Ah, time off, when you can do things you don't usually do, like rent a car and head for the desert and eat fast food and not think about stuff. I'd say the Top Ten this week is influenced by what sounded good on the stereo while driving through the immense, desolate landscape around Joshua Tree, but, turns out this atmospheric electronica and groovy hip-hop really isn't that different from what I usually listen to in my little apartment. Go figure.
10. Stateless "Inscape" (from the self-titled album out tomorrow on K7)
(MySpace, mp3 via Get Weird Turn Pro)
"How did it get so cold out here?" asks vocalist Chris James in this downtempo number from the UK combo's debut album. Well, here's an idea: maybe DJ Shadow-style beats and Portisthead atmosphere isn't exactly a recipe for turning up the heat, Stateless. Jeez.
9. Blue Scholars "North by Northwest" (from the new album Bayani on Rawkus)
The Seattle hip-hop duo gives their rainy region some love on this track from their just-released sophomore album. Politically aware hip-hop is kind of uncool right now, and nobody wants to be preached at, for sure. But it's the jazzy, surprising backing beats, reminiscent of Dilated Peoples or A Tribe Called Quest, that keeps the project on track.
8. Maps "Back + Forth" (from the new album We Can Create on Mute)
(MySpace, iTunes, YouTube video of live performance) Much has been made about how UK producer James Chapman created this electronica-inflected album in his bedroom without the use of computers, laying down everything to good old 12-track tape. I'm not sure if I can tell how this affects the music, but whatever floats your boat, Jim, especially if it helps you make ethereal pop this good. "Back + Forth" ends up sounding a bit like Leisure-era Blur, of all things.
7. People reacting to a first taste of Pepsi Ice Cucumber, now available in Japan
Just say that a few times: Pepsi. Ice. Cucumber. Pepsi. Ice. Cucumber.
6. Bitman & Roban "Answer 2 the Beat" (from The Chicas Project on Nacional)
This various-artists CD (accompanying the reality TV show) provides an quick fix of contemporary Latin music, most of it united by a mellow, summery vibe. Of course, I gravitate towards the strangest track: a Groove Armada-style instrumental with what appears to be a Speak 'n' Spell doing some lyrical stylings.
5. Wiley "My Mistakes" (from the new album Playtime is Over on Big Dada)
(MySpace, video via Pitchfork)
For a guy who's apparently retiring, he sure does show up on a lot of TV screens in this video. The 28-year-old rapper is apparently over the UK grime scene he helped create, but this track, with its dramatic strings and skittering beat, makes me hope he'll reconsider.
4. Brief (rejected?) clips of tracks from the forthcoming Radiohead album
Just hearing a few seconds of that guitar work, and a fleeting scrap of vocal, even if it's from bits and pieces of songs that producer Nigel Godrich has edited out of the work in progress, is enough to make it into my Top Five. How geeky is that.
3. Simian Mobile Disco "I Believe" (video, from the forthcoming album Attack Decay Sustain Release, out this week on Universal / Wichita, import only)
Not quite as, ahem, sexy as their last clip (link probably NSFW), this video sees a more accessible track from the UK duo lip-synched by what appear to be some extras from Borat.
2. Alan Parker "Grey Clouds" (from Annie Nightingale presents Y4K on Distinctive) (mp3 excerpt here)
The Orb's now-classic Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld was kind of like Pink Floyd's The Wall for the techno generation: i.e., the soundtrack to a lot of collegiate pot-smoking. Ah, those were the days. While the single "Little Fluffy Clouds" was already kind of a parody, using quotes from an infamous Rickie Lee Jones interview in a way that was both amusing and hypnotic (not to mention unauthorized), this new version by the British comedian Simon Munnery is straight-up hilarious, replacing Jones' loopy reminiscences about Arizona sunsets that were "purple and red and yellow and on fire" with irritated mumblings about "grey, monotonous" skies of... Watford.
1. White Stripes "Conquest" (from Icky Thump, out tomorrow on Warner)
(MySpace, iTunes, but no free mp3, since the label is a bit jumpy)
Just a few weeks ago, I put "Icky Thump," the title track from Jack & Meg's new album, at #1 on this list, and I hate repeating myself, but this Patty Page cover is just blindingly great and fascinatingly strange. It's interesting that Jack takes on these classic female-sung laments (if you could call "Jolene" a lament), and I'm not sure what's going on there. But like their version of "Jolene," this is a straight-ahead, irony-free cover, intent on accessing the same dramatic intensity as the original, even if it means Jack going against his own purist recording tendencies to multi-track vocals for Bohemian Rhapsody-style harmonies. A standout track from a very interesting album.