New and newish
Cardinal Points - The Essex Green
I don't mean to give Merge Records a hard time, but for their impeccable taste and faultless ethics, they have this teeny tiny flaw: They tend to play it safe. I mean, what's Merge's most adventurous recent signing? Destroyer? Before you get your back up, know that I've been an avid consumer of Merge product since the early 90s. We're talking loyal and long-term. At the very least, I've supplied a pretty nice desk and a couple of the more expensive, ergonomically correct office chairs to Merge HQ.
The Essex Green is everything that's right and wrong about Merge. They make perfect pop songs that are a little too perfect. The band would be the first to tell you how much they love The Mamas & the Papas. Not the edgy, disastrously free-wheeling, internally discordant Mamas and Papas, mind, but the utopian, flower-weaving, sweet harmonies and holding hands variation on said group. Take "Cardinal Points," The Essex Green's contribution to the grand tradition of psychedelic rave-ups. It reaches some glorious highs as lead singers Sasha Bell and Jeff Baron are joined by backing pals and blend their voices into an approximation of heaven on earth. Then, at about 2:05 comes the tasteful guitar solo. Yes, tasteful--a word I think you'll agree is best left out of any discussion of rock n 'roll. I don't say this very often, but these people need to do more drugs.
Warts--if you can call them that--and all, the band's new album Cannibal Sea (US, UK) is one of the best of 2006 so far. And their song "Don't Know Why (You Stay)," which has been posted on almost every mp3 blog (do a search on Hype Machine if you haven't, for some wacky reason, heard it) is surely song of the month. Also, if you go to Essex Green's MySpace page you can download an exclusive live track of "Mrs. Bean" captured at Chicago's own Schuba's.
Ok, that was more verbose than I'd hoped, but I wanted to mention a couple other newish songs...
The Clock - The Rogers Sisters
For the longest time (three months), I thought The Rogers Sisters were a country duo. Neither country nor duo, the band at least boasts a pair of sisters. They sound like X, if X were twentysomething Brooklynites living in the double oughts and on nodding terms with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. At their best ("The Clock"), guitarist Jennifer Rogers and bassist Miyuki Furtado trade convincing John and Exene-style snarls and drummer Laura Rogers pounds out defibrilating thumps. At their less-than-best: The Rogers Sisters still have a beat you can dance to. From Invisible Deck (US, UK)
The Pink Ink - Shooting At Unarmed Men
Love Song For a Mexican - McLusky
McLusky was one of the most obnoxious indie rock bands to achieve any level of success in recent years. Purveyors of schoolboy bullying, puerile double entendres and abrasive, three-chord Neanderthal stomps, there was little to recommend them aesthetically. Except this: They were catchy and they were funny. Really fucking funny. Funny ha-ha, clever funny, choke on your beer funny, funny, I hadn't thought of that, funny. Consider some of the album titles: McLusky Do Dallas, My Pain and Sadness is More Sad and Painful Than Yours and the grand dame of them all, The Difference Between Me and You Is That I'm Not on Fire. Why the old news then, McLusky's dead and buried, right? Yes, but Shooting At Unarmed Men, ex-McLusky guitarist John Chapple's little project, is alive and thrashing. And as with McLusky, while you bob your head vigorously you'll want to keep some distance from the lyrics, though a word here and there will make you smirk and roll your eyes and imagine things way dirtier than these guys probably ever intended.
The McLusky camp has two newish things for you to buy: Unarmed Men's Soon There Will Be... (US, UK) and Mcluskyism (US, UK), a three-disc greatest "hits"/odds and sods collection.