Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian)
The art-pop wing of indie rockdom has been incredibly fertile over the past year, and bands with Baltimore ties have been leading the charge. Folks like Dan Deacon, Animal Collective (see related story on page 64), and Yeasayer have produced some of the more ambitious CDs in recent memory, and this new Yeasayer disc is one of the most eagerly anticipated indie releases since Merriweather Post Pavilion. But where Animal Collective actually exceeded expectations, Odd Blood falls short. I hate to be a naysayer, but the disc meanders too much and there's an overabundance of synth noodling that brings to mind Tears for Fears remixes. And why distort Chris Keating's excellent voice, which ruins an otherwise well-executed song like "The Children?" That said, "Ambling Alp"—with its "stick up for yourself" chorus and propulsive melody—may be the catchiest, most tightly constructed art-pop tune of the year.
I'm New Here (XL)
The resurrection of Gil Scott-Heron has been remarkable—he plays the Coachella Festival in California this month and hits D.C.'s Blues Alley for four nights in June. The poet/performer—best known for the piece "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"—hadn't released a CD for 13 years, was incarcerated at Rikers on drug charges, and seemed destined for little more than patron-saint status in the hip-hop/slam poetry pantheon. But this new disc—appropriately titled I'm New Here—has changed all that and introduced him to a new generation of listeners. This time out, producer Richard Russell anchors Scott-Heron's wizened voice in uncluttered soundscapes that highlight its power and vulnerability. The disc opens and closes with Scott-Heron musing about coming from a "broken home" that was anything but broken, thanks to his grandmother and extended family. In between, he candidly riffs about his own shortcomings and shares poetic insights about the world around him. The entire recording—barely half an hour long—feels incredibly intimate and real, like a barstool conversation with some fallen holy man. But in this case, things are looking up for the guy.
Masks (Thrill Jockey)
The local punk trio blasts its way through five songs on this EP, which makes an excellent followup to last year's More. "Imitation is the Most Boring Form of Flattery" finds the band at its abrasive and cacophonous best, while "Sleeping With the TV On"—with its measured pace and slowburn ferocity—hints at something new to come. And they get extra credit for the inventive "changing eyes" cover art.