Hercules and Love Affair: Hercules and Love Affair

It may sound like the ultimate insult to call an album a dance record for people who don’t dance anymore, but let’s face it; most of the people who went club hopping in the late ‘80s simply don’t dance anymore, but they’re going to love Hercules and Love Affair, the collective effort by Andrew Butler and a small army of friends. Ranging from Inner City-style house (“You Belong”) to brooding, Shriekback-ish dark grooves (“Easy”), the album has both Thievery Corporation cool and traditional dance pop sensibilities. “Blind” goes back even further in time, rocking a full-on disco groove, and the sincerity of the performance is as convincing an argument for the awesomeness of early disco as you’ll ever hear. Hercules and Love Affair is, quite literally, groovy stuff. More, please. (Mute)

Hercules and Love Affair MySpace page

Golden Animals: Free Your Mind and Win a Pony

How you feel about Golden Animals – and their debut full-length album, Free Your Mind and Win a Pony — will likely have everything to do with how you feel about Jim Morrison and the Doors. Are you a Morrison fan? Well, then Pony will hit you like a peyote button at a desert campfire. If, on the other hand, you regard the Doors as possibly the most overrated band in rock & roll history, then Golden Animals will sound a lot like the low rumble of a slowly opening hellmouth. (And if you’re Ian Astbury, you’re about to spend several months memorizing the words to these songs and waiting for singer Tommy Eisner to quit the band so you can take his place.) Either way, Pony does everything it can to live up to the label’s promises of a “sun-bleached, spare and deeply California desert sound” – and at 11 songs and barely 30 minutes in length, it’s hard to accuse the album of overstaying its welcome. There isn’t an original thought from start to finish – even the artwork strains to evoke the Laurel Canyon wonder years – but that won’t stop a rabid throng of critics from wanking all over it this summer. That these knuckleheads don’t have a scrap of mojo worth rising between them doesn’t matter in the least. (Happy Parts 2008)

Golden Animals MySpace page

Walter Meego: Voyager

You’d be hard pressed to find a genre with a greater POF (Poseur Overload Factor) than the Nouveaux Wave scene, where the majority of the bands equate squawky synths with detached, ironic hipster cool, as if the world needs more detached, ironic hipster cool. (It doesn’t, by the way.) Huzzah, then, to Chicago duo Walter Meego – neither of whom is named Walter or Meego – for putting the song first and going from there. Their debut, Voyager, takes Daft Punk’s poppiest work to its logical next step, matching the bubbliest of pop songs with “Aerodynamic”-style keytar riffs. “Girls” is the clear standout, which a guitar hook the size of an anchor, while the ode to voyeurism that is “Keyhole” has a tribute of sorts to “Aerodynamic” in the solo. If you’re looking for a frothy, fun summer album, look no further. (Almost Gold)

Walter Meego MySpace page

Jason Falkner: Bedtime with the Beatles Part Two

Long before there were albums offering lullaby versions of songs by Nine Inch Nails and Metallica, there was Jason Falkner’s Bedtime with the Beatles, a wonderful little collection of gently delivered instrumental takes on Fab Four classics such as “Blackbird,” “In My Life,” and “The Long and Winding Road.” Sony somehow managed to avoid turning the album into a hit, but it’s continued to enjoy strong sales on the used market since going out of print – and now Falkner brings us a second volume, adding “Norwegian Wood,” “I Will,” and “Hey Jude,” among others, to the list of bedtime-y Beatles tunes in his catalog. If you’ve heard the first volume, you know exactly what to expect; if you haven’t, get yourself to your nearest online music outlet and order up both of these ASAP. Kids’ albums that advertise themselves as “fun for the whole family” are as common as the rain, but Falkner’s actually delivers – and it boasts an endorsement from none other than Sir Paul McCartney, who offers the strongest possible recommendation: “It puts me to sleep.” (Record Collection 2008)

Jason Falkner MySpace page

Calvin Richardson: When Love Comes

A C-list neo-soul singer whose greatest claim is either childhood friendships with K-Ci and JoJo or a duet with Angie Stone – take your pick – Calvin Richardson has stumbled his way through two lost record deals in the space of a decade, so the release of When Love Comes (holy crap, Shanachie Entertainment is still around?) should be a source of great expectations for no one outside Richardson’s immediate family. The hokey cover artwork, and the back cover’s ridiculous promise that the album is “the true story of an urban romance…from The Soul Prince!” may very well have you rolling on the floor before you hear a note, but wonders never cease: When Love Comes does not suck. It’s slick modern R&B, with all the silly boasting (“Holla at You”), baby mama drama (“Daddy to My Kids”), and machine-driven arrangements that go with the territory – but for what it is, this is a surprisingly solid collection, smartly produced and topped off with generous helpings of Richardson’s elastic vocals. Nothing new here, certainly – but still probably one of the best downmarket R&B releases you’re likely to hear this year. (Shanachie 2008)

Calvin Richardson MySpace page

The Spice Girls – “Raw Spice”

The only real reason to waste your time watching this “unofficial” documentary of the Spice Girls before they made it big is to see Victoria Adams constantly smiling and with some meat on her bones. Other than that, this is just a cheap opportunistic piece of crap undoubtedly made by the group’s original management of Chris and Bob Herbert. Watching the same clips of the girls rehearsing a song called “We’re Gonna Make It Happen” in a dumpy little studio gets old fast, and hearing the various nobody-talking heads either trash or praise Geri Halliwell for her original instinctive drive to want to have the group become huge and get the hell away from Heart Management is completely uninteresting. Though hearing the girls talk about their aspirations and feelings towards each other is slightly fascinating, this is ultimately just boring archival footage with no Spice Girls tunes or input from any of the girls themselves. Another “unauthorized” waste of time you can easily ignore.

Click to buy “Raw Spice”

The Watson Twins: Fire Songs

They may have shared top billing with Jenny Lewis on her Rabbit Fur Coat album two years ago, but to a not-inconsiderable number of people, Leigh and Chandra Watson came across as a sort of backwoods version of Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls. What could be hipper, after all, than vaguely creepy-looking twins in evening gowns? The Watson Twins did more than just add a “Shining” vibe to Lewis’ album artwork, though; the Kentucky natives had been bumming around Silverlake since the late ’90s, and their roots and background helped Lewis anchor her solo debut in authentic Southern harmony. That being said, a word of warning is in order: Fans looking for Rabbit redux – or even a record with more than the occasional slightly up-tempo track – will be disappointed here, because the sisters’ full-length debut recalls nothing so much as a Natalie Merchant solo album. The harmonies are lovely, and the songs occasionally strike melodic paydirt (opener “How Am I to Be” and “Map to Where You Are” come to mind), but the above-average moments are too few and far between to recommend the album to anyone who doesn’t have a closet full of billowing floral-print skirts. (Vanguard 2008)

Watson Twins MySpace page

Various Artists: Music from the Motion Picture The Love Guru

Mike Myers’ latest “comedy” about an American-born, India-raised self-help guru will surely go down as one of the year’s worst movies (read BE movie critic Jason Zingale’s one-and-a-half-star review here), and for the sake of consistency, Lakeshore Records issued an equally bad soundtrack to go with it. This is instrument-of-torture bad, combining Myers’ Hindu-accented versions of pop songs “9 to 5,” “More Than Words” and “The Joker” (seriously, who asked for those?) with – sequenced in order, no less – Big Boi, Robbie Nevil, and Celine Dion. There are three dialog tracks peppered throughout; they’re not funny. The only song that rises above the dreck is George Clinton’s “Guru Vindaloo,” with Danny Saber’s “Mathar” not far behind. The rest of the album is an unholy combination of the offensive and the boring. There is no reason for anyone to own this album, and you get the sense that even the distributors of the soundtrack knew it – they misspelled Mike Myers’ name in the artwork for the promotional copies. (Lakeshore Records)

Love Guru soundtrack MySpace page

The Ting Tings: We Started Nothing

As the late Ted Knight once said, the world needs ditch diggers too, meaning that not everyone is meant to change the world. The Ting Tings, the Salford duo of drummer Jules De Martino and guitarist/singer Katie White, are ditch diggers of sorts, specializing in club pop that is by and large disposable, but every once in a while, they elevate disposable pop to an art form. Even with a running time just under 38 minutes, there is a fair share of chaff on We Started Nothing, the band’s debut, but the wheat is some of the sweetest wheat you’ll find all year, starting with the instant classic, “Rapture”-esque “Shut Up and Let Me Go.” “Great DJ” is armed with one of those unforgettable – but ultimately annoying – hooks in its chorus, “That’s Not My Name” gets by on sass alone, and “We Walk” works a tad of widescreen pop into the mix. The rest of the album will seem cute enough while it’s playing, but will be forgotten the second it’s over. (Columbia)

The Ting Tings MySpace page

The New Frontiers: Mending

It’s tough to make genuinely beautiful music in the post-ironic world – most bands that try it seem to either fall victim to the temptation to mess it up with inscrutable lyrics and needlessly tricky chord changes (Wilco) or drown in a sea of slick production and Hallmark platitudes (the Fray). Texas’s New Frontiers have drawn comparisons to both bands, but in a strange way, Mending is actually closer to an old Dan Fogelberg or Crosby, Stills and Nash record – the melodies are gorgeous, the harmonies are ethereal, the production is perfectly down to Earth, and on every song, hearts are worn proudly on sleeves. Music this wonderfully open and sincere comes along so rarely that it’s easy to write off the New Frontiers as a bunch of sad-sack posers – easy, that is, until you’re about halfway into the album, at which point you’ll have to check your suspicions at the door and just give in to the music’s beauty. Perfect for rainy days, bruised hearts, and anyone with a weakness for an honest-to-goodness pretty song. Can’t wait to hear what these guys come up with next. (The Militia Group 2008)

The New Frontiers MySpace page

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