This week, psychedelic space-rock reunions and retro Brazilian romps, plus a soul singer does her best King of Pop impression and a troubled pop princess gets a mashup makeover. Look at all that alliteration, it's like Top Ten tonguetwisters. What?
10. Mary J Blige "Just Fine" (from Growing Pains out 12/11 on Geffen)
Justin Timberlake's whole career is predicated on a post-Michael Jackson equation, i.e.: people want soulful dance-pop, and they're tired of waiting for Jacko to provide it, so they'll take an imitation. Well, now Blige is stepping up to the MJ plate, aiming right for Off the Wall-era disco-lite. She vamps and struts over a backing track that's uptempo yet delicate, with an acoustic guitar and keyboard filigrees that are oddly reminiscent of Steely Dan's "Peg." Did I mention it's good?
9. Blue States "Allies" (from First Steps Into on Memphis Industries)
The UK producer (otherwise known as Andy Dragazis) is known for his Vangelis-style electronic swirls, and this track is appropriately dreamy. The video, on the other hand, is a somewhat disturbing look at how the random little details in our daily lives could bring about drastically different conclusions. Don't drop your keys!!
8. Reminiscing about seeing Daft Punk in concert
by watching really awesome videos like this one below or a full-length (if pretty shaky) video of their entire set at this weekend's Vegoose festival. Human! Robot! Anyway, if you missed them, sorry.
7. Blonde Redhead Live at the Warfield, San Francisco, 10/24/07
I'm not sure how Blonde Redhead do it. In order to replicate the full, multi-instrumental sound of their albums, the three-piece must be using some sort of tape in concert. Sounds of pianos and backing vocals show up without physical manifestations thereof, and oddly, it adds to the general otherworldliness of their live experience. The band's newer material is almost "shoegaze"-level fuzzy, but their edgy, unusual songwriting adds a strangely retro feel, as though you're watching an old Italian movie.
6. Black Dice "Kokomo" (from Load Blown on Paw Tracks)
It's nice to see this freaky Brooklyn combo have calmed down enough that you can actually make out individual notes in their songs, but this isn't going to the top of any hit parades anytime soon. Just sit back and remember your tripped-out college days, when a throbbing bassline and random, surreal images of Froot Loops commercials and freaky patterns would have totally made your Monday.
5. Team9 "Britney Dead or Alive?" (Britney Spears vs. Daft Punk vs. Dead or Alive vs. Justice) (download at his website here)
The true measure of a good mashup is if it can take sources you thought you'd heard too much of (or didn't want to hear much more of) and suddenly make them favorites again. There's nothing too surprising about "You Spin Me Round," for instance, but the way this Australian producer weaves these songs around each other is both technically adept and dancefloor-mania-inducing.
4. Various Artists Basement Bhangra (mix by DJ Rekha)
(Download at The Fader)
Whether you're already a fan of funky Indian hip-hop or just a bhangra newbie, this 20-minute mix is both a solid update and a great introduction. The requisite Punjabi MC is in effect here, there's also relative unknowns like Dhol Foundation, who update the South Asian sound with dancehall grooves.
3. Nelson Angelo e Joyce "Vivo ou Morto" (from Brazil 70: After Tropicalia New Directions in Brazilian Music in the 1970s) (Listen at Motel de Moka here, buy from Soul Jazz here)
It's hard to believe that only 40 years ago, Brazil suffered under an oppressive military dictatorship; music was forced to move away from the Tropicalia sound (and used as propaganda by the government as proof, ironically, of Brazil's great freedoms) but still managed to progress in astonishing ways. This track incorporates both echoes of Tropicalia and an airy psychedelia, managing to sound both oddly familiar and mind-bendingly exotic.
2. A Place to Bury Strangers "To Fix the Gash In Your Head" (from the self-titled album on Killer Pimp) (listen at their MySpace)
After I saw My Bloody Valentine live (at First Avenue in Minneapolis back in 1992) my ears rang for three days, but whatever permanent hearing loss I've experienced as a result was totally worth it: it was a majestic, awe-inspiring show. Brooklyn's Strangers take the deafening side of MBV as a launching point, mixing in a little Joy Division and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club for a sound that's both hypnotic and, probably, painful.
1. The Verve "The Thaw Session" (download here or search around)
You know the story by now: space rock band has massive international hit which, due to an uncleared sample, they make not a penny off of, and then break up. Is there hope for these bittersweet eccentrics? Well, if this improvisational, 14-minute jam from their very first recording session together is any indication, the answer is "hell yes." It was offered as a free download last week on NME but it's gone now, so you have to do some internet spelunking, but it's worth it.