So, take a look below at this week's list of new releases. Notice something odd? No, not the dearth of discs — it's early in the year, so that's a given. There's another trend: Almost all this week's releases begin with artists whose appellations — or surnames, in the case of individuals who go by their real names — are in the second half of the alphabet. Even crazier, 20 of this week's 27 new releases begin with the letter R or one that comes later in the alphabet. That means 74.1 percent of the releases are falling within 30.8 percent of the alphabet!
So what does this all mean? Are record-label A&R departments conducting some sort of experiment? Is this part of J.J. Abrams' "Cloverfield" mystery? Does this writer need to get a life?
Before your brain gets too tired considering the possibilities, here's some information about this week's releases that actually might be useful to you.
More Pain-Ful: T-Pain had a pretty sweet 2007. He graced tracks by Kanye West, R. Kelly, DJ Khaled and others, delivered his own smash hits, polished his songwriting skills and made sure every shawty out there got her drank on. Now Pain is making sure he's a force to be reckoned with this year as well, courtesy a new collection co-crafted by DJ RPM, who calls himself "The Frank Lucas of the Mixtape Game." No Love Without Pain is loaded with new songs and remixes by the Tallahassee, Florida, singer, who lassoed Ciara and Field Mob for "So What," and T.I. and Governor for "The Good Life." Remixes include new versions of "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)" and "I'm Sprung," his big hits from 2005's Rappa Ternt Sanga, with Paul Wall, Too Short, Trick Daddy, Bun B and the late Pimp C.
Soundtrack Face-Off: You know it's a slow week when two of the biggest new releases are soundtracks, but that be the case this week.
It's the beginning of the end of "The Wire" — the first episode from the final season aired Sunday — but surprisingly, a soundtrack hasn't been made available yet for the show, despite it entering its fifth season. ... And All the Pieces Matter: Five Years of Music From "The Wire" rectifies that problem, pulling together "Way Down in the Hole," a Tom Waits song performed by the Blind Boys of Alabama; tunes by veteran artists like the Neville Brothers, Solomon Burke, the Pogues and Steve Earle; and a heap of underground cuts by artists from Baltimore, the city around which the show revolves. Perhaps making up for the long wait for the soundtrack, there's a second musical accompaniment dropping this week: Beyond Hamsterdam: Baltimore Tracks From "The Wire," which is littered with even more songs by B-more artists.
There's another late "arrival" this week too, in terms of soundtracks — the one for "Juno," a movie that has been racking up critics' praises since it was released early last month. The disc bristles with songs delivered by Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Belle and Sebastian, the Velvet Underground, as well as multiple tracks by Kimya Dawson and her groups the Moldy Peaches and Antsy Pants. The film's star had something to do with Dawson's inclusion, according to a quote from director Jason Reitman that appears in the film's press notes: "At one point, I asked Ellen Page before we started shooting, 'What do you think Juno listens to?' And she said, 'The Moldy Peaches.' She went on my computer, played the songs, and I fell in love with it." Fittingly, the soundtrack closes with a cover of the Peaches' "Anyone Else but You" sung as a duet between Page and co-star Michael Cera.
Femme Cabal: This week isn't just disproportionate when it comes to that weird alphabet phenomenon — most of this week's biggest releases are by female singer/songwriters. Kate Nash, who is part of MTV's 52/52 campaign, leads the pack with her debut, Made of Bricks. Produced by Bloc Party collaborator Paul Epworth, the British starlet's album — which has risen to great heights in her U.K. homeland and garnered her Artist of the Week honors on MTV's Buzzworthy blog — includes "Mouthwash," "Pumpkin Song," "Nicest Thing" and the saltier-titled "Di--head" and "Sh-- Song."
While Nash is waiting to see if Americans gush over her, Australian pop and Zero 7 singer Sia knows she already has two friends in Perez Hilton and, er, Beck. The gossipy blogger posted on his site the video for "Buttons," a song that appears as a hidden track on Sia's new disc, Some People Have Real Problems, which also features a guest-vocal contribution from Beck on "Academia." The "Buttons" clip has been making the rounds online in a big way, and expect Sia to be circulated even more thanks to her Problems release partnership with Hear Music, Starbucks' record label.
Also staying on the cutting edge is Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Patti Smith, the latest artist to cough up an exclusive EP for iTunes. Featured are new versions of Smith classics; the original 1978 recording of "Because the Night"; and covers of songs by Nirvana, the Doors and the Allman Brothers. Clocking in at 90 minutes, the effort must be one of the longest EPs ever — the songs are fleshed out with interviews.
Speaking of Smith, a new group called the Shondes has been drawing a lot of comparisons to the legendary punk poet. The Brooklyn, New York, group — which has shared stages with Joe Lalli of Fugazi and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls — features a violinist, guitarist, bassist and drummer, three of whom sing. Its debut, The Red Sea, was produced by Tony Maimone (They Might Be Giants, Pere Ubu) and solidifies the group as probably the only Yiddish queercore act out there.
Song Title of the Week:
"A Vague Notion of Nothing Much" from Chris Robley's The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love
Album Cover of the Week:
Reverend Organdrum's Hi-Fi Stereo
What do Jim Heath from the Reverend Horton Heat and Asleep at the Wheel keyboardist Tim Alexander have in common? Well, beyond the previous times Alexander gave the Reverend a boost in the studio, a new project. The trio is more laid-back than most of Heath's previous psychobilly freakouts and delves deeper into roots music. "There's a million trios in Texas, nearly all are guitar, bass and drums. With our lineup of guitar, organ and drums, we've got a fuller, unique sound with a lot more possibilities," Alexander said in a statement. Expect to hear lounge, blues, soul, funk and other sounds on tracks like "Ain't That a Kick in the Head," "Black and Crazy Blues" and "Honky Tonk (Side A & B)."
Frank Turner's Campfire Punkrock
Ever heard of a punk band called Million Dead? Yeah, we haven't either, but the group's frontman is stepping out with a notable solo disc this week. Turner kicked off his solo career by playing folk versions of songs by his band — as well as covers of songs by Weezer, Johnny Cash and Counting Crows (oof) — and wound up getting even deeper into country and folk. Songs include the politically charged "Thatcher F---ed the Kids," as well as "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the One of Me" and "I Really Don't Care What You Did in Your Gap Year."
Another punk-rock band you probably haven't heard of, Dahlia Seed, made a strong mark in the underground thanks to frontman Tracy Wilson, who is putting out her first recorded material in 10 years. "[I] chose to make a solo record after nearly a decade of musical nothingness in hopes of channeling a difficult and emotional decade into something productive and positive," she said in a statement. For the endeavor, she enlisted current and former members of Cave In, Jawbox, Isis, Sunn0))), Film School and Dälek. Check out "(I) Miss Me," "Viking Fun" and "Typewriter Tourist."
· Chase Frank - Midnight Manor (EP; available in select indie stores and on iTunes; self-released)
· Creepy - The Triple EP (Teeno) [Buy Now]
· Marah - Angels of Destruction! (Yep Roc)
· Rachel McGoye - Beautiful Disaster (10 Spot)
· Medeski Martin & Wood - Let's Go Everywhere (digipak; Megaforce)
· Kate Nash - Made of Bricks (Geffen)
· Olivia the Band - Where We Come From It Never Snows (Up at Nite)
· Reverend Organdrum - Hi-Fi Stereo (Yep Roc)
· Chris Robley - The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love (In Music We Trust)
· Rock Steady Crew - 30 Years to the Day (101 Distribution)
· Amanda Shaw - Pretty Runs Out (Rounder)
· The Shondes - The Red Sea (self-released)
· Sia - Some People Have Real Problems (Hear Music/ Monkey Puzzle) [Buy Now]
· Silence Is Safety - Silence Is Safety (Teeno)
· T-Pain and DJ RPM - No Love Without Pain (101 Distribution) [Buy Now]
· Robin Trower and Jack Bruce - Seven Moons (V-12)
· Frank Turner - Campfire Punkrock (EP; Welcome Home)
· Rhonda Vincent - Good Thing Going (Rounder)
· Wisely - Wisely (Oglio)
· Various artists - Ultimate Grammy Collection: Classic Country, Classic Pop, Classic R&B, Contemporary Country and Contemporary Rock (Shout! Factory/ Grammy Recordings)
· Various artists - ... And All the Pieces Matter: Five Years of Music From "The Wire" (Nonesuch)
· Various artists - Beyond Hamsterdam: Baltimore Tracks From "The Wire" (Nonesuch)
· Various artists - "Juno" soundtrack (Rhino)
Notable Reissues and Archival Material:
· IIIrd Tyme Out - Footprints: A IIIrd Tyme Out Collection (Rounder)
· Blue Öyster Cult - Imaginos (American Beat)
· Jim Brickman - Valentine (Savoy Jazz)
· Johnny Cash - The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969-1971 (Columbia/Legacy) [Buy Now]
· Wynton Marsalis - Standards (Columbia/Legacy)
· Rush - Permanent Waves (gold CD; Mobile Fidelity) [Buy Now]
· Testament - Demonic and Hammer of the Gods (Prosthetic) [Buy Now]
· ZZ Top - Eliminator (with DVD; Warner Bros.)
· Various artists - The #1 Guitar Album (two CDs; Decca)
· Various artists - Puccini Gold (Decca)
· Various artists - The Ultimate Most Relaxing Guitar Music in the Universe (two CDs; Denon)
· Various artists - Total Dance 2008 (Thrive)
· Randy Bachman & Burton Cummings - "First Time Around" (DPTV)
· Realistic Crew - Overcome (Kitty-Yo)
· Ringfinger - Decimal (Magic Bullet)
· Patti Smith - Originals (exclusive iTunes EP) [Buy Now]
· Eels - Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1, 1996-2006 (CD and DVD; Dreamworks/Geffen/UMe); and Eels Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased - 1996-2006 (two CDs and one DVD; Dreamworks/Geffen/UMe) [Preorder]
· Marilyn Manson - "Lord of Darkness: The Early Years" DVD (Candlelight) [Preorder]
· Spice Girls - Greatest Hits (enhanced; two discs; Virgin) [Preorder]
· Natasha Bedingfield - Pocketful of Sunshine (Epic)
· Cat Power - Jukebox (deluxe edition with bonus CD due same day; Matador) [Preorder]
· Matt Costa - Unfamiliar Faces (Brushfire) [Preorder]
· Beck - Odelay - Deluxe Edition (two CDs; Geffen/UMe) [Preorder]
· The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath (Universal)
· Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (XL)