In the CD Changer
One of the handful of loyal readers to this blog asked recently if I had any CD recommendations to make.
Here are a few new CDs I've been listening to lately and can heartily recommend:
Proclaiming a new Beck record as creative and ingenious is a little like saying the newest Vegas hotel is bigger and more garish than anything preceding it. Of course the new Beck album is great. From the Casio-riddled infectiousness of "Girl" to the Brazilian stylings of "Missing," from the slow-burn space pop of "Earthquake Weather" to the more gritty white-boy funk of "Hell Yes," this is another magnificent hybrid of hiphop, pop and folk, albeit with fewer of the artist's trademark bells and whistles . Guero drones a bit toward its end, but we can forgive. Even lackluster Beck is better than almost anything else out there.
Clem Snide, End of Love
I think a lot of critics label Clem Snide as an alt-country band because it doesn't really fit anywhere else. Frontman Eef Barzelay's nasal vocals and literate lyrics seem better suited for the grad school dropout working behind the counter of a coffeehouse than they do in Nashville, where he now resides and where he recorded much of End of Love. The record is typical of the band's output, which is to say it's either delightfully quirky ("Weird," "Fill Me with Your Light," the title track) or too wrapped up in the faux cleverness of its open mic-night poetry. Still, it is interesting more often than it's not.
The Doves, Some Cities
Ragged, multilayered, sweeping rock blasts propelled by Jimi Goodwin's resonant voice that find the passion middleground between Morrissey and the American Music Club's Mark Eitzel. The Doves boast a terrific, if occasionally homogeneous, sound. The opening one-two punch of the title track and "Black and White Town" sets a bar that the rest of the record can't sustain -- but the band comes mighty close.
The Eels, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
I became sold long ago on the brilliant songwriting of E (otherwise known as Mark Oliver Everett) whose outfit, the Eels, shuffles through a topical landscape of death, desperation and isolation -- and somehow makes the universality of the experience humanistic and life-affirming. You think that's a sleight-of-hand? Listen to this two-disc chronicle of E's life and tell me I'm full of shit. With his world-weary vocals and eclectic instrumentation, E produces his best work to date and a flurry of excellent tracks, including "Trouble with Dreams, "Ugly Love, "Hey, Man (Now You're Really Living)" "I'm Going to Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart," "Railroad Man" and "Things the Grandchildren Should Know." Superb.
Ben Folds, Songs for Silverman
While this is an elegant and mature collection of piano ballads, I can't shake the feeling -- and I know this might be blasphemy for Folds fans -- that this record inches our hero just a little too close to pallid songwriting. The CD's first single, "Landed," plops us into an elliptical narrative, a la the Ben Folds Five's "Brick," but it bears traces of James Taylor and Elton John-Bernie Taupin at their more limpid. Even if the record doesn't have the sharpness of his solo debut, Rockin' the Suburbs, Folds' knack for melody remains intact. "Gracie" is a wonderful ode to parenthood, "Late" is a fitting tribute to the late Elliott Smith, and "Jesusland"-- one of the few songs on the disc truly well-served by its swollen strings -- is achingly beautiful.