2008 Music Reviews

AC/DC, Black Ice (2008)   B-
Formulaic, but it should appease people who listen to classic rock radio stations and hate all that "crappy, indie rock." The rather generous rating is because I like the idea of older guys still playing rock and roll (even though, as John Lydon has pointed out several times, rock is no longer dangerous).

Adele, 19 (2008)   C+
A blast at the beginning (the first three tracks, especially "Chasing Pavements," are phenomenal), then she shows her real age - 20 in 2008 - with childish, fairytale-ish songs like "First Love" and pop drollery ("Right as Rain"). Like Lykke Li, she could be devastating in the next couple of years.

Animal Collective, Water Curses [EP] (2008)   B-
Dreamy four-song EP that follows in the footsteps of the marvelous "Strawberry Jam" LP from 2007, with tracks like "Street Flash" and the title tune containing a lot of unpredictable noises rumbling below the surface and enigmatic lyrics to keep you guessing. Close listening is strongly advised.

Annie, Don't Stop (2008)   C-
This kind of bubbly dance-pop-electronica is fine in small doses but a whole album makes me want something with more heart, more soul, more diversity. It peaks very early: "My Love Is Better" is a catchy opener and "Loco" more or less celebrates male lunacy, but then it becomes pre-programmed beats and lyric loops. She's so vacant she makes Alison Goldfrapp sound like Emily Dickenson; after asking several hundred times what I want for breakfast (??), I can only scream into my speakers "CHEERIOS, BITCH."

Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel (2008)   B
Undoubtedly one of the most uneven discs I've heard in a while - parts are a beautiful blur, other tracks leave something to be desired (like the meandering "Quarantined"). It's also incredibly fuzzy sounding, although the effect seems to become more majestic the more you allow yourself to succumb to the disc (the second listen-through is a major improvement over the first one). It also shows off the versatility of Mr. Bradford Cox, Deerhunter frontman and someone skinnier than I am.

Autechre, Quaristice (2008)   C+
What ... what is that? Is that ... an actual beat? Like, a beat that isn't actually a convoluted mathematical formula? From Autechre? Anyway, beats or not, I find the clipped (for them) track times to actually be a problem, so very promising tracks like "paralel Suns" get stopped before they have a chance to really take off.

Babe, Terror, Babe, Terror [EP] (2008)   B+
Marvelously unorthodox trance music from Brazil - I first heard about it from Sasha Frere-Jones' blog where he praised the hypnotic track "NASA, Goodbye." As it turns out, the rest of the EP is just as full of glitchy avant-electronica, influenced in part by Richard James and Kid 606.

Aidan Baker and Tim Hecker, Fantasma-Parastasie (2008)   B+
An interesting work of 'shaped noise,' of feedback and static (and assorted other sounds) fluctuate in and out - it's nice, actually, as headphone music (granted you keep the volume range under control). Baker/Hecker had to have been influenced in part by Merzbow, only this is less jarring.

Baroness, Red Album (2007)   C-
I don't exactly hear what makes this such a supposedly "stand out" heavy metal disc, since once you get past some technically intriguing instrumental material (like the opener, "Rays on Pinion") it sounds a lot like In Flames.

The Battle of Land and Sea, The Battle of Land and Sea (2008)   C-
There's slow-strumming on guitar in the background while the lead singer whispers like she wants to not just make me relax or even (heaven forbid) put me asleep but actually force me into a coma from which I might never return. Send these folks more RPMs, stat!

Beck, Modern Guilt (2008)   C
Who knew that turning 40 could make one so tedious? It should really come as no surprise: this kind of glibness was also on display in his album "Sea Change," which many aficionados really took to. I'm going to make a suggestion: if Mr. Hansen is so bothered by the prospect of aging, why not contact Xenu about a cure? Scientology is supposed to eliminate bad thoughts, right?

Natasha Bedingfield, Pocketful of Sunshine (2008)   D-
Natasha proves she knows that one quote by Churchill, she shows us she can spell "angel" and that she wants a rendezvous in the backyard. Tell you what, we can rendezvous all you want after you mow my lawn, which is pretty much what she'll keep doing if she continues putting out drivel like this.

Benga, Diary of an Afro Warrior (2008)   B
Not quite as piercing (or haunting) as Burial's dubstep release last year, but this is incredibly fun dance music, reminding me a bit of Photek's work (most of you should be familiar with Photek's "Ni Ten Ichi Ryu" - if not, check YouTube for the video). What's also refreshing is Beni Uthman's infusion of elements of jazz into the beats ("B4 the Dual"), making this lively enough to keep you paying attention and suitable for multiple moods.

Be Your Own Pet, Get Awkward (2008)   B-
Slips a bit from their audacious, speedy debut and there hasn't been a ton of intellectual development (it's a lot of cat-fighting - instigated by an easily peeved Ms. Pearl - and of course the stupid "Blummer Time"), but they do still have some pep left. I figure it's the Mountain Dew.

Black Mountain, In the Future (2008)   D+
An arty-fied rock and rock band ... except they just decided instead of trying to be louder, they decided to go softer and slower (and let the chick sing too!). Hell, they've even got a ballad ("Stay Free") on this. "Bright light, bright light, bright light, bright light, bright light, bright light, bright light, bright light. Light bright. Lite-Brite!"

The Black Angels, Directions to Seek a Ghost (2008)   C-
Gloomy Jesus and Mary Chain riffing so blatant the Reids should take legal action (if they weren't too busy disappearing). A major allowance is made for "18 Years," the one time they get it completely right.

The Black Keys, Attack & Release (2008)   B
Straight up rock & roll for those still interested: there's a guy with his guitar and there's a drummer. And that guitarist isn't named Jack White and that drummer isn't named Meg White. There are no magazine covers, off-stage drama, no one's co-starring in any movies, there isn't any ridiculous experimentation that their talent can't handle. It's automatic.

Black Kids, Partie Traumatic (2008)   C-
I'm not so sure this album is bad enough to earn that (admittedly humorous) shot Fitchpork took at it, though its fluffiness and one-dimensionality are real negatives, and then when it gets to "I've Underestimated My Charm (Again)" with its "Beep! Beep! Bop! Bop!" background vocals they're more like the Whitebread Kids.

Bloc Party, Intimacy (2008)   C
Not sure where this "intimacy" comes into play - Okereke's lyrics get surrounded by amped-up guitars or electronics which act as a distancing technique. It's sort of symptomatic of the band's lack of a stable identity, flirting more with electronica and nu-rave and the sounds of others (at one point he sounds like Dizzee Rascal, at another like The Killers).

Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)   B
Every once in a while they remind me of an acoustic version of TV on the Radio ("Skinny Love" is simply awesome) but for the most part this is deeply heartfelt. I know it sounds like a negative nowadays for something to be called "heartfelt" - it's still better to be 'ironic' - but out of so many albums I've listened to (and re-listened to) this year, this one felt memorably raw and well thought-out. And I knew an Emma once, years ago ... kinda quiet, very cute - wonder where she got to?

Boredoms, Super Roots 9 [EP] (2007)   B-
There's only one track on here - the 40-minute live recording of an earlier concert - and it doesn't sound much like screaming, hollering, all-over-the-place Boredoms, it sounds like a lot of organ-music and drums playing at once. It's a little exhausting, but I love these crazy loons.

Boris, Smile (2008)   C
Remember when you and your friends first got your brand new guitars and amps when you were like 13 years old and thought it would be sweet to turn on the Overdrive on the amps and play so loud that everything sounded like static? I do too. And I liked Boris better when it was just static, and had little to none of the half-sung/half-spoken vocals that's all over this.

Glenn Branca, The Ascension (1981)   B
I can tell you with confidence that the guitars in this avant-garde classic do, in fact, 'ascend' the scale (particularly on "Light Field (In Consonance)"), though I can't offer much in terms of technical guidance or analysis. I can certify with confidence that I like this a lot, and find the swirling sound to be pleasing if disjointed: a symphony for the six-string.

The Breathing Process, In Waking: Divinity (2008)   C+
Death metal is an acquired taste and sometimes it's hard to tell the acts apart - at least unlike some of their peers, this has the energy to remain heavy from beginning to end. So many get caught up doing the whole stop/start thing, or throw too many gimmicks into the mix - these guys are just guitars and screaming, which may be enough for metal fans desperate to get their anger out. Also, the idea of metal coming from Connecticut just sounds ... odd.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre, My Bloody Underground (2008)   B-
Half of this is the best disc of the year, half is Newcombe at his most indulgent and what's remarkable is that some may argue as to which half is which. I'm arguing that tracks 1-6 are meandering and so-so, but 7-13 are like Newcombe's older material, a kind of psychedelic/shoegazer hybrid. I like it when Anton sings - his voice is just another powerful instrument in his arsenal.

British Sea Power, Do You Like Rock Music? (2008)   A-
I knew this was going to be good when I heard them play some of this material live back in 2007 (and when I heard the EP sampler, "Krankenhaus?"). "Waving Flags," "Down on the Ground" and "Atom" are three of the best songs on here, and the band shows no short supply of talent (or confidence). I do like rock music, as a matter of fact, especially when it's done with the level of intelligence on display here. Another perk of listening to them on CD instead of seeing them live: no strobing effects and an inundation of smoke to freak you out.

Can, Delay 1968 (1968)   B-
This, their first 'real' album was considered 'too unapproachable' for major release, but forty years later and it sounds, well, actually quite approachable. I downloaded a copy of "Butterfly" years ago and I've been listening to it ever since - it's one of those art-damaged, nearly atonal tracks that sounds like it was recorded by a band at the end of a very long night when all the chemicals they put inside themselves just gave out at once and no one's sure what they're playing and the lead's having trouble remembering (a.) what to sing and (b.) when to stop singing.

Cansei de Ser Sexy, Donkey (2008)   C-
Their debut was only half really good album, half amateurish production, so when their sophomore release (recorded while on the road) proves to be a step down in terms of pace and inventiveness, it's not much of a shock. Lovefoxxx (sic) first wants to make love and listen to DFA 1979, now she's opting for reggae and housecleaning. Next up: disco. Next up after that: electronic polka.

Cat Power, Jukebox (2008)   C-
Let's just say this: her five minute scene with Jude Law in My Blueberry Nights is more lively and inspired than the entirety of this album of cover songs (it's not even as good as Chan Marshall's other cover album, or her version of "Wonderwall").

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2008)   B
Cave is one of the most consistently excellent talents in music, and this offering is no different. Some are detecting a 'new sound' in this, but that 'new sound' is really just his 'old sound' coming back at you. Cave & Co. know who they are and what they're capable of, and stick to what they know.

Chromatics, IV (2007)   D
We're told for all 6 minutes and 30 seconds of "I Want Your Love" that your love is wanted. In "Mask," we're told life has no beginning and no end. Yesterday is so far away. And so on. And so forth.

Clinic, Do It! (2008)   D
The last half-decent album they made was "Internal Wrangler" eight years ago, and this blas disc is not about to earn accolades or new fans. Remember how incredibly off-beat "The Second Line" was? I don't either, which is why I re-listened to that track immediately after finishing this one.

Coldplay, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008)   B+
Whew, I'm glad "X&Y" was just a minor hiccup in the career of one of rock music's most underrated bands (the dig in The 40-Year-Old Virgin didn't help their reputation either). "X&Y" fell apart because its focus was love and compatibility (not things to focus on for an extremely successful band); this one, inspired by Frida Kahlo, turns its attention to mortality and social matters. I also like the added electronic aspects (the opener "Life in Technicolor") and graceful production work - that's what Brian Eno brings to a production; there are also your mellow, pensive Martin-penned tracks that echo Coldplay's first two albums ("Lost," "Cemeteries of London," "Strawberry Swing").

Cold War Kids, Loyalty to Loyalty (2008)   C
Boozy, sloppy and affected, though they do get it right at times: the Editors-like "Something Is Not Right With Me" comes across like some kind of deranged personal mantra, and "Dreams Old Men Dream" reminds one that this one of the most lyrically advanced bands out there, but there's a lot of musical refinement that needs to take place. Maybe Matt & Co. need to rest. Not tour so much. Stop marketing themselves for a spell. Bird-watch. Practice making omelets. Take more photographs.

The Cool Kids, Bake Sale [EP] (2008)   B-
Essentially, this is their "Totally Flossed Out" EP plus a few more tracks - I don't usually care for rehashing, but I like some of the new additions (particularly the Pharrell-inspired "What Up Man"). I still think it's awesome that they rap about Sega and popsicles and bicycles, leaving the hardcore stuff to the wannabe thugs.

Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours (2008)   C+
At their band name isn't lying to you: there are a whole lot of other bands (I'm reminded of New Order, for one) that played a part in this. I think one of the major obstacles in dealing with new music is separating those bands that take their influences and add to them and make a positive and creative contribution to the genre and those bands that merely 'rehash' like glorified cover bands. I'm not saying everyone has to be, oh, Radiohead and basically move to the beat of their own synthesizer, but much of this doesn't arouse the senses. Also see: Hot Chip's "Made in the Dark."

Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (2008)   B
Alice Glass and Ethan Kath take 8-bit Nintendo music, mash it together with techno and punk - it's like The Go! Team run through a dozen of filters, but without losing any kind of energy. You can dance to this and not feel like a complete dweeb (although I personally won't take that chance).

Crystal Stilts, Crystal Stilts [EP] (2008)   D-
This is the worst Magnetic Fields impersonation I've ever heard.

Daft Punk, Alive 2007 (2007)   C
Oh my. The French duo actually ... actually properly mix together their own already minimal songs. So what? If you heard the albums themselves that should suffice. Honestly.

Deerhunter, Microcastle (2008)   B-
Certainly not as effective as "Cryptograms," this one is much more accessible and less 'challenging.' It even, at times - if I may be so brash to suggest it - almost flirts with being progressive rock (all that touring with Battles will do that to a man). And then there are times when they almost want to sound like Led Zeppelin, like on "Saved by Old Times." Bradford's 2008 solo release (as "Atlas Sound") is a creepier, more claustrophobic album.

Destroyer, Trouble in Dreams (2008)   B
Based on what I've read from Bejar, I'm taking it he'll never allow himself to come across as desperate and distraught as he did on "Your Blues," which is one of those discs that I keep revisiting after other records have come and gone (the way he sings "Don't Become the Thing You Hated" and "The Music Lovers" is as potent, flamboyant and exceptional as anything he's ever done since). But he's far more polished of late and also more 'sophisticated' but still given to a little self-indulgence (as he was on "Destroyer's Rubies") - since this will most likely never change, you get what you get.

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, The Hard Sell (2008)   D+
Surely the great Shadow and Chemist can find better material to mix than the theme to Rocky, "Rock Around the Clock," The Temptations, audio clips from Casablanca, Foo Fighters and The Doors? People training on DJ equipment do this sort of thing, not masters of the art. Has its moments of true inspiration, but not nearly enough of them.

the d, A Mouthful (2008)   D
A dreadful album: not only does the lead singer go way beyond her vocal range (which is very limited), she also tries to (unsuccessfully) emulate MIA ("Unissasi Laulelet") and the Black Eyed Peas ("Queen Dot Kong").

Dungen, 4 (2008)   C
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to tell you all but John 'Astrodude' Rogers and The Sunnytime Supermen are unable to appear tonight because they had to go to a Bring Back the '60s Reunion in Montauk. Now, now, don't get upset everybody, don't leave, we've got these fine, young replacements lined up for you. And let me tell you, they put on one far out show, man. They've got flute sounds and a xylophone. And a keyboard! They don't say much, either, and their songs wander around aimlessly which is great because all that pot residue in our brains make us receptive to that sort of thing. Anyway, they're a real gas, man. So give a nice Pete's Vegas Lounge welcome to ... Dune Gin!"

Earth, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull (2008)   C-
Seemingly endless repetition of the same couple of notes over and over, and when I hear the word "drone" I can't help but think of the droning of someone you don't want to listen to repeat the same lame story over and over. I think of the droning of the adults in the Peanuts cartoon. But when it comes to music, isn't that repetition supposed to build up? Like the way it does in, say, dance and trance? Because I feel the same at the one minute mark that I do at the eight minute mark. In this case, I'd swap out "droning" for "plodding."

The Faint, Fasciinatiion (2008)   D
H-e d-o-e-s t-h-e s-a-m-e r-o-b-o-t v-o-i-c-e g-i-m-m-i-c-k h-e-'-s d-o-n-e b-e-f-o-r-e, l-i-k-e h-e-'-s G-a-r-y N-u-m-a-n o-r s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g. And if you're going to rehash your last album (and your album before that), make sure you have at least one song like "Desperate Guys" in there.

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (2008)   C-
Why is everyone (and by "everyone" I really mean "the tastemakers") going ga-ga over this glorified folk revival nonsense? There isn't much to it, and the singing leaves a lot to be desired. Have these "tastemakers" even heard the Bon Iver album which, though flawed, is a much more intricate and fascinating listen than this?

Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (2008)   B+
At first listen I wasn't sure whether to be taken in by this - if mastermind Steven Ellison manages to 'pull together' the countless sources (drill 'n bass, IDM, acid-jazz, trip-hop, world music, whatever else I'm missing) and make his own unique sound with it. After my fourth or fifth spin through the entire disc - which is rare for something I'm initially on the fence about - I can safely say I enjoy the sonic ride Ellison takes you on with the album, and the album has found itself a nice cozy spot in my car's CD player. The album cover is a reference to Massive Attack's "Protection."

Foals, Antidotes (2008)   C-
Nice drum work, but I had to listen to this twice just to try to get a grip on what the band's trying for (Bloc Party? TV on the Radio? neither?). One thing is certain: it lacks any kind of weight.

Foxy Shazam, Introducing Foxy Shazam (2008)   D-
Seems like someone listened to Danko Jones and The Darkness a little too much. Piano, screaming, guitar, screaming.

Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight (2008)   C
Crackly-voiced indie music, like Counting Crows without the dreadlocks and heavy play on pop radio stations. "I'm drunk, I'm drunk and you're probably on pills," they sing on "Keep Yourself Warm," and this is supposed to mean something; sometimes all it takes is fucking someone you don't know to keep yourself warm.

Fujiya & Miyagi, Lightbulbs (2008)   F
Anemic awfulness so uninspired it's like they pushed it out to fulfill a contract or maybe a sign of 'artistic exhaustion.' Pterodactyls? Semantics (today is the same as yesterday, tomorrow will be the same)? Vanilla, Strawberry, Knickerbocker Glory? No thanks.

Serge Gainsbourg, Vu de l'extrieur (1973)   B+
He either was or liked acting like: an alcoholic, a womanizer, a louse. According to those that knew him, he actually was those things, but also knew how to play them up - he also knew that no matter how outrageous he was as a personality, his music was good enough to survive time. It has, and even this album - largely considered one of his minor works - is still full of life and vigor, delicately balanced and enjoyable.

Game Theory, Lolita Nation (1987)   B-
Decent double album - that sounds like an unholy melding of The Replacements with a droplet of Sonic Youth - that's attained semi-mythical status for being a tough first listen, obscure and expensive. It doesn't have much to do with the Nabokov nymphet, though they aren't ashamed of throwing in reference after reference to this and that - it's as if a bunch of lit majors just got their diplomas and want to show off to the world their intellect. Scott Miller's voice isn't always easy to work around and at ~75 minutes it can be considered self-indulgent, but the energy doesn't wane.

Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple (2008)   D+
Whatcha gunna do when you don't have any more "Crazy" left in you? Oh, that's right, a bunch of costume changes and Danger Mouse's sub-par, hardly exciting production work.

Goldfrapp, Seventh Tree (2008)   C
Alison abandons his electroshock kitsch for "intimacy," but the album comes across as being flat and the tracks are too homogenized. Whatever happened to the world in a grain of sand? Or delicious black cherries? Or being like a dog to get you? Did she find God or something?

Adam Green, Sixes and Sevens (2008)   D
I think Green's best days are behind him - his Moldy Peaches work had a kind of emotional resonance that I always thought was shared between Kimya and Green, but now I realize it's all Kimya (likewise, based on her solo work, it seems she needs some levity to her material, which is where Green's strengths really come in). Sometimes pairs work best, you know.

Guillemots, Red (2008)   C
There's a funny ad that plays on TV around my part of the world for an "Easy Listening" radio station where people dying slowly in their cubicles complain about "all that hard stuff" (they're referring to 'hard rock,' or whatever they think hard rock is). In theory, most of this could play on a station like that and no one would notice. I don't have anything against 'easy listening,' but I tend to group albums and bands in that category that are substance-less, inoffensive and safe in every way ... like these folks. The falsetto on "Standing on the Last Star" really gets out of hand.

The Helio Sequence, Keep Your Eyes Ahead (2008)   C
Who knew they'd set Pro-Tools aside and try to become Ian Brown with traces of Dylan? (This is the same outfit that did "Don't Look Away," right?) Using this acoustic approach, their songs sometimes sting ("Shed Your Love") but most often don't ("Broken Afternoon").

Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair (2008)   D
Hideous disco-esque romp with Antony of Antony and the Johnsons not worry about who will care for him when he's dying (or dead), and instead wondering who will join him on the glowing dance floor. Remember in the 80's when everyone was all about "DISCO SUCKS" and punk was on the rise? Yeah, neither do I, but they were right about disco sucking.

High Places, 03/07 - 09/07 (2008)   B-
Deliciously offbeat avant-pop that really plays around with its disparate sounds - in any given track there's an odd beat, maybe a wind-chime, maybe a flute, maybe something that only sounds like a flute. It's all good feelings and soothing moments - there's even a song in there for elementary school kids! How thoughtful.

High Places, High Places (2008)   B-
It's like ... calypso meets electronica! And they didn't even have to be in the Caribbean to make it! And "singer" Mary doesn't even have to be a good singer to sing! (She just has to chant!) And I was only sporadically reminded of Black Dice!

The Hold Steady, Stay Positive (2008)   B-
When the dust from the Hype Machine finally clears and everyone cleans up the wreckage and sweeps out the basements and dusts the furniture and vacuums and the carpets there's still a solid structure standing there with good walls. Craig Finn may not have the best voice in music but he makes it memorable, because I actually think he puts a lot behind what he's saying and more importantly I think this group makes a conscious effort to not sound like the rest of the indie dreck pumped out on a regular basis (and yes, that is me thinking positively).

Hot Chip, Made in the Dark (2008)   C+
Among other problems, this appears to suffer from an identity crisis, which may or may not be a good thing - the predominant style is some kind of !!! (Chk Chk Chk)-esque dance-pop, except screechier and without the same level of infectious energy. If you're looking for something with emotional resonance, this is the wrong band to look to - you should be on your way, there's nothing left to say.

Islands, Arm's Way (2008)   C
Indie darlings take everything just one step too far; they aren't interested in being economical, in toning it down. They embellish almost everything: every note, every word. And like guests who have taken up residence on your couch and won't wake up when you shake them, this album defiantly outstays its welcome.

Jaguar Love, Take Me to the Sea (2008)   C-
The Blood Brothers this ain't: the lyrics lack the same poetic punch and Pretty Girls Make Graves were never exactly the most musically impressive band on the planet. The 1-2 punch of "Antoine and the Birdskull" and "Bone Trees and a Broken Heart" comes a little too late. But no matter how obnoxious you find Johnny Whitney's voice, it isn't nearly as bad as the clothing he sells (HYPEBEAST!).

Scarlett Johansson, Anywhere I Lay My Head (2008)   C
David Sitek from TV on the Radio does the production work and plays a lot of the instruments, Tunde from TV on the Radio sings, David Bowie sings, Nick Zinner plays guitar and Tom Waits wrote most of the songs ... leaving Scarlett to murmur the lyrics, which Sitek then has to cover over with more production work. It still isn't any good, and I can't tolerate this kind of cannibalism from just any actress. Also see: Deschanel, Zooey.

Grace Jones, Hurricane (2008)   C-
It's great that O' Tall, Menacing One can just return from an 18-year absence and squeeze an album out, but it's not great that half-way through each song I couldn't wait for it to end and to move onto the next track.

Keane, Perfect Symmetry (2008)   C+
The first two songs are quite nice ("Spiraling" and "Lovers Are Losing") but then it sounds like they're trying to morph into Coldplay and everything gets bigger and lead singer Tom Chaplin tries for some kind of Freddie Mercury-meets-Bono act (?).

Takahiro Kido, Fleursy Music (2008)   B
Consistently downbeat though gorgeous piano music with touches of electronica and some strings to keep things diversified. I can't find out much about Kido aside from what he's posted on his Myspace (and his regular website is vague), but I detect a Ryuichi Sakamoto influence in there. Drag and drop it into your sad film of choice!

The Kills, Midnight Boom (2008)   D
Annie from Giant Drag would most likely rather hang herself from a chandelier than sing something as jejune as "I want you to be crazy, baby, because you're boring when you're straight."

Kings of Leon, Only by the Night (2008)   B-
I've sort of been hooked on this band since "Aha Shake Heartbreak," so maybe I'm not the best one to follow on how well they're doing: I suppose the dig at them trying to be U2 (but only ending up as OAR) is correct and I wish they would have spent more time fine-tuning this after they released another album last year ("Revelry" and "Notion" are terrible), but I can't help but be drawn - for the most part - to their boozy interpretation of Southern Rock. Once they lose that 'fun' aspect to their sound, I will be joining the others with their torches.

Konono N1, Congotronics (2005)   B+
Gorgeous, hypnotic African music that really gives that vision in your head of a group of people gathered outside on a Friday night with their homemade instruments, a lot of booze and a crowd and is just playing music for the hell of it. It's a recorded party. And I'm actually having trouble typing this up because I'm shaking around in my chair (I'd better stop before someone sees me and thinks I'm having a fit).

Fela Kuti and Africa '70, Confusion/Gentleman (1975)   B+
Both "Confusion" and "Gentleman" are epic in scope and depth, as political statements and damn good songs. It's high time I start searching out his innovative blend of jazz.

Ladytron, Velocifero (2008)   D
It's the same damn thing with every Ladytron album: lead singer's vocals run through echo filters, background 'music' some uninspired techno jumble, idiotic lyrics (incidentally, the best song on here is "Kletva," which is sung in Bulgarian). Here's an experiment: Take all of your Ladytron tracks, put them in one directory, have iTunes pick twelve from there and try to figure out what album they came from.

The Last Shadow Puppets, The Age of the Understatement (2008)   B
There's more of a chamber pop sensibility to this than the Arctic Monkeys discs which is nice - the London Metropolitan Orchestra that accompanies the band gives it an added dimension. Turner's a fine songwriter and even though the guy's in his early twenties, he conveys his feelings succinctly: when he sings he's sorry he met a girl in "Meeting Place," it's cutting. There are a lot of girls I wish I'd never met, too.

Led Zeppelin, III (1970)   B+
Plant, Page and Company "go acoustic" - more like they 'appropriate' the sounds of Southern Rock - but show how diverse they could be. "That's the Way" is still one of my favorite songs from them (it takes a little of the cockiness out of them and makes them more personal), and "Immigrant Song" is a nice way to start a record.

Led Zeppelin, IV (1971)   B+
Hard to rate Led Zeppelin's fourth album accurately, because it's been so goddamn overexposed in ads, on TV and in the movies and on "classic rock" radio stations, but when all of these famous tracks are grouped together ("Black Dog," "Rock and Roll," "Misty Mountain Hop" and my personal favorite "The Battle of Everymore"), it does give the impression Page, Plant and Co. knew how to put a rock song together. Loses points for being the album that spawned the obnoxious "Stairway to Heaven," which I think is one of music's most overrated songs.

Lykke Li, Youth Novels (2008)   C+
Actually, this is not that bad for a debut, with songs like "Breaking Up" and "Little Bit" - about the pitfalls of young love - holding it up. Lykke has a soft voice and it's nice to listen to most of the time, but she has a tendency to let it take over (as on "Time Flies") - aging and experience will certainly fix that issue.

Gyrgy Ligeti, Continuum (1968)   B+
I've been meaning for a while now to check out a work by one of Kubrick's favorite composers and this one came strongly recommended. Maybe it's my film mania talking, but this veers from sounding like a soundtrack to a '50s noir at times to the soundtrack to a Looney Tunes cartoon to a complex symphonic nightmare, and sometimes like all three. I don't know of many composers that could pull all that off.

Lightspeed Champion, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge (2008)   D
Devonte Hynes strikes me as being someone who fancies himself as being clever. Now, I normally like clever people and their clever ways, but sometimes those people who think they're clever are actually bores, and when you run into them in public or at a party or at school and they start doing all those clever things what they make you want to do is walk away from them briskly. The alt-country touches are just way too much.

The Magnetic Fields, Distortion (2008)   C
Merritt and Company return even more caustically than before, but unlike some of their previous albums the songwriting isn't as strong and the wit's not as sharp (and I'm not even comparing it to their magnum opus, "69 Love Songs"). California girls are vacant? No way. Shitfaced we're all very clever? I know a thing or two about that.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Real Emotional Trash (2008)   C-
Malkmus is still very much into himself and this disc is self-indulgent and droll - if you're familiar with his work with Pavement and his previous 'solo' albums, this should come as no surprise. Do we need 10 minute tracks - like the title song - that just ... drift aimlessly?

Matmos, Supreme Balloon (2008)   C+
Daniel and Schmidt sound like they're channeling Robert Moog or Wendy Carlos with various parts of this, but it's very uneven - it builds up to its centerpiece, the 24 minute title track, and then drifts off into outer space. Their previous works were mostly concept albums - this one is dedicated to 'good feelings' (and "Polychords" is a fun track) but this doesn't meet their standards.

M83, Saturdays = Youth (2008)   C
Realizing that he couldn't come up with anything new, the sole guy behind this 'outfit' travelled back in musical time and decided to lift the Cocteau Twins and Depeche Mode discographies wholesale, 'reformatting' the songs and spitting them back out again. But in going back in time he forgot to grab Liz Fraser, and also forgot that both Depeche Mode and the Twins actually put a lot of thought behind their discs. And to correct the equation: Friday Nights = Youth, Saturdays = Experience, Sundays = Regret.

Melvins, Naked With Boots (2008)   D
There's too much ugly growling ("Suicide in Progress"), some instrumental fluff ("Dies Iraea," "Flush"), a 7-minute clunker ("Dog Island") and some guitars to let everyone know they've 'got it' ("The Savage Hippy").

Merzbow, Eucalypse (2008)   B-
This is the sound of machines waging war against each other. The rating, as always, can be anything you want (I chose "B" for "Bombastic!" and the minus at random).

Merzbow, Music for Bondage Performance (1991)   A-
Easily one of the most ominous things I've heard from Masami Akita - unlike his better-known noise-cranked-to-11 material ("Pulse Demon" for one), this is more like an echoing, screechy soundtrack to a horror film. Headphones are 'safe' to use in this case (I'd even go far enough to recommend them), as the delicate sounds may be lost in a busy room. I'm not exactly knowledgeable about the art of bondage (I couldn't tie my damn shoes until I was in the 3rd grade), so I'd be curious to know how well this would mesh with an actual 'performance'....

Meshuggah, obZen (2008)   C
They've shown splashes of creativity now and then, and no short supply of hostility, but so often here it's chugga-chugga-chugga followed by holler-holler-holler. A must for fans of technique, but sometimes with these Swedes it becomes all technique.

MGMT, Oracular Spectacular (2008)   B
Immensely snarky LP by two NY dudes who provide wit and hook-heavy indie-robot music - they don't take it seriously, and don't expect you too either (take a peek at the Village People-esque cover; you might chuckle). And I'm good with jokiness so long as the songs reward re-listening, as "Time to Pretend," "Electric Feel" and "Kids" certainly do. BROOKLYN!.

Moby, Last Night (2008)   D
He made his masterpiece in "Play," he made a decent clone in "19" (which is spotty but decent) and pulled off nothing of merit since then - this one is supposed to "replicate a night of dancing in New York," yet it's just a series of very basic and kind of spotty dance tracks a dozen sub-par DJs could throw together if given the equipment and time. Someone mail order Moby a muse, stat.

The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers (1976)   B
Kinda lazy and kinda sloppy and Richman kinda sounds like he's half sober and half trying to make a good song. But I know that deep down, when he says he wants a damn girlfriend and has trouble saying it, he means it (even though he kinda is an asshole).

Mogwai, The Hawk Is Howling (2008)   D
These Scots have to be one of the most unpredictable bands on the planet, because with every new album you can never tell whether they'll bring their best material or be in desperate need of direction. I'm not sure what led them to release this meandering dreck or what they were thinking, so I'll just blame this disc's failure on global warming.

The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride (2008)   B-
Hold on a second: did Darnielle get this nasally overnight or did he just start embellishing of late? Because otherwise, when he's not messing up completely ("Autoclave"), he's back to doing what he does best ("Lovecraft in Brooklyn").

My Brightest Diamond, A Thousand Shark's Teeth (2008)   D+
I know you can hit those high notes, Ms. Worden, but can you temper your own desire to merely sing your way through this and work on your songwriting? There's a lot of hot air blowing through this and not a lot of modesty, though I did learn in Googling "sharks" that a single shark can lose up to 30,000 teeth in a lifetime! So that's precisely one good thing to come out of listening to this.

My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges (2008)   D
Is "Highly Suspicious" supposed to be funny? Is "Thank You Too" to be played exclusively at weddings? Is "Sec Walkin'" inspired by James Taylor? Not sure what to make of this album, which is so thoroughly mediocre I have to wonder where the band that made "Z" went to and what they're working on at the moment.

Nachtmystium, Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1 (2008)   D+
I'm starting to think - after exploring some of the 'new' 'exciting' 'metal' bands - that the pinnacle of the genre is solely occupied by the likes of Isis and Slayer and ... that's about it. This band seems stuck between multiple genres - death metal, rock, psychedelica, whatever is going on with the horns for "Seasick" parts 1-3 - and suffering from some kind of personality disorder (sometimes, you gotta pick one persona per album and stick with it).

Randy Newman, Harps and Angels (2008)   B
More of Newman being grouchy, but few make grouchiness so damn appealing. And believe me Randy, I don't think I could find two tight-assed Italians quite like those on our Supreme Court, either (speaking as a rather free-wheeling Italian-American myself).

The New Pornographers, Challengers (2007)   C-
How odd: when this 'supergroup' came out with their debut I was first to step up and say I didn't think it was 'all that,' and as the members continue to move in their own unique directions (Bejar with his odes to ... gods and himself or something, Neko Case with her faux-country, Newman actively sucking up the place), I find myself more in favor of what Bejar's doing, skeptical about Case and caring less about anything Newman puts his name on. Together, I can hear a bit of the balance, but nothing they've ever done as a collaborative unit will ever really 'wow' me.

Nine Inch Nails, The Slip (2008)   C-
I more or less lost track of Trent Reznor shortly after "The Downward Spiral," figuring he lost 'it' and wasn't likely to recover. Returning about a decade later, his music isn't doing that much differently, although as a voice for the development of music in different directions, of his embracing new technology and - most importantly - for allowing anyone to do anything with this album that they want, he's putting his name and reputation to good use. I can imagine listening to a 'new' copy of this in a short while, remixed by a bunch of kids with ProTools and having a positive reaction to it. As it stands, this freebie static-and-gears affair is well below average, but along with Radiohead's "In Rainbows," can be good for music.

No Age, Nouns (2008)   B+
Unlike the Times New Viking gang, this two-piece - playing the same kind of fuzzy, unproduced pomo "punk" - actually sound remarkable: it's like an unofficial live concert, but you can hear the songs beneath the layers of noise (there's a fine line, in other words, between making this lo-fi stuff work and making a disaster of a record). They probably want you to play this at max volume, too, which I should warn my neighbors about.

Oasis, Dig Out Your Soul (2008)   D+
Did I just read the words "a return to form" someplace? I couldn't laugh harder - the last thing of substance these Beatles fans did was in 1995 and I was still trying to get my locker un-jammed. Liam and Noel were too busy fighting to write anything as passionate as "Wonderwall" or even "Live Forever" - they should follow their own title's advice.

Okkervil River, The Stand Ins (2008)   C
Bouncy melancholy like the kind of music produced by all the other bands of the same ilk. You know the type: those that like to show how enlightened and precocious and easily wounded they are. It almost makes you wonder if they there was some kind of Underground Indie Conference and they decided on the tracks to write and the clothes to wear and what girls to try to attract: conformity on a minor label level.

Jim O'Rourke, Tamper (1991 / 2008 re-issue)   B-
Jim's said he likes droning (and feedback!) so here's a whole album of droning (and feedback!). Apparently, he was doing doom music when the Sunn O))) guys were still playing with G.I. Joes, further proof of O'Rourke's musical genius. (Side effects may include headache, confusion and tinnitus. Use as directed.)

Portishead, Third (2008)   D+
I had to break out "Dummy" to remind myself what they sounded like 'back then,' and while I expect bands to progress in terms of style and keep re-inventing themselves, they seem to have lost the "trip" and "hop" over the years, leading to this muted 'return.' If we're going to head back to the 90's, can I make a request for the Afghan Whigs to come back? Come on, Greg, you know we gotta have it.

Primal Scream, Beautiful Future (2008)   C
Uptown! Uptown! Uptown! The glory of love! The glory of love! The glory of love! I see the beauty! I see the beauty! I see the beauty in everything! Hey, hey Zombie man! Ain't no glory in love! I don't recall them being this lyrically horrid before, and for the most part their attempt to appeal to the new-rave kids isn't effective. Oddly, when they keep it simple ("Over and Over"), it sounds decent.

Prince, Dirty Mind (1980)   B+
Early-ish Prince, already possessing tremendous self-confidence. When Marc Bolan was talking about a guy who danced right out of the womb, he was really talking about His Purpleness.

Prince, Purple Rain (1984)   A
One of those very rare, very orgiastic pop masterpieces - every song (and I don't exaggerate) is over-flowing with Prince's omnivorous sexuality. It's too bad there's all that "drama" and "acting" in the movie version: I'd have much preferred just a straight-out concert.

Psychic TV, Dreams Less Sweet (1983)   D
One very good song ("The Orchids") and then eighteen other tracks of Genesis P-Orridge, presumably high on something (not just life), noodling around with buttons and sound clips and repetition (I dare you to listen to "In the Nursery" and not want to put your fist through the speaker).

Max Richter, 24 Postcards in Full Colour (2008)   C
A 'concept album' that strikes me as being a lot of lame modern art posturing: Richter takes twenty four clips of music (most barely over two minutes long), strings them back-to-back, references their brevity in the title and voil, he's finished.

Santogold, Santogold (2008)   C-
One of those one-track albums: the key song here being the pop gem "L.E.S. Artistes," a put-down of NYC hipsters. Her songwriting isn't that strong and the rest of the songs lack a kind of panache, but Ms. Santi White has a nice voice (on first listen I thought she sounded like either Tegan or Sara).

She and Him, Volume One (2008)   B-
Le Zooey's lucky she's a cutie-pie, because I don't tolerate this kind of cannibalism from just any actress. Also see: Johansson, Scarlett.

Sigur Rs, Me Su Eyrum Vi Spilum Endalaust (2008)   C
So we're pretty confident they know basic piano playing, they know how to coo in their nonsense language, they know about using strings for emotional impact, they know how to make every song sound like it wants to break your heart. And they continue to know that, and continue to play that. Pardon me if my heart won't break and I just roll my eyes.

The Sleeping Years, We're Becoming Islands One by One (2008)   C-
This month's acoustic-tinged indie emo rock, available with your chose of coleslaw or a side salad without dressing. Next month's selection: some other band influenced by Death Cab for Cutie.

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Kontakte (1958-60)   Rating not applicable
Stockhausen's gotten lots of props over the years by people who know, study and love music - his face was on the cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," he was name checked by Pynchon and Zappa - but listening to him is another world altogether: I sat and absorbed all 35+ minutes of Kontakte, and am not sure what to make of it. It's unnerving, it shifts wildly from silence to abrupt digital noise, it sputters out, it comes back in pieces. Sometimes it sounds like a symphony R2D2 would have made if he wasn't helping Luke destroy the Empire. I'd be lying (and more of a fraud than usual) if I said I knew exactly what was going on in this piece so applying a rating would be foolish of me, but I will admit it certainly stretches one's notions of what music is and should be. Shame he made the comment about 9/11 being comparable to a work of art ... I follow the reasoning (... sort-of) but wish he never said it at all.

Sons and Daughters, This Gift (2008)   B-
Catchy, buoyant follow-up to "The Repulsion Box" - there is only one or two tracks on here I'd rather do without ("The Bell" being one of them). They seem to have a good ear for just solid music without a lot of fan-fare and bells and whistles.

Spiritualized, Songs in A&E (2008)   C
Hmm, maybe the guy who takes drugs to make music for people to take drugs to listen to and (recently) needed drugs to keep himself alive in the hospital (blasted double pneumonia) now sounds like he either took too many drugs to make this album anything but an overblown rehash of previous Spiritualized albums (burnout!) or not enough drugs to forge on with something that doesn't sound like he just woke up from a coma. Since he's still alive it seems some of those drugs worked, but the other ones - like Richard Ashcroft said - may have made things worse.

Squarepusher, Just a Souvenir (2008)   C
Begins like the Squarepusher I know and like ("Star Time 2," "The Coathanger"), then becomes such a jumble: rock, digital fuzz, relentless acid jazz all at once. I thought that as one got older one got more disciplined; Mr. Jenkinson is proving me wrong.

Stereolab, Chemical Chords (2008)   D
It's pointless even bothering to complain about these dorks at this point, as each and every single thing they make from now until they quit or die will sound almost exactly like everything they made before it. I should have stopped listening to them after "Dots and Loops," their last good album.

Subtle, ExitingARM (2008)   D+
Pompous theory behind unremarkable electronica/hip-hop (paging DJ Spooky) - take their description for this album's meaning: "Since the first apes used a blade of grass as a tool on a comb of ants. The human mind started to make room for free time. And the arm became the only exit for the mind, in this world, as the mind developed. So you have war through the arm, and you have the various arts, all coming out through the arm." Actually, that has to be more coherent than the lyrics for "Unlikely Rock Shock," so I shouldn't complain....

Richard Swift, Richard Swift as Onasis [EP] (2008)   F
Swift, realizing he's not even good at being himself, adopts some new moniker to sing "songs" which consist of one or two chords or notes and involve him chanting the song title over and over again (if he bothers to speak at all). The cover art depicts exactly what you'd like to do to his face after wasting about thirty laborious minutes listening to this.

Tapes 'N Tapes, Walk It Off (2008)   C
First listen breezed by me - I blame the noisy neighbors and household distractions - but the second listen made me think it's flat and just too studied, like they went to Indie Band College and took Pavement for Intermediate Learners.

The Teenagers, Reality Check (2008)   B+
Absolutely hilarious ... that is, if you find misogyny hilarious: I mean, it starts right at track one, the guy/girl duet "Homecoming" ("I fucked my American cunt / I loved my English romance") - think Serge Gainsbourg meets Nada Surf's "Popular" - and keeps going through the creepy Scarlett Johansson 'love song' and to the date-rapelicious "French Kiss." It's not exactly difficult to criticize teenagers, which this spends a lot of time doing, and the spoken word delivery thing is overdone ... though it helps that it's in broken English. I should probably rate this lower, but I just like it.

This Will Destroy You, This Will Destroy You (2008)   C+
Rides the wave of current post-rock like Explosions in the Sky - your reaction to bands like that will probably dictate how well you respond to this. I personally don't find much to celebrate in mostly forgettable and desperately long-winded tracks without much punch or style - lots of static, feedback, reverb. Few of these bands, however, reach the supreme inventiveness and power of Mogwai (or even Godspeed You Black Emperor).

Thomas Function, Celebration (2008)   D+
I miss the Violent Femmes, too.

Times New Viking, Rip It Off (2008)   D+
Or, to be more specific, "Rip The Mid 80's Punk Groups Off." Guitars not tuned, sound levels not set, 'chords' flubbed, lyrics unintelligible. I guess you could argue that they're trying to 'emulate' the sound of a live concert on disc - without all that absurd polish (?) and professionalism (?!) - but at the same time this sounds like a CD-R I got a year ago from a local bunch of teenagers attempting noise rock (who weren't on Matador Records).

Shugo Tokumaru, Exit (2008)   B-
Skillful but not extraordinary J-pop - lead single "Parachute" would fit perfectly in an Apple commercial - that lacks the sonic inventiveness and experimentation of a Keigo Oyamada. Some of this could be easily dragged-and-dropped into your cutesy, bubbly Japanese game of choice.

Tokyo Police Club, Elephant Shell (2008)   C+
Not as good as the two EPs (which were brief but left a lasting impression) and only about ten minutes longer than "A Lesson in Crime" - the best track ("Your English Is Good") isn't supported by anything nearly as strong. In terms of awesome band names, theirs comes close to Tokyo Sex Destruction - of course, these fellows are better known.

Tricky, Knowle West Boy (2008)   C+
There's Tricky's little heard 'playful' side on "Puppy Toy" - he's usually the brooding knight of the nightclub - and traces of former glory (the catchy "Bacative"), but there are times when I'm convinced he's become a caricature of himself ("Past Mistake" evokes Massive Attack but not even MA is up to much nowadays).

TV on the Radio, Dear Science (2008)   A-
I feel it. Though they still haven't gotten back to the majesty of "Young Liars" (and mostly likely never will again), there's a solid core of songs in the beginning ("Halfway Home," "Crying" with its close-to-the-edge falsetto, "Golden Age"), a slight sag ("Red Dress" and "Shout Me Out") and a powerful finale. Not sure what any of this has to do with science, and not sure what happened to Dave Sitek's piercing guitars, but there's real poetry in there, and when Tunde Adebimpe sings that "this is beginning to feel like the dawn of the luz of forever," I can't help but agree (and shudder).

Valet, Naked Acid (2008)   D-
This is just some feeble attempt at psychedelic rock - just take a peek at the cover. Everything sounds 'trippy,' complete with whispered lyrics from a woman who can't sing plus lots of echo. Make that lots and lots of echo.

Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (2008)   B+
I didn't get into the EP I heard last year and was a bit put off by the hype - precocious Ivy League kids play African music! - but I happen to like their new LP. I imagine it took that time for me to process their style (and maybe even wrap my mind around the fact that the New Big Thing out of the NY Music Scene isn't 'post-punk' in the strictest terms) and most likely needs even more listens, but I fully expect this one to grow on me.

Various Artists, No New York (1978)   B-
The feeling of finding this infamous - and inspirational - "No Wave" sampler (produced by Eno) after searching for a reasonably priced copy is relief, which incidentally is not the feeling you can apply to the music itself, which ranges between 'sloppy,' 'chaotic' and 'atonal' (and sometimes all three). I could have lived without Lydia Lunch's Teenage Jesus tracks (and not too thrilled with the Mars stuff) but the DNA and Contortions songs are precisely what I wanted to hear.

The Virgins, The Virgins (2008)   B-
This is becoming a trend: bands start off with raw, powerful EPs, then go into the studio to gloss them over, add a handful of B-sides and whammo, there's your LP. "Rich Girls" and "Fernando Pando" are still just as good as before, so if you never heard them, dig in.

The Walkmen, You & Me (2008)   B+
In a word: sobering. Singer Hamilton Leithauser sounds like he's at the end of his proverbial rope and the band staggers behind him, trying to hold him up but still dazed and out-of-it themselves. If I didn't know any better, this raw album was written just after The Worst Day (and Night) of Their Lives. It's drowsy, sad and affecting.

Weezer, Weezer (The Red Album) (2008)   D-
The term "artistically bankrupt" fits - Cuomo and Gang, on the inside, still whine about L.A.-types despite being L.A.-types; isn't fame a bitch? Lyrically dismal - take this attempt at satire (from "Troublemaker"): "I'm a troublemaker / never been a faker / doing things my own way / never giving up."

Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreak (2008)   C
It had to happen eventually: three good, widely-acclaimed albums and now, with this fourth disc, he's become a parody of himself. It's hopelessly narcissistic, thoughtless and sounds like he went overboard with the voice-altering software. Just because he did one track with Daft Punk doesn't mean he's a dance artist, and when he gets to comparing a girl to Peter Weller's half-human, half-machine law enforcer, I can't help but chuckle (the austere string section only makes it more ludicrous). Kanye West doesn't like modesty.

Xasthur, Defective Epitaph (2007)   D-
Someone, anyone, come quick! Xasthur sounds like he's choking! And there's some kind of fuzzy sound coming out of the speakers! Who knows the Heimlich Maneuver? Who knows how to tune musical instruments? Who knows how to keep a CD of this drivel from being over an hour long?

Xiu Xiu, Women as Lovers (2008)   D-
Jamie Stewart, et. al. continue to forget that just Being Weird isn't enough in itself - you need to have something to say. The "Under Pressure" cover comes out of nowhere and is the most restrained track on this; "Puff and Bunny" is definitely the disc's nadir. I like this band less the more I listen to them, so it's about time I just stop bothering.

XTC, Skylarking (1986)   B+
I can't think of many albums that start with as awesome a one-two punch as "Summer's Cauldron" and "Grass," though the defiantly 'summery' air also allows for dated pop attempts like the ugly "That's Really Super, Supergirl." The songwriting is phenomenal and Todd Rundgren's production is just fine ... though sometimes Andy Partridge's voice sounds a lot like "Weird" Al Yankovic's. Seriously. Listen to him again.

Live Acts Caught, or: Why Yes, I Do Leave My House At Times

  April 5, 2008: Ambulance LTD with Bear Hands and Wild Light, North Star Bar, Philadelphia, PA [* Bear Hands comes across as being more fun and impulsive than they do on their EP, Wild Light needs to hang up the suspenders and Ambulance LTD's new material (which they haven't released yet) is promising. Relax, don't think about Ambulance drummer Ezra texting (!) while drumming. It's an addiction.]

  May 9, 2008: The Teenagers with Team Robespierre, North Star Bar, Philadelphia, PA [* The Teenagers sounded a little 'tinny' and not even close to being as crisp as on the album, but it really doesn't matter, and they really didn't care. Teenagers don't care about anything.]

  June 14, 2008: Vampire Weekend, Central Park, New York City [* Funny story, this one - that is, funny if you find the idea of getting absolutely drenched by a Chinese monsoon in Manhattan for eight hours to be idyllic and enjoyable. An umbrella was useless, our shoes were filled with cold rainwater and my Armani polo was getting unmercifully battered (inside joke). Aggravating outdoor conditions aside, for a free concert this sounded great, and Vampire Weekend braved through the blowing rain and nonstop lightning. Another plus: there were a lot of wet t-shirts and pert, barely-concealed breasts. There are worse things in this world, I can assure you.]

  July 25, 2008: She & Him, The Trocadero, Philadelphia, PA [* This is now the second concert in a row that was difficult to get to: we had to sit in a massive traffic jam for two plus hours just to get to Arch St. which forced us to miss the opening act (which turned out to be a blessing) and the first ten minutes of Matt & Zooey. The quick run-down: when it was just her and him they were quite charming, but those extra four people on stage just cluttered things up (and someone please explain to me what the backup vocalist thought she was doing). Should M. Ward ever step out, Nellie McKay could just step in and they can be called She & Her. (Nellie's already got the wardrobe.)]

  August 7, 2008: CSS with The Go! Team, The Trocadero, Philadelphia, PA [* Saw the Go! Team before but they still bring the spunk (it's gotta be the green tea and vitamins) if not necessarily the songs (plus, they didn't play my favorite track of theirs, "Huddle Formation") but I'm glad I saw Cansei de Ser Sexy and all that goes with them: the ambiguous sexuality, the 80's attire and Lovefoxxx's various wardrobe malfunctions (but they didn't play my favorite song, "Patins"). I'm not sure I really like the Troc as a venue (too many restrictions, too cramped) - I prefer the Agnew-run R5 shows if possible, though they rarely start before 11 PM. Keeping with the string of concert-problems I missed the two novelty acts: Matt & Kim and Natalie Portman's Shaved Head.]

  October 3, 2008: Andrew Bird with Sandro Perri, Zoellner Arts Center, Bethlehem, PA [* Though I'm not too big on Bird's last two (critically well-regarded) records, his live performance was mesmerizing, as he surrounded himself with several custom-made horn speakers (one's called Spinny ... it spins) and 'layered' his songs using custom equipment like stomp boxes to play the loops (Nick Zinner does the same thing). He's a compelling performer and shining example of the DIY ethic: he makes absurd comments (his inspiration: "Anonymous"), he has incredible endurance and you can't take your eyes off of him. It may be precocious po-mo hipsterism - or whatever description is being thrown around nowadays - but I like it. Opening act Sandro Perri's Special Power is Anesthetization.]

  October 4, 2008: The Kills with The Postelles, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY [* I found myself more fascinated by guitarist Jamie Hince's guitar work than singer Alison's tired Stevie Nicks impression: his playing was like a Hendrixian act of Six String Love, and it's all too fitting that at the end he, ahem, made it hump the amp. The two of them, high on life, twirled around on stage and flung sweat all over the place, which is certainly a fitting distraction from the less-than-stellar songs; Alison spent a lot of time spitting up phlegm and coughing (she either had a cold or tuberculosis, it's hard to tell nowadays). As for The Postelles: they are an indie band. They wear vests. They kept the stickers on their clothing from where they bought them. The drummer wore sunglasses in the dark.]

Singles of the Year: Adele: "Chasing Pavements," Animal Collective: "Street Flash," Annie: "My Love Is Better," Atlas Sound: "Bite Marks," Be Your Own Pet: "Black Hole," The Black Angels: "18 Years," Bon Iver: "Skinny Love," Brian Jonestown Massacre: "Just Like Kicking Jesus," British Sea Power: "Waving Flags," Clinic: "Memories," Coldplay: "Lost!," Cold War Kids: "Something Is Not Right With Me," Crystal Castles: "Love and Caring," Destroyer: "My Favorite Year," Flying Lotus: "Riot," The Helio Sequence: "Shed Your Love," High Places: "Head Spins (Extended Version)," The Hold Steady: "Slapped Actress," Hot Chip: "Touch Too Much," Scarlett Johansson: "Town With No Cheer," Keane: "Lovers Are Losing," The Last Shadow Puppets: "Meeting Place," Lil Wayne: "A Milli," Lykke Li: "Breaking It Up," The Magnetic Fields, "Too Drunk to Dream," M83: "Couleurs," MGMT: "Time to Pretend," Katy Perry: "Ur So Gay," Santogold: "L.E.S. Artistes," The Subjects: "Goldenshire Boogie," The Submarines: "You, Me and the Bourgeoisie," Subtle: "Day Dangerous," Tapes 'N Tapes: "Demon Apple," The Teenagers: "Streets of Paris," Tokyo Police Club: "Your English Is Good," TV on the Radio: "DLZ," Vampire Weekend: "Walcott"