Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Brains, Looks, Money 

What better way to get back into writing about music than by, yes, writing about music. Here's what's rocking my world, circa...now.

My Morning Jacket
Evil Urges

Every recording by My Morning Jacket is weird, but they keep their audience engaged—and expanding—by flaunting a different layer of weirdness each time out. On Evil Urges, producer Joe Chiccarelli gives this Kentucky five-man electrical band a level of slickness that feels like the right fit for a somewhat more funkdafied, less rootsy-sounding set of songs.

MMJ is good for one or two punchy, uptempto tunes suitable for bar/club DJ play per album, and "Aluminum Park" fits the bill just fine. Their finest moments, though, are usually more esoteric songs like the title track here. Singer Jim James explores his voice's highest registers for a dreamy creation that takes previous Radiohead comparisons to their apotheosis. Elsewhere, "Highly Suspicious" is awfully good for a track that sounds like a Korn-inspired "Weird Al" song, and will probably become unlistenable forever if it somehow manages to becomes a rock radio hit. "Sec Walkin" and the two parts of "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream" are standouts as well.

(Having been involved on the editorial and marketing side of the band's four RCA releases myself [two studio albums, one live album/DVD, and an EP], of course I was dying to hear what they'd do next; I'm not disappointed.) Live is where they excel most. They're playing Radio City Music Hall this Friday, and we should all be thankful that Mr. James is an upstanding guy, because if he were to hand out Kool-Aid during the encore, thousands of takers just might line up with Dixie cups.


Everyone's comparing this Pennsylvanian new wave singer to Sri Lankan sensation M.I.A., and it's true there are a few worldy (world-y?) influences to be detected on her debut album. But despite forays into reggae-ish territory, this is pretty damn far away from third world–influenced hip-hop. There's more than a little Lene Lovich and Annabella Lwin in the vocals on the must-have opening track "L.E.S. Artistes" and many of the album's other stark songs, and Debbie Harry clearly made her impression as well.

Her take on The Jam's "Pretty Green" (not present here) was arguably the highlight of Mark Ronson's 2007 covers collection Version, and this debut album seems like that recording's more thoughtful extension. This is mostly straight-ahead rock sung by a non-white female, and that tends to throw some people off. What we may have on our hands here is this year's Kenna.

Flight Of The Conchords
Flight Of The Conchords
(Sub Pop)

The New Zealand folk-parody duo's exploits in New York on their HBO series were way too funny to not take seriously. Amazingly, most of the songs stand up on their own and are worth many more repeat listenings than anyone might suspect. Whether channeling The Pet Shop Boys ("Inner City Pressure"), Barry White ("Business Time") or French pop of the '60s ("Foux da Fafa"), their cleverness always amuses without going over the top. Though it's disappointing that not every essential song from season one of the TV series appears here—"If You're Into It" is only on last year's The Distant Future EP, and the brilliant "Sello Tape" is inexplicably still unreleased—this is surprisingly necessary listening.

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