April 24, 2005
STUDYING THE SMART SET
5 Breaking Out:
Arcade Fire -- The Canadian quintet's debut album, ''Funeral," followed the deaths of many of the band's loved ones, and a brave, elegiac intensity fuels their songs, which are primal and melodic, whimsical and mournful all at once. Like any good catharsis, the music transcends the maudlin with the sheer romance of its emotional assault.
The Decemberists -- With titles like ''Eli, the Barrow Boy" and ''The Mariner's Revenge Song," the Decemberists' third album, the exceedingly well-titled ''Picaresque," is a marvel of theatrical storytelling and folk-rock invention, brimming with weird, warm flavors made of pedal steel guitars and theremins, nautical lore and mythology.
The Shins -- A witty, affecting guitar pop group with a twist: surreal yet resonant lyrics (who doesn't dream of burying the remains of relationships in the yard?) and deceptively breezy melodies that bob and weave among the shifting, intricate structures of ''Chutes Too Narrow," the band's classic and surprising second album.
Death Cab for Cutie -- Eleven picture-perfect indie lullabies, variously epic and mellow, make up the Bellingham, WA, band's fourth album, ''Transatlanticism." Chief Cutie Ben Gibbard is a lost soul and master craftsman, the ideal combo in a pop songwriter. The result is unpretentious, unrestrained, and unabashedly poetic.
The Postal Service -- Named for the method by which its members trade sounds and ideas, this duo (a collaboration between Death Cab's Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel and Figurine) cobbles Tamborello's cool synths and Gibbard's bittersweet singing voice into delicious juxtapositions -- we'll call it poignant new wave -- on ''Give Up."
5 That Should:
John Vanderslice -- Best known for the media circus surrounding his 2000 song ''Bill Gates Must Die," Vanderslice is a studio whiz kid with a gift for shambling chamber pop and enchanted indie rock. Last year's ''Cellar Door," on Barsuk, was an impossibly imaginative assemblage of marginal characters and their corresponding sounds.
Pedro the Lion -- David Bazan plumbs the depressing depths of the daily suburban grind and finds poetry on ''Achilles Heel" (Jade Tree), an album that's not unlike a Vintage Contemporary novella set to quivering, folk-inflected indie rock.
Aqueduct -- Essentially a one-man band, David Terry makes fond use of Casio keyboards and battered drum machines in his quest for the perfect lo-fi pop nugget. He nails it nearly every time on ''I Sold Gold" (Barsuk), which wastes no time getting to its off-kilter appraisal of modern love with an opening track titled ''The Suggestion Box."
Beulah -- Charming, bright, and elegant, ''Yoko," the fourth album from San Francisco's Beulah, is a breakup record, which could explain the inspiration for the album title as well as the profound sense of melancholy that infuses even the powerhouse pop-rockers.
Okkervil River -- This Texas band marries delicate folk-rock and explosive alt-rock on a bed of desperate lyrics in the three albums they've released on the Jagjaguwar label. Sample title: ''The Velocity of Saul at the Time of his Conversion . . ."
The Boston Globe
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