We can all thank Justin Timberlake for bringing sexyback this summer because in the midst of global apocalypse, Lord knows, all we needed was a little more sexy. Though the summer had its fair share of sexysinkers, there were a handful of sexystandouts. scene divulges the best (sexiest?) albums of the summer.
TV on the Radio — “Return to Cookie Mountain”
Right from the opening strains of TV on the Radio’s “Return to Cookie Mountain,” the listener is entranced. On this release, the band focuses on what they do best, juxtaposing lead vocalist Tunde Adebimpe’s luscious and raw bellow with producer and multi-instrumentalist Dave Sitek’s atmospheric syntheses of musical composition and post-production elements. The result is staggering and confounding; the listener is at once confronted with a wall of sound comprised of soaring, layered vocals, energetic instrumentation and kick-ass beats. Highlights include the seductive “I Was a Lover,” a politically charged number expressing the anguish of a voiceless community, and “Dirty Whirl,” whose passionate and messy slur best showcases the power of their vocal arrangements. On “Return to Cookie Mountain,” TV on the Radio proves they are good at creating big music. The pieces they compose take up space — a whole lot of it — but each component is carefully crafted and flawlessly delivered.
Camera Obscura — “Let’s Get Out of This Country”
On Camera Obscura’s third full length album “Let’s Get Out of This Country” they prove they have the power to create beautiful songs complete with sweet and tender lyrics, sunny and soulful vocals, and a strong supporting band. Similarities to Belle & Sebastian are all too widespread considering both bands hail from Glasgow, Scotland, both are accompanied by a complete orchestra, and both churn out handfuls of whimsical and heartbreaking pop numbers. But with “Country,” Camera Obscura makes its own mark and defines itself as an independent but equally talented group. The album starts strongly with the surprisingly intimate “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken,” featuring lead singer Tracyanne Campbell’s dreamy crooning layered over synthesized beats. Also memorable is the devastating “Country Mile” on which Campbell meditates “Once again I’ll be the foolish one/ Thinking a blink of these lashes would make you come.” In its entirety, “Let’s Get Out of This Country” delicately achieves the essence of love, heartbreak, and all the emotions caught in between.
Sonic Youth — “Rather Ripped”
On their newest record, New York’s post-punk avant-garde Sonic Youth add a previously absent polish to their sound, resulting in a surprisingly pop-infused record. The songs on “Rather Ripped” are shorter then those on their previous albums and deal with more thoughtful themes (oh, you know, boy meets girl, girl sleeps with another girl, boy pines). The result is a record whose sound is scaled back from the characteristically brash reverberations we’ve all learned to love. “Incinerate” features guitarist and half-time lead singer (he splits with fellow band member and wife Kim Gordon) Thurston Moore on vocals paired with a charged yet soothing guitar riff. Also strong is “Do You Believe in Rapture?,” a more meditative number which drapes Moore’s soft vocals over the plaintive strumming of a guitar and the faint vibrations of a cymbal. “Rather Ripped” shows a new side of “Sonic Youth,” a band we thought we knew everything about, as they take away much of what we’re used to (the heavy thrashing guitars) and instead replace them with a quieter approach to making elevated music.
Phoenix — “It’s Never Been Like That”
With “It’s Never Been Like That,” French power-poppers Phoenix deliver another album full of good, clean fun. On their first two records, Phoenix proved they can write slick lighthearted numbers and bouncy dance tracks (“Honeymoon” and “Everything Is Everything”). On this new effort, Phoenix builds on their characteristically meticulous sound by relying less on paint-by-numbers pop and instead incorporating a more relaxed ambiance through scattered guitar riffs and lazier vocals. “Long Distance Call” is by far the strongest track on the album. It opens cautiously with what appears to be a fairly basic melody complemented by the occasional harmony, but the song quickly erupts into a wildly emphatic tour de force. Sure, the album is not without its faults, but that’s expected from a band experimenting with a new, and in this case messier, sound. “It’s Never Been Like That” takes Phoenix to a new level of pop-rock with a freewheeling collection of effervescent tracks.
Gnarls Barkley — “St. Elsewhere”
No way! You’ve heard of Gnarls Barkley too? You don’t say! After penning “Crazy,” this summer’s definitive hit, Gnarls Barkley is known and loved by everyone and his mother. Really, moms love it. Gnarls is the magical combination of Cee-Lo Green, the soulful and hearty hip-hop artist, and Danger Mouse, the producer behind the brilliant bootleg “The Grey Album.” In addition to “Crazy,” “St. Elsewhere” includes a handful of summer anthems characterized by masterful craftsmanship and clever execution. Particularly strong are “Gone Daddy Gone,” an overhauled version of the Violent Femmes’ tune, and “Just a Thought,” which features Cee-Lo’s characteristic bawl and an offset melody. Everyone knows about Gnarls Barkley because, well, everyone should know about them. The masterminded duo succeed in creating an album that makes you think, makes you dance and makes you sing. Can we ask for anything more?
Danielson — “Ships”
Daniel Smith has returned yet again with another bizarre and noisy CD, yet something about this one inexplicably works. On “Ships” Smith delivers a collection of festive anthems boosted by towering chants, energetic rhythms and blustering horns. Nothing about Smith’s sound is generic, most clearly evidenced by his voice, a rather delicate falsetto that often kaleidoscopes into a shaky scream. And his music is loud, with his vocals accompanying an equally clamoring brass section. This is best showcased by the second track, “Cast It at the Setting Sail,” a sweeping number whose vocals and instrumentals build upon each other, erupting into almost three minutes of continuous sonic booms. Sure, Danielson’s “Ships” is no conventional feat. The songs are weird and, at times, uncomfortable, but they glide through the air, reaching one height after another, all resulting in a triumphant and joyous celebration of sound.
The Roots — “Game Theory”
The Roots’ newest album “Game Theory” is thrashing and turbulent. The six-person outfit has honed its skills as one of the most inventive and dependable contemporary hip-hop voices. There is a wonderful fluidity to the album and listening to it fully is far from exhausting. Rather, each song builds on the hooks of the one that preceded it to create a powerful collection of politically-charged rhymes and themes. On the title track, The Roots sample Sly & The Family Stone’s “Life of Fortune & Fame” and the execution is flawless. Like most Roots tracks, the beats are tight and clean, but there is still plenty of room for drums, organ and guitar – a venerable maelstrom of palpable, nervous energy. “Game Theory” is The Roots’ strongest collective album to date. And though the record may lack a fit-for-radio jam, it does offer wild thr
obs, a smart perspective and plenty of raucous fun.s