New releases provide praise-worthy music

We are less than a quarter of the way through 2008 and already there are some albums are worth checking out. Here are a few that have sweetened my eardrums already this year.

Vampire Weekend “Vampire Weekend”

released Jan. 29

These kids have an indie star that is shining brightly. I felt the approaching storm of the darling-fest over these too-cute kids in magazines and blogs around the end of the year, with only a spattering of shows and a freely-distributed CD-R to fuel the fire. There must be some major promotion dollars behind these boys, because I’d seen their faces countless times before I’d even heard their album. I assumed they would be a pleasant distraction, but eventually disinterest me in the way indie-blog favorites like Tapes ‘n Tapes and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! did.

I was wrong. While Vampire Weekend’s music definitely concentrates on the pleasant, there are real songs on here, the types of songs that people might remember during summer road trips or even next year. The group took pages from Paul Simon and various Afro-pop albums to create a musical concoction that goes down as smooth as coconut rum. The lyrics are also pretty memorable, also if they do celebrate the members’ upstate New York privilege. It’s easy to balk at a bunch of rich kids penning Afro-pop songs about going to Cambridge and wearing sweaters, but any song on “Vampire Weekend” will make an excellent addition to the Bonnaroo-road-trip mix tape come June.

Magnetic Fields


released Jan. 15

I was in the minority of Magnetic Fields fans in that I loved the chamber-pop hi-fi sound of 2004’s “i” as much as their early stuff. I must have some weird open ear for Stephen Merritt’s sonic progressions, because this album of noisy layering entertained me just as much. On “Distortion,” the Magnetic Fields take the good parts of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s playbook, infusing white-noise rumbling on top of irresistible pop songs. However, they never take the noise too far, and the songs gain depth and do not become annoying with the high-gain tweaking.

The constant fuzz and catchy songwriting actually harkens back to the Magnetic Fields’ really early ’90s stuff, such as the songs on “The Wayward Bus.” In a way, the Magnetic Fields used “Distortion” to rip down their latter-day refinement and return to the rawer sound of their growing years.

Black Mountain

“In the Future”

released Jan. 22

It’s been a mixed couple of months for psychedelic rock fans. Sir Richard Bishop’s “Polytheistic Fragments” blew everyone’s mind away while droners Six Organs of Admittance released the acceptable but disappointing “Shelter from the Ash.” However, for maximum jam for the buck, no one has come close to Black Mountain’s “In the Future.” These songs are real burning rockers, with extended instrumental sections and far-reaching deep-album cuts. People have called the band a modern-day, experimental Led Zeppelin like it’s some sort of insult, but I would beg to differ. To my ears, it’s a huge compliment.

John Crowell is a journalism senior and public relations director of WRFL. E-mail [email protected]