting quite late, but I must soldier on. Wolf Parade, another proud participant in the Canuck Invasion, would do the same for me. Their second full-length album, At Mount Zoomer, is due in mid-June, but was leaked on the internet just last week. After a name change (largely due to legal reasonsthe original title, Kissing the Beehive, is already a book by Jonathan Carroll) and disparate track lists, this version may not even be the same ultimately released by the band, but it bears mention nonetheless. The Grey Estates has a noticeably Bowie-like quality, mixing a handsome desperation with a smart pop hook. Let the needle on the compass swing / Let the iron in your heartsblood ring, sings Spencer Krug, with all the frantic hope in the world to be anywhere but here. Amen.