Learning to Love Again

Recommended albums from the first half of 2006

An occupational hazard of the music writing business is frequently being asked, "What are you listening to these days?" I should be prepared for it by now. Instead, I stall for time, avoid eye contact, and think about all the horrible music I've heard lately. Because the albums that immediately spring to mind are always the ones that I've ejected from the CD player after 30 seconds and flung across the room. Then I worry that I don't like music anymore.

To prove this theory wrong, I've thought really hard and come up with some of my favorite albums from the first half of 2006. I hesitate to call them "the best" because I don't think you can quantitatively rank music the way you would athletes or children.

Gnarls Barkley
St. Elsewhere (Downtown)
To be honest, I don't see what the big deal is about "Crazy." I can appreciate the way it chugs along with Cee-Lo wailing on the high notes (not to mention the absurdly costumed TV performances and photo shoots). But it lacks the momentum I'm looking for in my Official 2006 Summer Jam. (Rihanna's "S.O.S. (Rescue Me)" is setting the pace at the moment, if only because no one else has bothered to join the race.) But as a whole, St. Elsewhere's charm lies in its dorky immaturity, from the gothic creepiness of "Necromancing" to the chipmunk speed of "Transformer."

Envelopes
Demon (Brille)
A group of Swedish and French kids based in the U.K. make indie pop that's crammed with great guitar hooks but sounds too haphazard to be twee. During its vocal miscues, off-the-cuff solos, and bandmate shouts in the background, Demon almost feels like a rehearsal. But the minor flubs are endearing, maybe because they're overshadowed by the amount of fun being had. The album's best track (not to mention one of the more practiced) is the jaunty "Sister in Love," an anthem for overprotective brothers everywhere.

Camera Obscura
Let's Get Out of This Country (Merge)
Some bands have a seemingly bottomless well of lush, immaculate tunes, and Camera Obscura are one of them. Just check out the crisp, road-tripping title track, which surprisingly—maybe disappointingly—has nothing to do with expatriate fantasies (the band is Scottish). Leader Tracyanne Campbell is a whiz with '60s girl-group melodies but favors flawed romance over Homes and Gardens happily-ever-after: "What will I do?/Will it always be you?/I hope and I pray/He'll leave me one day."

Be Your Own Pet
Be Your Own Pet (Ecstatic Peace)
The Grates
The Ouch. The Touch. (Cherry Tree)
These two share a spot because I'm pretty sure Pet's Jemina Pearl and the Grates' Patience Hodgson were separated at birth. And somehow they ended up on opposite sides of the world fronting eerily similar-sounding rock bands. Nashville teenagers BYOP set Thurston Moore's heart a-flutter and signed to his label, while the Grates are one of Australia's top live acts. Both singers shine amid a garage-y ruckus, exuding an attitude that's spastic and sexy, childish and punk rock, as if they were Karen O's little sisters.

Art Brut
Bang, Bang, Rock and Roll
(Downtown)
Despite having started many conversations about them, I can't seem to describe Art Brut without making them sound like a band I'd never want to hear. They play thoroughly unoriginal post-punk! They sing about erectile dysfunction! But they're smart and funny and lovable, I swear! The domestic version of their 2005 debut features three bonus tracks, including "Maternity Ward," where frontman Eddie Argos visits the hospital to—wait for it—tell the newborn babies that everything will be okay. Now there's a line not even I can screw up in retelling.

Honorable mentions: The Essex Green, Cannibal Sea (Merge); Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (Def Jam); Goldfrapp, Supernature (Mute); Asobi Seksu, Citrus (Friendly Fire); Starlight Mints, Drowaton (Barsuk)

CHART ATTACK

North Minneapolis's Streetkingz have been bouncing around the Billboard R&B/hip hop album chart for the last few weeks. Crown Gang Family, which has sold 5,000 copies since its March release, entered at number 88 at the end of May, fell off, and then reentered at 93. The album has been getting airplay on KMOJ and, to a lesser extent, B96. The six-man crew are currently planning a tour.

FOREVER YOUNG

Ten years ago, KQRS gave Mei Young permission to play one local song on her regular overnight shift. On Sunday, July 2, she says goodbye to the show that grew out of that song, Drive 105's Homegrown. Young is taking early retirement—or becoming self-employed. Young is leaving the station to expand her commercial voiceover work into a full-time job, but co-host Dave Campbell will keep the show going with little if any change. Her final broadcast will feature special guests from her past. Could a full-blown game of "This Is Your Life" be in the works? Speculation aside, history has proven that the more chaotic and crowded those control rooms get, the more fun the show is.

SCHOOL'S OUT FOR SUMMER

In much happier airwaves news, St. Louis Park High School has started its summer vacation, relinquishing control of 106.5 FM to Radio K. While the 770 AM signal continues its usual sunrise-to-sunset broadcasts, the FM signal is available 24 hours a day. In celebrating the much-less-confusing summer schedule, Radio K welcomes special sets from DJs Paul Harding, King Otto, and DVS1 for their annual FM Week. More information can be found at radiok.org.

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