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I can't complain but sometimes I still do

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Best CDs of the half-year

I am a degenerate pop culture list maker. I realized it back when I saw “High Fidelity” and caught myself making lists with John Cusack and Jack Black. (“Top Five Side-One First Tracks? Well, there’s “Baba O’Riley,” of course. And “Where the Streets Have No Name.” How about “Leave Them All Behind” from Ride’s “Going Blank Again”?)

I’m already working on my best CDs of 2006 list. Yes, I know it’s only July but you can’t be too prepared. Some of my top candidates include: Belle & Sebastian’s “The Life Pursuit,” Bruce Springsteen’s “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” The Secret Machines’ “Ten Silver Drops,” Van Hunt’s “On the Jungle Floor,” The Coup’s “Pick a Bigger Weapon” and Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser.”

Here is my top five of the half-year in no particular order (well, except for the last one):

Mylo, “Destroy Rock ‘n’ Roll”: The most addictive album I have heard so far this year, “Destroy Rock ‘n’ Roll” also features the half-year’s catchiest song, “In My Arms,” a delirious dance-pop confection built on an irresistable sample from Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes.”

Described as “dance music for dummies” by indie music Bible Pitchfork.com, “Destroy Rock ‘n’ Roll” might sound familiar to fans of Air, Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx. Mylo borrows liberally for all three and I’m sure many more electronic artists I’m not familiar with. (I’m one of the dance music dummies.) I know this should bother me, but my ears just don’t care.

Sam Roberts, “Chemical City”: I’m hopeful radio will eventually discover Canadian singer/songwriter Sam Roberts and his sophomore album, “Chemical City,” a pop-rock record packed with songs so likeably straightforward you can’t imagine anyone, not even taste challenged Nickelback fans, not liking them.

Then again, Roberts wouldn’t be the first shoulda-been star radio ignored. He wouldn’t even be the 200th. But in case the powers that be are reading, here’s a suggested spin: “With a Bullet.” I have listened to this mid-tempo rocker exactly 73 times, and still haven’t tired of it. Sounds like a radio hit to me.

Gnarls Barkley, “St. Elsewhere”: Speaking of radio hits, “Crazy” is shaping up to be one of the biggest of the year. When I first heard “Crazy” several months ago, I didn’t think radio would embrace it. Sure, DJ Danger Mouse’s soulful spin on speghetti western music quickly burrows in your brain. But rapper Cee-Lo sounded too deranged for the mainstream spotlight.

What a pleasant surprise I was wrong. Not about the slightly unhinged eccentricity of Gnarls Barkley, which is obvious on the rest of the group’s debut “St. Elsewhere,” but the mainstream’s willingness to be subverted every now and then.

Cat Power, “The Greatest”: Chan Marshall’s latest came out in January, which seems like an eternity from the humid armpit that is Wisconsin in July. But the sexy-sad soul of “The Greatest” was so stunning upon first listen I knew the CD would stick with me for all of 2006.

Coming on like Dusty Springfield in her “Son of a Preacher Man” phase, Cat Power sounds supremely confident on “The Greatest,” strange praise for an artist known for scribbling songs that read like depressing journal entries. Of course, if you wrote songs as memorable as “Living Proof” and “Could We,” you would be confident, too.

I like all these albums a lot, but the only album I LOVE so far this year is “Rabbit Fur Coat” by Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins. A former child actor (she appeared in the forgettable Shelly Long comedy “Troop Beverly Hills”) and lead singer for indie rock band Rilo Kiley, Lewis has a knockout voice and writes indelible country-soul songs that sound like late night conversations at the after-bar, full of too many words articulating too many big ideas inspired by too much alcohol. “Rise Up With Fists!!”, the album’s best song and my favorite of the half-year, is nothing less than a summation on the meaning of life. (“There but for the grace of God go I,” just in case you wanted to know.) It’s to Lewis’ credit that “Rabbit Fur Coat” sounds as good the morning after as it does at closing time.


Blogger Jen said...

I can't even tell you how many times we watched "Troop Beverly Hills" while growing up. In my opinion, it's pretty UNforgettable. Go Jenny.

10:45 AM  

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