Music

Under the radar albums

Albums we dug in 2008, but didn’t happen to review - until now

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[Electronic]

The Flashbulb

Soundtrack to a Vacant Life

Four stars

Benn Jordan releases music under several pseudonyms, but it’s The Flashbulb that’s going to make his name. The largely instrumental Soundtrack fuses about a dozen styles, including drill n’ bass, drone, country, breakcore, disco and folk, into a seamless and beautiful whole. “Dirt Bikes and Street Vendors” evokes a warm Mediterranean evening; “Forbidden Tracks” builds to a crunching metal crescendo; “Returning Flight Theme” takes ’80s synth-pop, strips it of its pastels and re-dresses it in tipsy reverb. If Stars of the Lid and Squarepusher were to pool resources, they could hardly make a better record than this. –Geoff Carter

[Rock]

Ezra Furman & the Harpoons

Inside the Human Body

Three and a half stars

This is white-guy alt-rock the way I crave it: insanely catchy, unfussy, mildly derivative of the best White Stripes. It careens wildly out of the gate with the party-starting “We Should Fight,” then fishtails into “Take Off Your Sunglasses,” a strummy, harmonica-threaded rocker. “Big Deal” has a nice punkish momentum, and for a change of pace, the ballad “If I Was a Baby” (“… I’d have my mouth on the mystery’s breast”) stands up to repeated listening. The lame allegorical snoozer “The Faceless Boy” (“The boy who was born without a face/Can’t go out in public or anyplace”) does not. But it’s a rare misstep on this second album by a band I’ll watch from now on. –Scott Dickensheets

[Hip-Hop]

The Knux

Remind Me in 3 Days …

Three and a half stars

Brothers Krispy Kream and Rah Al Millio arrived in Los Angeles from Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, signed with Interscope and partied with models. The difference between their story and that of other rappers, however, is that these skilled emcees also produced the tracks and played all of the instruments on their debut Remind Me in 3 Days … Highlighted by “F!re,” “Bang Bang” and “Cappuccino,” the album’s galloping first half contains whimsical ruminations on dating and scene life, and its beats feature compelling electro and electronic experimentation. Though the second half isn’t quite as strong, it’s a memorable debut, simultaneously cerebral and danceable. –Ben Westhoff

[Indie Pop]

Okay

Huggable Dust

Three and a half stars

Even sans backstory, these 18 peculiar pop ditties sir up inescapable feelings of heartache and discomfort. Learn that principal Marty Anderson is largely confined to his Northern California home (while hooked to an IV) with a painful form of Crohn’s disease, and the emotional content is almost too much to bear. And yet, his endearingly fragile voice (give it time; it’ll grow on you), simple-yet-sophisticated arrangements and almost childlike lyrics (“More than the rain/More than I can say/It’s my heart you got”) are so powerful, they’re well worth shedding tears over. (First downloads: “My,” “Pretend.”) –Spencer Patterson

[Noise-Rock]

Parts & Labor

Receivers

Four stars

Parts & Labor added a new drummer and guitarist before recording Receivers, which perhaps explains why the quartet’s fourth full-length sounds much more like a band creation. But an expanded lineup hasn’t lessened a deft ability to mix experimental elements (found sounds, buzzing electronic twitches) with more traditional instrumentation (prog-rock riffs, steel-coated vocals). On Receivers, P&L has figured out how to corral these askew sonics into clever, melodic pop songs: Chord drones often conjure an electro-plated Feelies or a warmer Suicide, but songs like the raucous “Satellites” stack layers upon layers of noise, texture and snarling guitars to create a streamlined, glorious racket. –Annie Zaleski

[Country]

Joey + Rory

The Life of a Song

Three and a half stars

The third-place finishers on CMT’s Can You Duet, husband-and-wife duo Joey + Rory easily transcend their reality-show origins on their debut. Their laid-back brand of acoustic country is perfect for their casual interplay; Joey sings lead confidently, while her husband plays guitar and provides vocal harmonies. Some of the more toe-tappin’‚ hoedown numbers (“Cheater, Cheater,” “Tune of a Twenty Dollar Bill”) have a bit of a bluegrass feel to them while still fitting comfortably into the country mainstream, and the duo’s down-tempo, melancholy cover of “Free Bird” brings new life to a well-worn classic. –Josh Bell

[Alt-Rock]

Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands

Cody’s Dream

Four stars

On Cody’s Dream, former Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel makes another play for ex-bandmate Mark Lanegan’s crown as the dark prince of Americana, and—whatever drummer jokes come to mind—succeeds in spades. Pickerel’s rich baritone and his skill as a wide-screen, Technicolor romantic who conjures visions of dusty Southwestern roads and go-nowhere high-desert Eastern Washington towns may have succeeded in defining a new genre. Call it “tumbleweed noir” or “outlaw goth,” but these 13 songs successfully bridge the gap between the America(na) that’s home to Nick Cave’s biblical-influenced doom and that of Lee Hazlewood’s country-speckled romps. –Barbara Mitchell

[Indie Rock]

Anathallo

Canopy Glow

Three and a half stars

The Sufjan Stevens comparisons are apt, but this septet’s sophomore effort nevertheless carves a wholly unique brand of dense, powerful melodic structure from the cacophonous sweep permeating layer upon layer of otherworldly arrangement. Pick an instrument, it’s there. Choose an emotion, it’s wrung. And while the band may be classified as indie rock, few in the genre could turn the theme of death into a gorgeous, painstakingly meandering meditation on what it really means when—if?—something truly reaches its conclusion. Building and breaking shocks to the system are rarely delivered with such enticing sets of musical jumper cables. –Julie Seabaugh

[Pop-Rock]

Marry a Thief

I Am Dying to Outlive You

Four stars

Marry a Thief have Dismemberment Plan-worthy chops and Pete Yorn-like arena flourishes. But the South Carolinans’ rare and special skill is cutting spite songs that sound like tender love songs. This is the soundtrack that Chuck Bass always wanted. “Awful Things” rocks so gently and then so hard that it would kill at any high-school prom, but as the title suggests, there’s not much happiness or romance here. “Falling Out of Your Dress” takes the dourness further. It’s about a love affair that went all wrong. “Do you hate me/Because I don’t know/I only took your very best years,” Erich Skelton sings. It’s a song about regret, but then again, maybe it’s not. –Andy Wang

[Indie Pop]

Cake on Cake

Hymns I Remember

Three and a half stars

The aptly named Hymns I Remember is the third full-length release from Nordic nova Helena Sundin, aka Cake on Cake. Her wispy soprano sustain does indeed sound saintly, and her melodies are modest yet memorable. Though her overarching voice nods to twee influences like Go Sailor, her expertly executed instrumental layering (everything from marimba to claves) is trademark Swedish pop. Wry lyrics and cathedral echoing make “Visiting the Venice Biennale” an adorable, tinkling tourist’s snapshot, while “Kokomo Love Song” is undoubtedly the sweetest tribute The Beach Boys will ever hear. This clean, simple record is a moment of quiet brilliance. –Kristyn Pomranz

[Alt-Country]

Murry Hammond

I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I’m on My Way

Three and a half stars

Fans of alt-country pioneers Old 97’s know Murry Hammond as the affable chap on bass and backing vocals, but he’s stepped out of Rhett Miller’s shadow for his first solo album, and it’s a doozy. Mixing old-time gospel numbers with pretty Simon-and-Garfunkel-tinged folk tunes and the requisite share of train songs, Hammond cranks out a set that would have found an audience in 1908 as easily as 2008. It’s a fitting nod to the roots of American music from a guy who’s provided a solid backbone for one of the great Americana bands of the last 15 years. –Patrick Donnelly

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