Eliza Doolittle, Eliza Doolittle
Music Math: (Adele – melancholy) + Katy Perry
Best Tracks: “Moneybox,” “Rollerblades,” “Skinny Genes,” “Back to Front,” “Pack Up”
Representative Lyrics: “Singing with a broken string, tell me what you really mean / Do you know what you want? / While beating up on yesterday, I was on my rollerblades / rolling on, moving on.”
Notes: Itty bitty cutie Eliza Doolittle has an accent so thick she can’t sing through it (based on her name, guess which kind?). She’s also known for rarely wearing pants in favor of very short skirts, which makes her like an automatic favorite of mine. These songs are light, hummable, funny, and cutely anachronistic, blending old arrangements (horns, strings, big band sounds, etc) with contemporary lyrics in the vein of Amy Winehouse, but to much different effect.
Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes
Music Math: Björk circa Debut + 1950s doowop + Igmar Bergman films
Best Tracks: “Youth Knows No Pain,” “I Follow Rivers,” “Get Some,” “Sadness Is a Blessing,” “I Know Places,” “Jerome”
Representative Lyrics: “Like a shotgun / needs an outcome / I’m your prostitute / you gon’ get some”
Notes: This is one of the craziest sounding albums I’ve heard in along time. Li cribs from 1950s pop standards like “Unchained Melody” and groups like The Shirelles, then tosses them in a blender with tribal drums, tinkling bells, and buzzing synths, coming out of it with something that sounds intensely unique and immediately Scandinavian at the same time. Also noteworthy was her live iTunes session EP, which features stripped down versions of many of these songs–most of which lose the echoey backing vocals and allows you to hear her, just her.
Beau’s Critique: “This album makes me want to commit suicide.”
James Morrison, The Awakening
Music Math: ((Michael McDonald/Bryan Adams) – cheese) + Adele
Best Tracks: “In My Dreams,” “Up,” “Slave to the Music,” “One Life”
Representative Lyrics: “But I can’t help but shuffle my feet / Movin’ like a zombie, chasing the beat / She lures me in, oh sweet surrender / Locks me down like a repeat offender”
Notes: This album snuck up on me, courtesy of free listening on Spotify, where it became my background-working music for a long time. Then it became driving music. Then I found myself humming it and singing it. If you could imagine a male, slightly more funk version of Adele, that’s really what you’d find here–oh, and with a bit of Bryan Adams’s raspy voice mixed in.
Marina & the Diamonds, The Family Jewels
Music Math: (Florence of Florence and the Machine + The Count from Sesame Street) + Bananarama
Best Tracks: “Shampain,” “Are You Satisfied?,” “Oh No,” “Numb”
Representative Lyrics: “If you are not very careful / Your possessions will possess you / TV told me how to feel / Now real life has no appeal”
Notes: Although it came out a few years ago, Marina found her way into my life this summer and she never left me. While her lyrics frequently border on the inane, the music is fun and sort of silly and absurd as well, so it all evens out. I listen to this all the time.
Beau’s Critique: “Love her. She’s the new solo Gwen Stefani for me.”
Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More
Music Math: Peter Gabriel + the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou?
Best Tracks: “The Cave,” “Little Lion Man,” “Winter Winds”
Representative Lyrics: “I will hold on hope / and I will let you choke / on the noose around your neck”
Notes: I love this quirky little album of homages to bluegrass music. Plucky banjos, slappy basses, and strummy guitars dominate along with beautiful harmonies in the vocals.
Beau’s Critique: “I don’t like this and he’s ugly. I feel like I’m in Ireland or something.”
Fitz & the Tantrums, Pickin’ Up the Pieces
Music Math: (Amy Winehouse – problems) x church organ
Best Tracks: “Breakin’ the Chains of Love,” “MoneyGrabber,” “L.O.V.,” “News 4 U”
Representative Lyrics: “It’s 6 a.m. spitting gray / Don’t know why I let you treat me this way / I keep holding on to your middle finger / But now I know I gotta pull the trigger”
Notes: Aside from having possibly the greatest band name ever, Fitz & the Tantrums do classic soul straight up/no chaser. Backed by traditional arrangements and prominently featuring a church organ in most of the songs, FATT do very little to adjust the anachronism of their sound and their content (unlike Winehouse, who modernized her lyrics). These songs focus on the bread and butter of soul–heartbreak–and look at it from several different angles. Bonus: download their cover of The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” one of the best songs of the year.
Beau’s Critique: “It reminds me of like a guy Amy Winehouse. I like it, but it’s not really my thing.”