Just for fun I’m going to start giving a letter grade to the albums I write about (provided I’ve actually heard them).
Top Five New Releases:
Ben Kweller: Ben Kweller (Red Ink) – My friends who are big Ben Kweller fans tell me that Sha Sha is the album to get. I’ve always liked the Kweller songs I’ve heard, but this is the first one I’ve sat down with and listened to all the way through. He comes across as a very likeable guy - kind of a nerdy underdog that you want to root for. Overall the lyrics and songs just aren’t interesting enough to warrant repeated listens. I’m sure fans will find plenty to like. If you’re unfamiliar, you might want to listen to it before making the purchase. See him live at the Avalon on 9/22/06. Letter Grade: B-
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: The Letting Go (Drag City) – I’ve been a Will Oldham fan since Palace Music’s Viva Last Blues (still my favorite Oldham album). I’ve always admired his fractured voice and skill as a lyricist (even Johnny Cash covered him). He writes incredibly maudlin songs but sometimes shows off his wicked sense of humor. The arrangements on this album are varied (some some songs have strings, some are very sparse) and there’s a very prominent female voice (Dawn McCarthy from Faun Fables). The record’s heavy and not a lot of fun to listen to (you won’t hear this at fashion parties or poolside at the Standard) but if you’re in the right mood, it’s one of Oldham’s best since the Palace days. See him live at McCabe’s on 10/22/06. Letter Grade: A-
DJ Shadow: Outsider (Universal) – I could never get into Private Press or Preemptive Strike because I wanted them to sound more like Endtroducing. I threw this one in the player with no expectations. Endtroducing it is not. This album goes all over the place - from a few solid hip-hop tracks to some pretty awful wimpy rock. Overall, it’s impossible to really recommend, but in the ago of ITunes, there are definitely a few tracks worth downloading. Live at the Avalon on 9/24/06. Letter Grade: C
Joseph Arthur: Nuclear Daydream (Lonely Astronaut) – Joseph Arthur is one of those singer-songwriters that has three or four really good tracks on each record. Unfortunately those tracks inevitably get licensed to TV and film and then you never really listen to the albums again. I haven’t heard this one yet or even read any reviews? See him live at El Rey Theatre on 10/17. Letter Grade: ?
Whitest Boy Alive: Dreams (Bubbles) – Whitest Boy Alive is Erlend Oye from Kings of Convenience and German DJ Marcin Oz. I really like several songs on Kings of Convenience’s Quiet Is the New Loud so I was looking forward to this one. I’ve had this for about a month and listened to it probably 15 times and I really can’t remember anything specific about this record. The only thing I can tell you is that the first song is my favorite. After that I quickly get bored and forget I’m listening to it. Nothing stands out for me and the songs all flow into one another. Although I’m sure Erlend’s hardcore fans will disagree. Letter Grade: B-
Chingy: Hood Star (Capitol)
Darkel: Darkel (Astralwerks) – One half of Air
Guy Clark: Workbench Songs (Dualtone) – Americana fans.
Lupe Fiasco: Food & Liquor (Atlantic) – Hip-hop fans.
The Hidden Cameras: Awoo (Arts & Crafts) – From the Arts & Crafts’ website: “Joel Gibb’s lyrics explore gay love and sex with a rare fearless explicitness.” Live at the Echo on 11/28
The Howling Hex: Nightclub Version of the Eternal (Drag City) – At the Echo on 10/20. Download “Hammer and Bluebell (edit)”
Jane’s Addiction: Up From the Catacombs – The Best of Jane’s Addiction (Rhino) - I'd probably just pick up Nothing's Shocking and Ritual in the used bin.
Kasabian: Empire (RCA) – At the Henry Fonda on 10/11.
The Now People: Last Great 20th Century Love Affair (Bird Song)