Beyond Playlist: The Pinker Tones and More

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This time around, check out reviews of The Pinker Tones' Wild Animals, Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid, DJ Sneak's Special House Blend and Newton Faulkner's Hand Built By Robots.

The Pinker Tones Wild Animals (Nacional Records)

People without a pronounced sense of humor should avoid Wild Animals at all cost – and even those who remember where their funny bone is located need to be prepared for misses as well as hits, since the album is a decidedly scattershot affair.

Instead of targeting a specific style, Pinker Tones Mr. Furia and Professor Manso aim their satirical slingshot at any musical form that moves them, be it French romantic pop (“On Se Promenait”), vintage electro (“Fugaz”) or lounge music (“Biorganised”). Most successful are “S.E.X.Y.R.O.B.O.T.,” a pitch-perfect Kraftwerk parody; “24,” an organ-infused finger-popper about an age that’s “too young to be old!”; and “Working Bees,” which supplements ‘60s-style cage-dancing with an appropriately cheesy vocoder.

The transitions between these cuts would be bumpy if there were any transitions at all, which there aren't -- not really. In their place, the Pinker Tones offer cheek and verve. Usually, though not always, that should be enough for everyone other than the terminally humorless. -- Michael Roberts

Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid (Fiction/Geffen)

Elbow regularly receives rapturous reviews in the U.K. press, and a gallery of prominent artists, including members of U2 and R.E.M., namecheck the group with regularity. Such kudos make sense given the tremendous care with which lead singer Guy Garvey and his crew assemble their material, as well as the obvious intelligence that infuses it. Still, the band’s fourth studio outing seems a bit too familiar, with the players generally preferring to pretty up sounds of the past instead of pushing them into new places.

Garvey’s much-remarked upon aural similarity to Peter Gabriel is too obvious to ignore. His phrasing frequently nods to the grand old art rocker, especially when Garvey’s operating at a mid-tempo-or-slower pace, which he almost always is. Even the line “Sweet Jesus, I’m on fire,” from “An Audience With the Pope,” is delivered with sophisticated world-weariness. A little more variety would have been welcome.

Granted, a few tunes, such as “Grounds For Divorce,” condescend to rock a tad, and “The Bones of You” builds in a persuasive way to an emotionally satisfying finish. But while the rich strings that decorate “Mirrorball” and the theatrical arrangement applied to “The Fix,” featuring a guest appearance by Richard Hawley, are clever, the studied ornateness of the proceedings ultimately turns the disc into something of a chore. As a result, The Seldom Seen Kid is easier to respect than wholeheartedly embrace. -- Roberts

DJ Sneak Special House Blend (Moist Music)

The art of the dance-mix disc is frequently underappreciated. Most of us think we can choose a bunch of good songs and put them in an enjoyable order, so why heap special praise on a DJ for doing essentially the same thing? But the ability to assemble the work of disparate artists into a compelling, energy-producing whole, and to do so in a way that expresses the personality of the compiler, is rare indeed – and Carlos Sosa, a Puerto Rican-born, Chicago-bred spinner supreme, has it in abundance.

Special House Blend works so well in part because it has a coherent sonic style. Rather than simply tossing together material willy-nilly, Sosa has chosen tracks that, for the most part, share light, skittering rhythms that inspire movement without over-reliance upon bass bombs and other bottom-end clichés. His own efforts, like the hi-hat happy “Well Well Well” and the cheerful promenade “Did It at the Disco,” are every bit as irresistible as selections by the likes of Kink & J.A.M.O.N. (“Da Funked”), Monoman (World Go) and Vibe Travelers (“Beautiful Life”). As for 1200 Warriors’ “Biz Beat,” it features vocal samples that promise, “I’m just gonna do this until the wheels fall off.” Sounds good to me. -- Roberts

Newton Faulkner Hand Built By Robots (Aware/Columbia)

Have you never been mellow? Newton Faulkner has. By the standards of this young Brit, “Dream Catch Me” is a rocker, but only because he mainly strums his guitar as opposed to picking at the strings in a virtuosic but kinda vapid way. As for the tune’s lyrics, they reach for poetry and fall way short – unless, that is, you’re impressed by the way he refers to his lover as “a mountain, a fountain, a god… a descant soul in the setting sun.” Got his dictionary out for that one, didn’t he? Then again, such imagery is more tolerable than the sort of rhymes heard throughout “To the Light,” a dangerously cutesy exercise in campfire folk in which Faulkner declares, “I feel like a Muppet with a drunken puppeteer/But I’ll survive.”

Others may not be so fortunate – especially fans of Massive Attack, who will likely be considerably less impressed by his decision to cover the group’s indelible tune “Teardrop” (from 1998’s Mezzanine) after they hear what he does to it. He would have been better off trying his Hand at Olivia Newton-John. -- Roberts

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