Feed the Animals
(Illegal Art) Gregg Gillis - a.k.a. Girl Talk - may DJ in live settings, but on disc he's a mash-up artist. Wanton RIAA-baiting aside, this Pittsburgh troublemaker's larger purpose seems to be playing U.N. diplomat for genre togetherness, sewing iconic swatches of R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock together into one seamless, continuous bliss-out tapestry; these FM collages are reminiscence and rockism as sabotage artistry, and they'll win you over, if you'll let 'em wash that smirk away.
Like 2006's Night Ripper, Feed the Animals conjoins unlikely bedfellows into dozens of sticky juxtapositions: Lil Wayne's laconic, straight-outta-NOLA "Stuntin' With My Daddy" swagger enlivening the candied-ambient haze of Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" ("Play Your Part, Pt. 1"); Len's infernally bubbly "Steal My Sunshine" softening Young Leek's "Jiggle It" refrain ("No Pause"); Salt 'n' Pepa's "Push It" demands for sexual service paired with the spurned-loner rage of Nirvana's "Lithium" ("In Step"); Avril Lavigne's bratty bad-chick "Girlfriend" chopped and screwed into Jay-Z's misogynist "Big Pimpin'" ("Shut the Club Down"). That it all works is a testament to Gillis' finely tuned ear; Animals zips by in a pleasure-button jamming blur. If he so chooses, Gillis could pedal this route indefinitely. There's no good reason to stop. - Ray Cummings
The Things You Think You Need
(Songwise) The latest album from singer-song-writer Jay Nash was first released on iTunes, where it rose to No. 22 on the rock charts. Impressive, considering it was the only independent release to land in the Top 100. Nash, who's put out a string of albums since moving to Los Angeles in 2001, wears his influences proudly. On The Things You Think You Need, the plucky, rootsy feel of "Sweet Talking Liar" and "Over You" recall the rural soundscape of the Band, and the impassioned rocker "Hard Lesson" is a Springsteen-style rave-up. Add to that a Cat Stevens-style introspection all around. Nash tries his hand at country rock ("Easy") and rousing music-hall on "Forgive Me," with its galvanizing sing-along. The best track, the eerily beautiful ballad "Barcelona," finds Nash raising his voice to a high lonesome wail. Though in every way a smart effort, try as he might, Nash simply can't match the stellar hooks of his best influences, and that, in the end, constitutes the CD's biggest weakness. - Tierney Smith
Gang Gang Dance
(The Social Registry) Earlier this year, New York indie-rock quartet Gang Gang Dance participated in the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art's biennial. Its fourth album, Saint Dymphna, is named after the patron saint of mentally ill people, incest victims and other fractured folks. No surprise then that this beats-propelled record sounds like an art project made by a band with disorder on its collective mind. After three albums of jagged noise experiments that ranged from primal to fucked-up, Gang Gang Dance gets its groove on here, piling on spacey synth squalls, ringing guitars, floating percussion and ambient soundscapes.
Singer Lizzi Bougatsos is even drifting along with the tracks, rather than soaring over or slipping underneath them, like she used to. On Saint Dymphna's best cuts - opener "Bebey," the cooing and tuneful "House Jam" and the heavenly "Dust" - the group manages to make all those blips, beeps and videogame farts sound kinda sexy. Quite an achievement for a bunch of artsy kids who hang out at museums. - Michael Gallucci
The Spinto Band
(Park the Van) Carnivals are inescapable cliches in teen movies. The main love interests always ride the Ferris wheel, and the egocentric dude wins teddy bears at the sledgehammer booth for his admiring girl. Now, imagine a teen movie that focused on hipster kids. Instead of preps and prom queens, the plot would center on a shaggy-haired guy with plastic-rimmed glasses and an indie princess with skinny jeans. Moonwink would undoubtedly be the soundtrack for the carnival scene. The album is jam-packed twee pop, with quirky and cute melodic guitar lines, tiny bells and jangly keyboards. Nick Krill's vocals and the band's never-slowing tempo bring Hot Hot Heat to mind, but the Spinto Band has more charm and eccentricity. Stuttered drums chaotically pour through a sugary-sweet tune called "The Carnival" (hmmm...), while child-like "la-la-la's" invoke a similar messy-but-cute mood on "Pumpkins and Paisley." "Summer Grof" could play during the confrontational fight between she shaggy-hair boy and the tight-jeaned girl, and they could make up while skipping hand-in-hand during "Vivian, Don't." The album's only downfall is that the Spinto Band can't seem to slow down. Moonwink is so frantic, there's not enough time to breathe, let alone accommodate a Ferris wheel kissing scene. - Danielle Sills
Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia
(Philadelphia International/Legacy) Peering through the mists of time, there were once "hit machines," partnerships or confederations of producers, songwriters, arrangers, etc., working collectively to create hit singles in certain genres. In the 1960s, there was the Brill Building crew (which included Carole King), Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and, of course, Motown. The '70s had Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff - no, scratch that, the team of Gamble & Huff had the '70s. They were the nerve center of Philadelphia International Records, the Sound of Philadelphia (also known as Philly soul).
Gamble & Huff produced and/or wrote so many of that decade's R&B classics, including the O'Jays' "Backstabbers," the Three Degrees' "When Will I See You Again" and other gems by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (featuring Teddy Pendergrass), Lou Rawls, the Jacksons and many others. The G&H formula: the gospel-derived grit of southern R&B; the suave, sophisticated poise of Motown; sublimely smooth, emotive vocal group harmonies; deliciously lush string sections; thumping bass lines; and a quasi-galloping beat. G&H applied the mix to insidiously catchy and substantial songs (many of which had something of a moral message or stance). This four-CD set has all the hits - "Me and Mrs. Jones," "Kiss and Say Goodbye" and "Close the Door." Sounds like a party! But even better, Love Train includes early Gamble & Huff's pre-Philly sound productions: "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time" by the Delfonics and perhaps Dusty Springfield's best-ever, most soulful vocal, "Brand New Me." - Mark Keresman
On past albums, Bella Morte has experimented with different styles but was never quite satisfied with the way the music sounded. So the band took time off after 2006's Bleed the Grey Sky Black - an album that incorporated elements of punk, dark electronics and rock - so that it could make sure its next release would be its best. Beautiful Death (essentially self-titled, since it's the English translation of the band's Italian name) is a step in the right direction, even if its sound isn't particularly original. The album starts off with "Find Forever Gone," which sounds a little bit like Evanescence; the only thing missing from the band's all-male lineup is Amy Lee. There are elements of old AFI and My Chemical Romance intertwined within each of the songs, especially on "Black Seas Collide." The whole album has a consistently slow feel but often settles for sameness. Basically, Beautiful Death is a well-crafted record that doesn't break any new ground. - Erika Schramm
Does You Inspire You
(Kanine) There's more to this trio than all the synth gurgles let on. Burrow beneath the airy atmospherics, electronic hiccups and buzzing machines, and you'll uncover a very human record about love, life and pencils. On their debut, these former Coloradoans work in some spaghetti-western guitar, R&B sultriness and fizzy '80s new wave. But it's Chairlift's commitment to humanizing technology that inspires Does You Inspire You. Singer Caroline Polachek casually tosses off lines that make even the most mundane subjects simmer: On "Planet Health," she turns "stop, drop and roll" into a sexy suggestion. The straight-up synth-pop of "Bruises" nearly conceals the fact that the song is no more than four minutes of Polachek pleading for affection. And "Don't Give a Damn" is a dusty weeper that almost qualifies as electro-folk. This is lovely music for when you really feel like connecting with your robot. - Gallucci
(Vice) I haven't been stopped by a song like Bloc Party's current single, "Mercury," in some time now. I had to play it a few times to know where I stand. I hate songs at first all the time, and they eventually win me over. But "Mercury" is so bizarre - silly hip-hop cutting and chopping, a-melodic yelping, Bond-theme horns, "Shock the Monkey" cribbing and the word "retrograde." It's enough to make one laugh. In a good way, I can confirm from the end of a dozen spins.
Kele Okereke is a super-silly frontperson, from his bluntness (2007's A Weekend in the City was a concept album about city life!) to once denouncing the use of drum machines onstage and now making the most electronic music of his band's career. The Killers' Brandon Flowers is Nick Drake by comparison. Okereke has crowned his semi-famous years with the hammiest album of his life on this supposed breakup lament, which leads with "Ares," a Dizzee Rascal pastiche with electric toothbrush synths. Intimacy is so heavy on drama, there should be a libretto. But it's crucially never boring. - Dan Weiss