Doves Kingdom of Rust Astralwerks
It's not exactly a mystery why Doves remain more popular in the U.K. than on these shores. After all, the band's music tends toward denseness, not instant accessibility -- and Jimi Goodwin and the brothers Williams, Jez and Andy, feel that brevity is highly overrated. But if Kingdom of Rust won't knock earlier efforts such as 2000's Lost Souls and 2002's The Last Broadcast off their deservedly high perches, the album remains a satisfying listening experience for reasons that are tough to explain but easy to enjoy. "Jetstream" conjures up notable sweep from the unlikeliest of elements (vintage keyboard Velveeta, "Theme From Shaft" high-hat); the title track and "The Outsiders" rock with more abandon than usual; and "10:03" and "Compulsion" revel in the sort of drama that Brits seem more capable of pulling off than Statesiders. Must be the accents.
Serge Gainsbourg Historie de Melody Nelson Light in the Attic
A flop upon its 1971 release, Historie de Melody Nelson today sounds like a work of genius, albeit of the most twisted sort imaginable. Gainsbourg, who's lovingly described in Andy Beta's on-point liner essay as "France's ugliest rock star," pours so many eccentricities into each track that they practically burst at the seams. Take "Melody," the opener, which spotlights subtly psychedelic guitar, a mondo-aggressive string arrangement and Gainsbourg's fascinatingly moody française mumblings, which are equally entertaining whether the listener understands them or not; one passage translates as, "And like a doll that loses its balance/Her skirt pulled up to her white pants." The album as a whole is barely 28 minutes long, but it never feels undernourished. Indeed, Histoire is an aural crème brûlée so rich that each bite is a dessert in and of itself.
Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band Dead Oceans
When it comes to launching a career, too much cleverness can backfire, especially in the modern-rock genre, where artsy elitism and a dislike of performers who let their thirst for celebrity show through continue to thrive. This clumsily named Seattle combo is a case in point. The players put themselves on the map via an online photo and video campaign that was initially music-free -- a warning flag to indie purists if ever there was one. As a result, most reviews have either shrugged off or slagged their full-length debut, which might otherwise have been praised had it arrived sans the baggage. True, songs like "Who's Asking" and "Masquerade" are made up of fairly standard indie ingredients -- brittle guitars, slashing rhythms, cheeky tempo changes, yelping vocals. But with a few exceptions (notably the seemingly endless "On the Collar"), they're presented with a vigor and verve that's invigorating, not irritating. Clearly, these guys would have been better off if they'd snuck up on fame, instead of openly propositioning it...
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Various artists The Very Best of Prestige Records Prestige
To state the obvious, Prestige Records put out far too much material that deserves the "very best" designation during its finest era -- the late '40s through the late '60s -- to fit onto a two-CD set. Moreover, the very, very best stuff came out during the '50s, when the imprint's lineup boasted Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Bud Powell and more. As such, the decision to arrange tracks chronologically tilts the set's balance in favor of disc one, which focuses on the aforementioned big names, as opposed to its successor, featuring the pleasant but less-than-iconic likes of Kenny Dorham and Pat Martino. There's a nice cache of gems from the second-tier crew: Oliver Nelson's "March On, March On," Eric Dolphy's "Les," and Dexter Gordon's "Fried Bananas." And contributions from Richard "Groove" Holmes ("Misty") and Charles Earland ("More Today Than Yesterday"), are entertaining in their own slight way. Still, there's no denying that the compilation is front-loaded with tracks that are truly Prestigious.