Beck has been called a lot of things (from genius to jokester), but one cannot deny that the man is incomparable. On Guero, Beck rocks the mic like, well, Beck circa 1996. He doesn’t mine mindlessly from the past, but rather conjures songs piecemeal in a way that makes his pastiche of rapping, singing and sampling sound so organic you’d swear it grew out of some hippie’s garden. Lead single “E-Pro” finds him in fine form to make all the freaks dance, while “Broken Drum” puts the backbeat on hold in favor of sorrowful contemplation. Most of the record is a combination of the two styles, though, as Beck incorporates melancholy from 2003’s Sea Change with the thrift store hip-hop of his best, Odelay. The result is a sound collage from an inimitable emcee who’s gloomy enough to let on but not enough to drop the beat.
Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Album: LCD Soundsystem
LCD Soundsystem is James Murphy, previously known for producing obscene amalgamations of dance and punk, most notably the Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers.” Not content to merely create a genre, Murphy has put his own gonzo electronica to wax, and the results are gorgeous and invigorating. Throughout, the beats sound less mechanical than Murphy’s voice, a testament to both, and he even sings (and damn well) on “Never as Tired As When I’m Waking Up.” The entire record is good, but the inclusion of “Losing My Edge” would make it worth buying even if the rest was comprised entirely of the sounds of constipated, bleating goats.
Artist: Regina Spektor
Album: Soviet Kitsch
Regina Spektor is a classically trained pianist with the voice of a scat singer and the soul of a virtuoso on a sugar high. Think Norah Jones if she’d grown up listening to Odelay instead of Patsy Cline. Spektor’s strange phrasing is so uniquely brilliant that it honestly doesn’t matter what she’s saying as long as you can hear her voice. Complemented only by a piano and whatever percussion happens to be lying around (a stick and stepladder have been known to do the job), Soviet Kitsch is deceptively simple and completely mesmerizing. Buy it now.
Artist: Rachael Yamagata
In the realm of manic isolation, somewhere in between a whimper and a growl, lies a unique niche of female songwriting that is as contradictory as it is pure. The voice of solo artist Rachel Yamagata is the most recent addition to the choir of Fiona Apple, Sarah McLachlan and Norah Jones. On Yamagata’s disquieting debut Happenstance, thorny, brooding ballads descend deep inside the mind of a timid poet who can’t help but stumble upon the perfect song.
Artist: John Butler Trio
Album: Sunrise Over Sea
A dreadlocked John Butler released Sunrise Over Sea last year in his native Australia, much to the delight of stoners everywhere. The band’s mix of crunchy guitars, country rhythms and double bass lines are sure to please Dave Matthews Band and O.A.R. fans. Butler slides into funky grooves with drummer Nicky Bomba and bassist Shannon Birchall, but sometimes layers unnecessary strings and backing vocals onto otherwise bare bones arrangements. While JBT never rocks hard, they certainly groove deep.