The slowest month of the year gets a warm-up from Norah Jones, Diana Ross and the Shins, plus a smokin' debut from Brit buzz babe Lily Allen, a new second disc from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and the dude who wrote that ditty about Jack and Diane.
Who: Various Artists, L Tunes: Music From and Inspired By The L Word
The Sound: They are women, hear them roar!
What To Expect: The soundtrack from the popular Showtime series about lipstick lesbians and the women who love them comes packed with plenty of heat from some of the day's biggest female artists, including Fiona Apple to Pink, Tori Amos, PJ Harvey and Kelis. Consider it a femme-centric mixed tape, and revel in the chance to hear classic singers like Nina Simone next to newer acts like Peaches and Goldfrapp.
We Predict: That all 6,000 of those dopes who bought the Kevin Federline album have the smarts to trade it in for this estrogen power pack.
The Sound: Runaway poignancy, centering on sweetly sour ballads.
What To Expect: This veteran singer/songwriter with the hangdog mug serves up some more McCartney-esque power pop on his ninth album. Working with Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow), Sexsmith amps things up after his all-acoustic 2005 album Destination Unknown. On "Snow Angel," he works up a jingle-jangle sound that will remind fans of some of his best, most alluring pop gems.
We predict: Sexsmith is great, but he's never gotten the attention he deserves; maybe being part of Kiefer Sutherland's new label will help things. There's plenty of new material for break-up/make-up mixed tapes.
The Sound: Exquisite ear candy with a dollop of psychedelic sunshine.
What To Expect: Unless you're an indie rock geek, Canadian, or both, chances are you're not that familiar with Great Northern rockers. This is a good time to check in. There's lots of dreamy rock on their eighth studio album, and it's spread across 30 original songs that singer Jay Ferguson calls "an extremist's reaction to a singles culture." From the Wings-like fuzzy balladry of "Fading Into Obscurity" to the strutting glam grandeur of "Who Taught You To Live Like That," the album is a delicious sampler.
We Predict: Your hipster pal will soon be loading his iPod with two dozen new Sloan gems.
The Sound: Soft rock from yesteryear with lots of help modern heroes.
What To Expect: Believe it or not, some of your favorite contemporary cool guys love "A Horse With No Name." No, seriously, they go ga-ga over mellow '70s strummers America like they do over bonafide kings like Gram Parsons. Just check the guest lineup for America's comeback: Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller, My Morning Jacket's Jim James and Patrick Hallahan, Nada Surf's Ira Elliot and Matthew Caws, and ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha. Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell hope to make a comeback with this album of strummy acoustic ballads, which comes with a live CD of their biggest hits, including "Ventura Highway" and "Tin Man."
We predict: Your dad might freak, but it's still snoozeville.
The Sound: Juicy jam rock that's both fluid and funky.
What To Expect: Nearly 15 years into their trippy career, this upstate New York group follow-up their well-received 2003 album Wormwood with another radical experiment. Again combining live jams with studio trickery, the band tries to remove some of the chaos from their methodical madness. "The Conch comes from Lord of the Flies," explains bassist Rob Derhak. "The conch is a symbol of keeping things civil. We sort of took all these elements of us playing as if one of us has a conch and then it's taken away and it turns to chaos. That song is a microcosm of the album and our lives." From the Bee Gees-like falsetto on the damn near poppy "Blue Jeans Pizza" to the more mellow "Where Does the Time Go?" and songs that feature live audience participation from sessions recorded in front of fans at the State Theatre in Portland, Maine, the disc is a true cornucopia.
We Predict: A line of happy noodle dancers stretching from Madison, Wisconsin to Berkeley, California.
The Sound: Classic love songs from the original Dream Girl.
What To Expect: For her first new album of studio material in eight years, Ms. Ross is out to prove her worth with a collection of contemporary covers and one new song, the soothing ballad, "I Love You (That's All That Really Matters)." The tracks include a cover of Harry Nilsson's "Remember" as well as the Spiral Staircase's "More Today Than Yesterday," Marvin Gaye's "I Want You" and the Burt Bacharach classic, "The Look of Love."
We predict: A bit too mushy to make much of a big splash - 'cept maybe on lite FM stations.
The Story: What do the Stars have to do with Creed and Evanescence? Except for sharing a record label, nothing. The Portland trio, whose shoegazer sound is a dreamy mix of keyboards, electronic samples, chiming guitar and throbbing bass lines, might seem like a Postal Service or Elected rip-off at first. But a further dip into this impressive debut reveals some expansive rock songs that deserve to be heard on the big stage.
The Sound: Spooky tunes with a goth punk flair
What To Expect: The enigmatic Liverpool band hasn't gotten any less inscrutable on its fourth album. The masked rockers, who mix rock, punk, dub, early electronic music and goth have crafted what might be the best Halloween album ever ... assuming you want to totally spook the local Pez-heads in your neighborhood. The fuzzy, driving garage rock of "Family" features singer Ade Blackburn's distorted wail, which he describes as the sound of "chewing liquorice and spitting rivets." And "Animal/Human" has a nice mix of droning keyboards, clacking percussion, and creepy lyrics, or, as Clinic describes it, "a gothic barbershop quartet tussling with Eddie Hazel in a Cairo nightclub."
We Predict: Late night college radio DJs will have a deep well of songs from which to choose.
The Sound: Um, it's probably best to think Blur-meets-Gorillaz.
What To Expect: Blur/Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn is the reigning king of ADD rockers. Between albums with his two main bands, he's now fronting a Brit rock supergroup that features ex-Clash bassist Paul Simonon, ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong and Afrobeat drumming legend Tony Allen. Throw in production on the band's debut by Danger Mouse (Gorillaz, Gnarls Barkley) and you have what many have hailed as a kind of successor to Blur's breakthrough Parklife, but with a trippier, darker world/folk sensibility.
We predict: Music critics will be oohing and ahhing about this one all year.
The Sound: Heartland roots rock, what else?
What To Expect: The thing about Mellencamp is that he's not going to go off and do a record of 17th century lute songs, or a techno remix album. He's a rocker, so, he rocks. On his first disc of new material in more than five years, he has set the stage for a commercial rebirth thanks to the near-ubiquity of his Americana anthem "Our Country," which has been running in car ads for the past few months. The album is spiced up with political moves, like the duet with folk icon Joan Baez on "Jim Crow."
We Predict: Hipsters will wince at the association with car commercials; oldsters will swoon for one or two of the deep cuts.
The Story: Prolific Throwing Muses singer Hersh gets gritty on her seventh solo disc, adding more snarl to her swirly sound on songs like "In Shock" and getting some help from Muses drummer David Narcizo and a pair of English string players. Hersh played everything else, slathering the tunes with piano reverb, tubular bells, and backwards bass for an extra fat sound.
The Story: The Memphis hard rockers pull no punches, bursting out of the gates with the sung/spoken introduction to "Ladies and Gentlemen," which serves up another helping of their nu-metal riff tunes. The melodic rock ballads and generic hair thrashers come with swollen choruses, as well as the usual dose of swagger.
The Story: The acclaimed indie band recorded some of this outing in singer/guitarist James Mercer's basement, though the baroque pop is hardly lo-fi. Mercer's dreamy falsetto hovers above the first single, "Phantom Limb," which is awash in Morrissey woe. But it's not all boo-hoo balladry for the skinny jean set. "Girl Sailor" and "Australia" crank up the rock, and "Split Needles" is drenched in weird synthesizer samples.
The Sound: English groove tunes with a reggae lilt - both girlish and catchy.
What To Expect: Plucky English lasses are quickly establishing a reputation as the savviest MySpace exploiters around. Along with Web phenom Sandi Thom, London's Allen - whose street image belies a pretty posh upbringing - got her big break by uploading songs from her acclaimed UK debut. Tracks like the hit "Smile" mix a bouncy reggae beat with Allen's sometimes profane, sometimes sweet vocals; she's singing about how seeing an ex-lover cry makes her smile. Her pugnacious slagging of other artists has occasionally overshadowed her music, which ultimately comes off as an island vibe mix of the Arctic Monkeys, the Streets and Dido.
We Predict: If Allen mouths off half as well on these shores as she has in England, she just might have a chance.
The Sound: Helium-voiced carnival rock
What To Expect: You gotta love a band who self produced, promoted and released their debut and didn't react to the breathless hype by going for the major label brass ring. Instead, on their second album - released by the small UK label Wichita Recordings - this Brooklyn/Philly-based collective hook up with ace Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann for another round of stridently indie rock. They hardly go the commercial route on songs like "Love Song No. 7," a sluggish piano ballad that lurches forward and back as if it was recorded in a 100-degree room after an afternoon bottle of scotch. Similarly, "Underwater You and Me" sounds like a lost psychedelic gem that's been warped by sitting too long in the sun.
We Predict: Every indie rock club worth its salt will have this one on repeat between sets.
The Sound: Light-hearted R&B, and hints of twang mixed with Starbuck's soul.
What To Expect: Jazz pop chanteuse Jones offers up another warm cup of chicken soup for the soul fan on her third album. The 13 original songs were all either written or co-written by Jones, including the very mellow first single, "Thinking About You." Recorded in her home studio, the album features guest spots from hip singer/songwriter M. Ward, guitarist Richard Julian and Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.
We Predict: Cold winter nights will be made a bit more dreamy by Jones' low-key ballads.