ANDREW BIRD The Mysterious Production of Eggs
Coming off like a cross between power-popper Jason Falkner and baroque diva Rufus Wainwright (at least vocally), Bird has mined his own unique, tricky-to-classify territory for three albums now. It’d probably make more sense if I'd heard the previous two, for this is just eons beyond the sly post-swing of 1999’s Oh! The Grandeur (not to mention his mid-90’s stint as violinist for the Squirrel Nut Zippers). That’s not to say it isn’t interesting or accessible or, dare I say, entertaining. Apart from the volcanic, Middle-Eastern flourishes of the enigmatically-titled “Fake Palindromes”, he’s mostly subdued and intricate. After many listens, I still don’t get the album’s title, but I hold scintillating little song puzzles like “Masterfade”, “Measuring Cups” and “Skin Is, My” responsible for my repeated, enriching attempts to decipher it. A-

CARLA BRUNI Quelqu’un m’a Dit
I believe the title translates into “Somebody Told Me”, but you don’t have to speak a word of French to comprehend and enjoy this alluringly lazy set of acoustic chansons. Bruni is an Italian ex-model who adorably sounds like she’s smoked far too many cigarettes, yet she’s worlds away in temperament and tone from that other nicotine-voiced diva, Marianne Faithfull. Playful, flirtatious, erotic—yep, everything you’d expect from a model, and to be fair, she doesn’t lend these songs half the emotional weight Faithfull could give them. But the lovely title track deserves to break big like Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why”; the rest probably seems even more delightful on an idyllic Sunday drive than it does at your local Starbucks. B+

When bands reunite, we usually get a pallid exercise in nostalgia (see NBC’s Hit Me Baby One More Time) if not something just plain embarrassing. This underappreciated Aussie Lennon/McCartney is the rare exception. Their third release after a decade-long layoff not only dwarves their first two reunion efforts (both of ‘em low-key, charming, and ultimately forgettable), it rivals any of their peak ‘80s work—even their definitive singles collections from that era. The jangly, insistent bedlam of opener “Here Comes a City” sets a passionate, revitalized tone for a ten-song set that fluidly, effortlessly moves from peak to peak. At this state, I doubt even a re-formed XTC could come up with narratives as expansive and contagious as “Born to a Family” and “Darlinghurst Nights” or love songs as potent and endearing as “Lavender” and “This Night’s For You”. A perfect summer album that will undoubtedly retain its spark throughout the colder months. A

AIMEE MANN The Forgotten Arm
Okay, I should’ve given this more time to grow on me before dismissing it so hurriedly. When I first heard the familiar melodies, vocal inflections, chord changes and usual bemusement, I thought, “Yes, sounds good, but why should I listen to this when I can pop on one of her first three (superior) albums?” But though it breaks precious little new ground, this is a welcome return after the drained, dull Lost In Space. With multiple spins, the better songs (“Dear John”, “Goodbye Caroline”, “Video”) start to feel as warm and comfortable as a beloved, if faded favorite flannel shirt, and even the weaker ones thrive as part of the album’s much ballyhooed narrative. Mann’s reached that point in her career where she’s almost become a legend, a name-brand regardless of her lack of sales or hits. That the final one-two punch of “Clean Up For Christmas” and “Beautiful” hits as hard as it does only explains how she got there. (Original grade: B-) B+

Neither their best nor worst album (as widely reported by, respectively, newfound fans and jaded former ones), this sure is a transitional one. Roughly half of it could fit on any previous S-K release, especially first single “Entertain” (a close cousin of All Hands on the Bad One’s “Male Model”). However, the other, stranger, bolder half is the prize. They’ve arguably never led off with a better track than gleefully deranged fairytale “The Fox”, and the eleven-minute “Let’s Call It Love” articulates how powerful a power trio they really are. The only one I don’t get is the lyrically nauseating “Modern Girl”. Criticize the album’s general excessive bloat and not wholly necessary guitar solos all you want, but who ever thought they could sound so twee or banal? Still, it’s just a blemish on a frustrating, risky, occasionally dazzling but hard-to-love big push forward. And despite what many supporters/detractors have said, I still don’t think it’s all that much like classic rock. B

TOMPAULIN Into The Black
“I’ve got darkness in the morning”, sings Stacy McKenna on this album’s standout track, “Brave”. Her delivery’s so plainspoken and austere, yet completely gripping. Even if you’re innocuously skipping through a field of sun-kissed strawberries as you listen to it, her proclamation will stop you dead in your tracks: you’ll know exactly what she means and how she feels. On their second full-length, this regretfully obscure British collective is ever more subtle and understated, crafting laments suitable for middle-of-the-night listening, although they probably won’t cure your insomnia. Imagine a Mazzy Star a few shades more upbeat, or Portishead returning with a dreamier, mostly acoustic guitar-based tableaux. Not as outwardly witty or sharp as the societal critiques on singles comp Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt, perhaps because the moodier, melancholy material here often and justifiably negates that title. (not available in US: click here or here for more info). A-

Years in the making, her first full-length initially reminded me of her older brother’s first full-length: one amazing song (the breezy, serene “When The Day Is Short”) surrounded by capable, competent, distinctive material that only hints at something grand and more immediate. But though her mannerisms can’t help but link her to Rufus (not to mention father Loudon and mother Kate), she more than holds her own. She has a bewitching, beguiling voice that can tackle gentle folk standards (“Wither Must I Wander”), angry, almost bluesy torch numbers (“Ball and Chain”) and pure, sweet pop originals (“G.P.T.”, “Factory”) with equal aplomb. Plus, the damning missive to her father is even more potent and cathartic than Rufus’, and how could it not be with a title like “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole”? A-