The tenacious one, over at Ffb, very helpfully pointed me toward the new REM album (which I hadn't heard a peep about on this side of the Atlantic). Only two listens to it so far, but wow, what a revelation. One is tempted to say it sounds like 'old REM', but that's too easy, since it's also a very mature album. I'm perhaps most impressed with the lyrics. I've always loved REM - as I said in comments over there, Automatic for the People probably makes my top 10 album list - but Michael Stipe's tendency to babble has always been their weak spot for me. So I was impressed with what's going on in the words on this album. Good stuff. I'm tempted, at this early stage, to compare it to U2's ATYCLB.
But that leads me to some musical notes and recommendations of my own. First of all, when heading to Amazon to download the new REM (by the way, everyone does know that Amazon sells albums without DRM for $8.99 in 256kbps, right???? You'll find no bigger apple fanboy than I, but I haven't given the iTunes store any money, for music that is, since Amazon opened up for mp3 business) I discovered that Counting Crows has a new album, and people are daring to compare it to their debut. Only one incomplete listen for me, so I'll withhold judgement.
I can, however, judge my friends, who have about 87 gazillion times more musical talent than I. I'll start with the second album from Soul Patch, with a wonderfully meta title of Sooner or Later. It's available on iTunes, Amazon, and everywhere else, and it's a fine piece of musicianship. This album is a bit more jazz and a bit less ska than their debut release, and I like that fact quite a lot. Soul Patch identifies their own influences as Beck and Phish, but listen carefully for some wonderful 70s and 80s influences as well. To my ear Scott's lyrics and Ryan's guitar take this album up a notch, and the production values are insanely high.
Last but not least, The Calculus Affair have also released their second album. It's a thematic album and some (including me) find the thematic content a bit intimdating, but I say ignore the theme and just listen to the damn music. Bad Quarto is the second RPM challenge release from The Calculus Affair. The first, appropriately titled RPM 0207, marked a clear departure from Mariz's early work as it opened with the rocking and raucous 'Freight Train' and continued to surprise and delight with an ecclectic mix of tunes that hooked you without your seeing the hook. This album also saw moments when Mariz's lyrics got out in front of the music and made you ask for more. If I were to criticise RPM 0207, and I should note that it clearly made my top 10 of 2007, it would only be that it was a bit uneven - unsurprising for an album made in 28 days. But this is what is so impressive about the new album: it is a complete album, not just a collection of songs. It's like a book you can't put down: you put it on to give it a listen, and then next moment at which you are conscious of listening to it is when it's over. Indeed, while the previous album had clear and striking favourite songs for me (Freight Train, Alexander, Bicycle Down the Hill, Man Who used to Hunt), I can't really name any individual songs on this album - I just love the whole album. And the days of the haunting and often transcendent, but still, I'd say, rather tentative lyrics of Mariz's debut If you Lived here..., those days are over. This is a confident and mature work that shows a wide range of style and ability. Oh, and did I mention that it's free: get it here.