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Scott Faingold Listens to Everything

And comes up with a random smattering of tortured musings

For reasons best known to him, our outgoing assistant music editor has made a point of randomly listening toevery single promo CD sent his way, in its entirety and regardless of genre, source, probable quality or personal interest. He is now insane.

Various Artists
Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars
Rhino

Legions of Scarlett Johansson fetishists of all genders and orientations are hereby invited to cue up track one and allow their collective mind's eye to manifest ecstatic visions of that most disingenuous of ingenues summoning the strict diaphragm control necessary to rise (and fall...and rise) to the occasion of singing the Gershwin standard "Summertime." I mean, is there nothing the girl can't do? (Don't answer that.) Other "stars" providing "unexpected" vocal turns on this ostensibly charitable, theoretically child-friendly and intentionally soporific puzzlement include Ewan McGregor, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Stamos, Teri Hatcher and longtime kids-birthday-party magician Jeremy Irons, not to mention human teddy bear John C. Reilly. Okay, I'll admit it: I'm stumped. Please explain the point, Rhino execs. Hey, Rhino execs! I'm talking to you! Is there at least gonna be a "Rhino Handmade" edition including all of Scarlett's wild takes, improvs and failed scats, complete with every single second of dead air and murmured engineer commentary? 'Cause I'd buy thatfuckin' thing. Favorite moment: At the end of his questionably chosen lullaby ("Make You Feel My Love"?!), the esteemed star of Dead Ringers and Reversal of Fortunecan be heard to smirk the words "There...now she's asleep." Chilling...

Verbal Seed
Afronauts
Black Son Records

I know it's not any kind of new journalistic query, but is backpacker actually the hip-hop emo? Study results remain indeterminate, but Native Tongues/ Wu-Tang allusions, old school R&B samples and overall playful, good-natured, "conscious" lyrical concerns are hard to find too much fault with, even if, as strict tropes, that stuff is every bit as played out as bling and/or bullets, chopping and/or screwing. This groovy-enough stuff from Dallas breaks absolutely no new ground and exudes not much in the way of truly arresting charisma, pathos or hilarity...but at least it isn't just connecting the "Dutty South" dots. Y'know?

Chris Walker
I Know It's Love
Canvas Records

This guy sure ain't Charlie Pride -- but you can't deny that he is a black dude in a cowboy hat posing against a craggy wooden edifice holding an acoustic guitar, working the lucrative angle that recognizes that today's radio-friendly country isn't very far removed from the bland fare being offered on soft-R&B and smooth-jazz playlists (which stuff in turn is often hard to distinguish from, oh, Air Supply). Put bluntly, this is one boring-ass, crossoverin' motherfucker, like a carbon copy of Al Jarreau as envisioned by Kenny Chesney's niece.

Yo Gotti
Back 2 Da Basics
TVT

With nary a ten-gallon chapeau nor a vintage Africa medallion in sight, this here's the hardcore Southern gangsta badass shit. Mr. Gotti spends a goodly part of the first track sweating TVT for his check, brilliantly removing the middleman of artistic expression from the marketing equation. There's a certain mellifluousness to the production here, but sorry, the whole drug-dealin', gun-flashin' thing is just a drag. Although not as big a drag as living it, I suspect...I mean, I respect all those lions busting giraffe ass in the face of imminent death in those National Geographic Serengeti documentaries -- shit looks hard. But that doesn't mean I wanna watch it all the time. Does that make me racist? Pronunciation tip for aspiring front-ass niggaz: "full time" should properly be pronounced "fool-tahm." Thanks, yo.

Zade
Beautiful World
Sawa productions

Oh, yeah, I remember "world music." It was that stuff that Peter Gabriel used to like so much, right? This guy (excuse me, "pianist and composer") is from Jordan, and to me his music sounds like a suggested soundtrack to some Asian soap-opera montage. I guess titles like "Your Beauty...My Madness" are kind of hilarious, but really: Is unintentional humor enough to get us by in these troubled times?

AFI
Decemberunderground
Interscope

Youth is certainly not wasted on the young -- they're ever so welcome to it. I'll be over here at the "grown-ups' table" eating "real food" and talking about "big-people subjects." (PS: I know these guys are, like, 30 and that only makes it worse.)

Band of Horses
Everything All the Time
Sub Pop

My unfortunate and utterly random personal image of this band involves their getting all frustrated and surly about a malfunctioning PA at a SXSW day party a couple of months back, but hey, whaddaya know? The record sounds really good! Lush walls of guitar, pleasantly varying rhythmic approach, affable N. Young/W. Coyne/I. Brock-style nasalish vocals, subtle but focused songwriting...What's not to love? Faves: "Our Swords" for its fresh take on new-wave chunka-chunka and "Part One" for that acoustic slow-dance ache.

Camera Obscura
Let's Get Out of this Country
Merge

Well, that's a bit odd: I saw this Scottish combo at the same SXSW party as Band of Horses. They didn't have equipment trouble but did seem a bit passive and cutesy to get over in such an environment, at least with me. Their tendency toward fragile retro-'60s charm (kind of that Hey There Georgie Girl/Everyone Knows It's Windy vibe) and attendant European pseudo-naïveté fare a bit better on record. It's all basically pleasant background pop, sporting occasional retro-C&W arrangements and semi-dark lyrics poking reedlike through the mid-fi sheen. Might be the kind of thing that becomes essential five listens in...Might not! Pick hits: Tracks seven and eight ("Country Mile" and "If Looks Could Kill"), when played in reverse order, make a fantastic imaginary seven-inch.

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