2.17.2007

As you may or may not know, I have a music column in my college's newspaper. Here's my latest article, I thought you might enjoy:

The Rock Study Group Report
Recommendations and Exit Strategies for Music Enthusiasts
Februrary 9, 2007


It was easy to be apathetic and critical of what musicians had to offer last year. But alas, it’s a new year, a blank slate, and a chance for compensation for the damage done. Maybe last year wasn’t all that bad for music, but 2007 will leave critics wishing they hadn’t wasted so much time and boastful adjectives on mediocre albums that didn’t seem so mediocre at the time.

If 2007 is a chance for renewal and peace, the Shins’ January release entitled “Wincing the Night Away” is an apology. Yes, it’s a start, but it’s a gift to a population who thus far has given sub-par approval ratings. As with each of their past releases, Shins front man James Mercer’s undeniably talented songwriting will attach to your stereo and won’t let go until your obsession’s a bit too unhealthy. Their first single “Phantom Limb” oozes harmonies parallel to that of the Beach Boys in their prime. So much so you’ll be shaking sand out of your headsets and cursing the likes of Brian Wilson.

Arcade Fire’s March release of “Neon Bible” is another critical step forward. This Grammy-nominated, David Bowie-approved breath of fresh air will litter themselves everywhere music is played, written, and talked about. If their 2004 “Funeral” wasn’t enough, this could very well be our generation’s answer to “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust”.

We can’t forget about the dirty-bomb of an album Modest Mouse is about to set off. “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” is constructed with ironic lisp-filled rhymes and ingenious twang guitar. This convergence of Issaquah-rooted angst and 80’s cult legend Johnny Marr of The Smiths) could either be another misuse of a code red alert, or it could be so out of control the Department of Homeland Security tracks every sale the album makes. Their first single “Dashboard” is a perversely engaging blend of incoherent slurs, horn wails, synth-based strings, and bass drum thuds.

If immigration is still an issue, let’s make a fuss over South London’s Bloc Party and their upcoming album “A Weekend in the City.” This patchwork of tightly knit beats and meticulous guitar will give you a run for your money once it hits the U.S. Why does this album succeed where other American bands fail? Maybe it’s time we admit they’re just harder workers than we are.

A few more albums will slip past customs, and may deserve a handout. Scarlett Johansson’s “Scarlett Sings Tom Waits” is an odd move, but so is 70s folk artists America and their new album “Here & Now” featuring indie rockers Ben Kweller, My Morning Jacket, and Nada Surf. Keep a look out for Courtney Love’s “How Dirty Girls Come Clean.” You’ll wish you didn’t like it as much as you did.

In a country where rumors are treated as fact, the release of a new Radiohead album seems imminent. Thom Yorke’s solo effort “The Eraser” almost fooled us into forgetting the England-based superstars hadn’t hammered one out since 2003. And what about Interpol? If they spend any more time aimlessly holed-up in smoke-filled New York apartments and lavish recording studios without producing an album, we just might have to wiretap them. No questions asked. Buzz over possible albums from Spoon, Wilco, Lauren Hill, Smashing Pumpkins, Bjork, and Sigur Ros had better hold true, too.

Let’s not forget the sacrifices thousands of Americans make everyday by turning on the radio. In terms of the airplay, we can’t just cut and run. The solutions lie within the deployment of more hit-makers in a time where modern music has faltered in the midst of insurgence. Fall Out Boy’s “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” gets the job done thanks to its Babyface produced beats, abrasive verses, and harmony ridden nouveau punk choruses. The song’s breakdown bridge screams Justin Timberlake’s “Seniorita” and has left Kanye West dying to make a remix. It’ll be a disappointment if the rest of “Infinity on High” falls short.

Beyond that,West has enlisted Coldplay’s own Chris Martin into another Jon Brion crafted hype machine, “Graduation.” Timbaland, the master of the “it sucked the first time I heard it but now I can’t stop listening to it” songs is releasing his solo effort, with the help of, you guessed it, Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado. Air, Incubus, Ted Leo, 50 Cent, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Norah Jones, LCD Soundsystem, and Rufus Wainwright will also become prominent figures this year in the war against terror on the radio.

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