Staff Picks: 1/15 – 1/21

Janey Criss
Assistant Editor
Artist: Destroyer
Album: Kaputt
Comments: This is the most Eighties-sounding record I’ve heard all year. It’s got modern production tidbits, yes, but they do what modern technology is supposed to – replicate analog devices, less the noise that they sometimes bring. These nine songs are so damn chill-pop. It’s the same easy-listen-ability that Twin Shadow brings us, but minus the emotional tension (make of that what you will; I love it both ways). This record is more about living, partying and being … in white cocktail coats, probably. Wrapped in light horns and smooth synth, this one doesn’t boast the retro roots for the sake of impressionability or popularity for pop’s sake, but simply because those roots are what define Dan Bejar’s creative energy. I mention it this week because it’s in the $5 digital bin over at Amazon, along with some other 2011 Merge Records releases of interest, maybe (Wild Flag and Crooked Fingers).

Carlos Reyes
Artist: The Vaccines
Album: What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?
Comments: I know The Vaccines are so last year, but I just started riding the wagon and I’m not getting down anytime soon. The entire album What Did you Expect from the Vaccines? Is a great mix of alternative rock and pop, kind of like a happier, more upbeat Interpol. Okay, maybe that was a bad comparison, but what I’m trying to say is that the band is hot. “Wreckin’ Bar” and “If You Wanna” are my jams, but the song that really gets me going is “Norgaard”, although I have no idea what it means. If you’ve already heard them before, sorry for being so lame, but if you haven’t, you must listen to them right now.

Michael Starr
Artist: Madonna
Album: Ray of Light
Comments: Having spent last week bemoaning the commercial nature of the Brit Awards, I decided to look at something as commercial as it comes. Madonna’s eighth studio album, Ray of Light, marked a startling and mature musical change from the Queen of Pop. Critics at the time recognized it as a masterpiece, and for the most part it stands up to the test of time. From the stunning first single “Frozen” – with it’s melancholic eastern styled strings and dark drum machine lead rhythms – to the up-tempo dance and rock-inspired title track to the restrained and beautiful “Drowned World/Substitute for Love” with slowly building drum patterns and beautifully melodic Nick McCabe-ish guitar lines, the album showed an artist willing to move away from known ground and truly established the legend deserving of Madonna’s many titles and awards. A half-forgotten but classic album.

Courtnay Glatter
Artist: Augustana
Album: All the Stars and the Boulevards
Comments: “Are we gonna make it?” is the question Augustana poses on their 2005 All the Stars and the Boulevards album. Clearly, they have. The band recently their third album, are on tour and even performed on the The Jay Leno Show. I bought this album after I got re-obsessed with their hit song, “Boston”, last year. I think “Boston” is one of those gut wrenching songs that hits anyone who is looking for a change so close to home. Their sound is a perfect amount of rock and pop. The instruments and lyrics are fluid and cohesive – you can hear the tambourine, piano and guitar.  They conjure up comparisons to Dashboard Confessional and Counting Crows. Augustana not only talks about large Northeastern cities, but lost loves and the perils of drinking. The band very much feels like a group that you would go see in a Brooklyn bar on open mic night and fall for. I have yet to purchase any more Augustana, but it’s always in the back of my mind.