The Psychic Hipster’s Pop 10

EDITOR’S NOTE: Alec Hanley Bemis is a pop-cultural Radar O’Reilly (you know, the chopper-detector from M*A*S*H): He can smell a mini trend or full-blown hypestorm two miles off. It’s really weird. In this new monthly column, Alec will list the top 10 musical phenoms currently buzzing in his brain — good or shitty. Because when it comes down to it, musical hype is like Satan: It’s bad to believe in, but pretty fun to talk about. Annie, Anniemal (Big Beat/Atlantic) If Britney Spears was too cerebral for you, turn your attention to Annie. The Norwegian’s Anniemal has been picked up for major U.S. distribution; unfortunately, it contains more lifeless Britney filler than jumpy Britney killer. When Annie inflates bubblegum clichés, though, as on “Chewing Gum” (“You think you’re chocolate but you’re chewing gum”), this record pops. “Chewing Gum” could be the new “Milkshake” (Kelis), which was the new “Sweet Pea” (Tommy Roe), which was the new Phil Spector (ask your parents). Online player: Yusuf Islam, “Indian Ocean” (YA Music) After a 26-year absence from secular music, the Artist Formerly Known as Cat Stevens has broken his silence with this online exclusive, a benefit for tsunami relief in Aceh, Indonesia. Support U.S. immigration’s least favorite über-hippie-cum-Muslim-fundamentalist as he sings this dramatic yet melancholy tune. (“Please don’t blame us/For this is the only life we have.”) Plus synth harmonium! Synth sitar! Gently ululating teenage girls! Contributions by Magne Furuholmen (of A-Ha fame) and the drummer from Travis! And after the freak-folk success of Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens (no relation), this actually sounds sorta contemporary. Artist site: iTunes link (requires software): click here Jamie Lidell, Jamie Lidell: Don’t worry, be scatty! Jamie Lidell, Multiply (Warp Records) Jamie Lidell extends that weird tradition whereby white British folks can sound blacker than black. “People call me a fucking techno Bob McFerrin or something, and I don’t mind because I like Bob McFerrin,” says Lidell, and indeed, his take on scat singing finds him shaking his jazz hands to a beat-box beat. But it’s more complex than that. This is some deep Rufus shit, and I’m talking Thomas, not Wainwright. Check out a performance where he wears a magnetic-tape jacket, layers his mouth music live, and dons a space hat that would do Sun Ra proud. Online interview from Overload Media: Royal Festival Hall live video:

Smog, A River Ain’t Too Much To Love (Drag City) The latest from Smog (Bill Callahan), while still depressing per reputation, resonates as clearly as a Southwestern night. Recorded at Willie Nelson’s studio in Pedernales, it’s the best thing he’s done since 2000’s Dongs of Sevotion — perhaps a rumored romance with fresh-faced, high-voiced harpist Joanna Newsom has reacquainted him with the deepest depths of his peculiarly autumnal baritone? MP3: Diamond Nights: Cheesy, cocky, falsetto-y . . . not sucky! Diamond Nights, Once We Were Diamonds EP (Kemado) Imagine an alternate universe wherein the Strokes didn’t shamelessly cop their style from the Velvet Underground, Television and the Ramones. Rather, in this bizarro world, their main influences were Journey, the Cars, Van Halen and very possibly Loverboy. Diamond Nights combine cheesy keys, cock-rock guitar and “emotional” falsetto vox — and the results don’t suck! It’ll make you want to do cocaine off the backside of a Las Vegas showgirl at a fake Manhattan-themed nightclub. Key tracks: “Destination Diamonds”; “The Girl’s Attractive.” Key lyric: “Baby do you like to mess around?” Artist site:

Gang of Four, “To Hell With Poverty 2005” (V2) Now that Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, the Rapture and Moving Units have cashed in on GoF’s signature punk-funk, the originators have announced they’re coming back with an album covering their own (frequently out-of-print) back catalog. It’s a cash-in, fer sure, but at least they had the good humor to self-reference the fact with the title of this online preview track. Artist site: iTunes link (requires software): click here. The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday (French Kiss) Singer/indie-rock lifer Craig Finn, the brains behind this NYC-via-Minneapolis band, spent the ’90s playing in an arty post-hardcore group called Lifter Puller. His big rock concept? Those scratch-throated, detail-oriented narratives about his hard-touring life and trashy Minnesota friends are compelling. He just might be right. The stories suffer from logorrhea, and reliably sport, er, “women’s issues,” but the bar-band guitars and back-to-basics indie rawk keep you listening. Completely unheralded and decidedly untrendy, this outfit might be a good replacement for the dearly departed Guided by Voices. But note to anyone who dislikes Mark E. Smith: Keep on walking, you’ll hate this. Playing the Troubadour, June 13. Artist site: Coldplay, “Speed of Sound” (Capitol) Word from Coachella is that Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin’s marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow has turned him into even more of a cheesy oddball. He dedicated one song to “Jonathan Cash,” and sang the lyric to “Yellow” as “Coahyellow.” Jesus! But fact is, despite all the efforts of “cool” rock bands like Interpol and the White Stripes to cross over, Coldplay are the most rocking music many a yuppie will ever hear, and they could do a lot worse. This pre-release single sounds even flouncier than usual, but Martin has that Bono thing — a voice that takes you where you want to go emotionally. iTunes link (requires software): click here. Amerie, Touch (Columbia) As R&B divas go, Amerie lacks the personality of Eve or Pink or even (thank god) Christina Aguilera. But Rich Harrison’s production work on her “1 Thing” — the Official Song of Summer — outdoes (even as it impersonates) his work on the Official Song of Last Summer, Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.” “Touch” and “Talkin’ About” are also great. The sound is tightly woven R&B, driven by well-chosen classic drum loops, none of which are Puff-level plagiaries. You’ll hear this emitted from every passing car. Artist site: Bright Eyes, “When the President Talks to God” (Saddle Creek) If you didn’t see wünder20something Conor Oberst’s performance on The Tonight Show May 2, you missed out. Basically, Jay Leno allowed Generation Y’s love-him-or-hate-him Bob Dylan impersonator to give Bush the finger live on national television. Thank you, Mr. Leno! Jay Leno video: Free iTunes download: click here


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