The bikinis are already out in full effect (lord love those becleavaged CenTex beauties), the mercury is already scorching (Austin promises to be in triple-digit territory by next weekend), and the pop has already taken a turn toward the mindless (thank you, Lady GaGa, for reigniting a trend, milady). Means only one thing: the long, hot summer is upon us once again, and spring, with its life-affirming promises of the spirit of renewal, has been sent packing for another year.


Sometime around early April, with the dazzling second act laid down by a white-hot cadre of Colorado boys who call themselves The Fray and the stunning returns to form turned in by Pet Shop Boys, Wynonna, Annie Lennox, and Kelly Clarkson, it became very clear that music as a whole had regained its mojo following a bumpy time last fall, and that, at least creatively, the industry was firing on all eight cylinders. Some damn fine tuneage made its way to the forefront of our collective consciousness in the season just passed; what follows directly is a convincing cross-section of same:


1.  “Sometime Around Midnight”The Airborne Toxic Event (from The Airborne Toxic Event) — The Airborne Toxic Event - The Airborne Toxic Event (Bonus Track Version) - Sometime Around Midnight —  if this magnificent track is indeed the most obvious one hit wonder since Marcy Playground, it’s also an utter master class in straight ahead wall-of-sound rock. If you were to skim the cream off of Dashboard Confessional’s music sensibilities and sprinkle that across the very best of Kings of Leon’s, the result would doubtless sound exactly like this. (And, at least to my ear, that’s a good thing!)

2.  “Mary Pickford”Katie Melua (from Pictures) — Katie Melua - Pictures - Mary Pickford — the leadoff track from Melua’s thoroughly charming third album is a darling, simplified chronicle of the formation of United Artists. (Yeah, that United Artists!) I posit you’ll be hard pressed to determine why this no-frills track — which would sound disastrously cutesy on any other album and from any other singer — works so impossibly well without stumbling into unbearable kitsch, but I guess you just have to hear it to truly get it.

3.  “I Run to You”Lady Antebellum (from Lady Antebellum) — Lady Antebellum - Lady Antebellum - I Run to You — ace rookies Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott team up to create the most flawlessly pretty melodies to be found at any current outpost on the radio dial. Put this track in a dead heat with Billy Currington’s sweetly clever “People Are Crazy” and Toby Keith’s brilliantly ribald “God Love Her” for Nashville bragging rights during the year’s first half.

4.  “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)” Pitbull
(from I Know You Want Me) — Pitbull - I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) - EP - I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) [More English Radio Edit] — at the place where I work most weekends, my neighbors are forever glued to the local hip-hop station, which has a playlist consisting essentially of six or seven songs which get spun in a continuous loop. This just happens to be one of those songs, and while you may not latch onto its appeal straight away — indeed, you may already be laughing and thinking me insane — repeat listens (of which there have been many, most of them involuntary) reveal this tune to be quite fascinating in actual fact. A mystifying melange of Latin pop (love those flamenco guitar riffs!), American rap, jazz, and techno — each of whose ingredients are measured and mixed in just so — it all works together so frighteningly well, you’ll wonder why it took this long for somebody to come up with it.

5.  “Get On Your Boots” U2 (from No Line on the Horizon) — U2 - No Line On the Horizon - Get On Your Boots — so, almost without fail, my reaction to these boys’ post-Achtung Baby output runs entirely counter to the critics’. To wit: I think Bono’s finest-ever work as a vocalist unfurled on 1993’s “Stay (Faraway, So Close!),” which appeared on an album (Zooropa, in case you’re keeping track) straight through which most reviewers yawned; I thought 1997’s “Discotheque,” from the universally-panned Pop, was a sonic marvel; I found the band’s two supposedly great records from this decade — 2000’s flat All That You Can’t Leave Behind and 2004’s muddled How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, both of which were widely heralded as better than the Second Coming — to be seriously lacking; and I thought “Boots,” the leadoff single from the band’s disappointing latest set, was absolutely terrific, a striking whoosh of pure punk energy, which is of course precisely why it went on to become U2’s worst-performing (and –received) single of the past fifteen years. Bono sounds like he’s having the time of his life blowing through this track’s elliptical verses; even Whitney Houston — though, to be fair, she was so drunk she didn’t even know where she was at the moment of her declaration — gave it her daunting stamp of approval at this year’s Grammy Awards by proclaiming, for all the world to hear, “I knew… I shoulda worn… my boots.” (Hey, if that crazy heifer’s in, I’m in.)

6.  “Sing”Wynonna (from Sing, Chapter 1) — Wynonna Judd - Sing Chapter 1 - Sing — the sterling lone original — an instant classic written by the legendary Rodney Crowell, no less — from a terrific album of classic crunchy covers finds my eternal fave Wy regaining her supreme confidence and once again proving wrong her countless doubters. Country radio may have foolishly tossed her aside years ago, but no matter: she’s still among the best who ever stepped toward a live mic, opened her mouth, and roared. (Don’t be afraid to check out the track’s shimmering dance remixes as well:  Wynonna Judd - Sing (The Remixes) )

7.  “New York to California” Mat Kearney
(from City of Black and White) — Mat Kearney - City of Black & White (Bonus Track Version) - New York to California — a more detailed review of City is forthcoming, so let me just say that it’s got serious album of the year potential, that almost every track is pure aural bliss, and that this devastating piano-driven heartbreaker is almost certain to stand as the year’s most shattering love song. Unbelievable.

8.  “Her Diamonds”Rob Thomas (from Cradlesong) — Rob Thomas - Her Diamonds - Single - Her Diamonds — Thomas confessed he was aiming for a Paul Simon-flavored Rhythm of the Saints vibe as the driving theme behind his hotly-anticipated second solo record. High talk from a singer for whom critical respect has been hard won, but with the thoroughly divine first single “Diamonds,” and its rich, full brass, and its climactic accompaniment from an African-inspired choir, he lands nothing short of a creative bullseye. If Taylor Hanson is the world’s best pop singer under thirty (and you’ll never convince me otherwise, boys and girls, so don’t try), then Thomas has certainly nabbed the blue ribbon for the 31 and over crowd. Twenty-four carat from stem to stern.

9.  “Never Say Never”The Fray (from The Fray) — The Fray - The Fray - Never Say Never — the monumental “You Found Me” remains at the top of my shortlist for single of the year honors, but lest you think this band’s forceful frontman Isaac Slade no longer desires to dance with the one that brung him, he unleashes this epic piano-based power ballad, the kind of tune that mere words like “absolutely astonishing” can’t even begin to touch. Though they couldn’t be more dissimilar in tone and approach, Slade — who just turned all of twenty-eight (!) last week — not only owns but uses to staggering, maximum effect precisely the same kind of plaintive vocal cry that gave the estimable George Jones a forty-year career in hitmaking. Think I’m crazy? In 2040, when good ol’ Ike is still knockin’ tracks like this straight through the ceiling and I’m still Buzzing about it, write me then. And make sure the first line of your missive is, “Damn if you weren’t right again, you bastard!”

10.  “Use Somebody”Kings of Leon (from Only By the Night) — Kings of Leon - Only By the Night (Deluxe Version) - Use Somebody —  speaking of being right: I was way out in front of urrybody last year in proclaiming the ferociously powerful Night a straight-up masterpiece, and in declaring that the Followill boys were going places, and in calling this brilliant tune a supernova just waiting to explode. And now that this album has become a permanent fixture in the top fifteen, and these guys are finally getting a real taste of the commercial success they have forever deserved, I don’t intend to let anybody forget it for a long damn time, neither.

11.  “Not Dying Today”Tori Amos (from Abnormally Attracted to Sin) — Tori Amos - Abnormally Attracted to Sin - Not Dying Today — I’m still not ready to hand down my final verdict on Sin just yet, but I will say without qualm that, even if it may never fall in line with the crown jewels of her astounding discography, it’s without question a massive leap forward from its immediate predecessor — the dreary American Doll Posse — and that’s thanks in no small part to the album being populated by lighter, downright whimsical fare like this. Because so much of Amos’ strongest work emanates from brutally heavy emotions and topics, it’s sometimes easy to forget that she also knows how to kick back and have fun. May this bouncy blast serve as a potent reminder.



1 response to “charlie chaplin, he was invited
when these artists became united…
(or: spring can really hang you up the most)”

  1. the buzz from A.:

    It is always refreshing to find out what the real experts, i.e., not the local radio station or my gym, think is “hot” in today’s new music, and this installment of the Buzz’s review of spring-time music doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it is not only eye-opening, it is eye-popping!

    Speaking of summer, several days of triple-digit temperatures are turning Austin into somewhat of an inferno, redeemed, perhaps, not only by the “becleavaged CenTex beauties” (who knew that “becleavaged” was a word?) but also by the hot shirtless boys by the water. Indeed, my apartment community’s pool looked like a resort straight out of a beer commercial this Sunday!

    Getting on to the music, there were two tracks that elicited strong gut feelings, so let’s get those out of the way first: the super-odd “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)” and the super-bad “Never Say Never.” A few more listens to “Calle Ocho,” and it may be joining my iTunes collections! As for The Fray, sorry, Brandon – it looks like I will never understand (or appreciate) them.

    Then, there are three very good songs that are definitely joining the collection: Wynonna’s “Sing” (with the Jody Den Broeder remix, which may be even better than the original!), Lady Antebellum’s “I Run To You” (though I am not sure it can be compared to Billy Currington’s “People Are Crazy”), and Mat Kearney’s “New York to California” (I love the refrain, and, may I also recommend “Closer to Love”?). If summer produces a few more songs like this, I think we’ll be able to call summer a success too.

    Finally, we come to the two songs that stand far ahead of anything else on the list; not surprisingly, they are by the two artists who (so far at least) virtually never disappoint. As a fan of Rob Thomas ever since I first heard him, it is wonderful to get a taste of his new album with “Her Diamonds.” I am dutifully awaiting the CD, and, for a change, I may be clamoring for a midnight run to Cheapo’s.

    I don’t have quite as strong associations with Katie Melua, but listening again to her 2003 “Call Off the Search” or “The Closest Thing To Crazy,” her distinct vocal mastery and lyrical tone come through clearly. “Mary Pickford” is a truly unique, creative, whimsical piece that works, one like none that I have heard recently. Here’s hoping that it’s a fair indication of what else is on the CD.

    Now, time for a night swim.

    Thanks for another marvelous playlist, Brandon!