Rihanna’s irresistible yet clinical R&B jam “Umbrella” sounds like a worthy candidate for any Best of ’07 list. Though it debuted in March, its cagey, multiseasonal lyrics kept it on the charts during the summer months: “When the sun shines/We’ll shine together/Told you I’ll be here forever . . . Now that it’s raining more than ever . . . You can stand under my umbrella/Ella ella ella.” Sure, it’s unfortunate that the song’s most memorable lyric was that parenthetical echo — “Ella ella ella” — but no one was looking to this Caribbean-born anti-diva for verbal finesse. And now that Rihanna has yet another catchy and anonymous single (“Shut Up and Drive”) climbing the charts, maybe we can conclude that one key to making an impact in this over-nichefied age is to downplay one’s personality as much as possible.
But I do not jest. Justice bravely combine awkward moments, extreme effects and desperately ingratiating ideas to create a music custom-built for today. ? sounds like an inspired mixed metaphor and — in this ADD-afflicted, iPod-addled moment — it makes for perfect transitionary fodder between your pirated Metallica MP3s and those obscure Italo-Disco and prog tracks you should be hoarding daily from the inspired BumRocks.com blog. Justice play the Detour Festival on Sat., Oct. 6, and the Henry Fonda Theater on Tues., Oct. 9.
If there’s anything to complain about on Sound of Silver, it’s that Murphy’s yelping dance-rock numbers don’t measure up to his weepy electro-ballads — the aforementioned “All My Friends” and “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down.” As in his breakthrough single, “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House,” Murphy has found a way to inject deeply felt nostalgia into the shallow lives of urban hipsters. Musically speaking, both songs are constructed around pulsing drum and piano parts that owe more than a little to the work of minimalist composer Steve Reich. Alongside the work of fellow indie champ Sufjan Stevens, it’s yet more evidence that ’70s-style repetitious electronic polyrhythms are the emotional bedrock of the best contemporary indie rock. LCD Soundsystem play the Hollywood Bowl on Thurs., Sept. 20.
The depth to which these bands are directly indebted to African music varies widely. Dirty Projectors’ Longstreth is a committed avant-gardist who synthesizes his music from a wide palate of extreme ideas. Vampire Weekend merely use Africanisms to spring-load their preppy indie pop. And, to be honest, Bishop Allen are included here as much to complete the triumvirate as for their deep-seated dedication to world music. In fact, the latter band begs me to wonder: Are these artists devoted listeners of Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade? Or did they just grow up in earshot of their parents’ copies of Paul Simon’s Graceland? Dirty Projectors play the Echo on Fri., Sept. 14, and Rise Above (Dead Oceans) will be released Tues., Sept. 11. Bishop Allen’s The Broken ?String (Dead Oceans) and Vampire Weekend’s s/t EP (self-released) are in stores now.