Besnard Lakes, "Albatross"
NS: I've said before that I have a hard time arguing with effective wooze, but the saturated flange of the first three minutes of this track doesn't really go anywhere. Since this is a 4 1/2 minute song, the arrangement does end up going somewhere cool eventually, but overall I find this to be a less-than-impressive example of the genre. 2/5
AM: Their last album sounded like Low with a touch of the Beach Boys, but "Albatross" adds Bilinda Butcher vocals and nicks, subtly, the rubbery guitar of "Needles In The Camel's Eye." Whatever the equation, this is lovely music, well-worn yet fresh. 4/5
"BedRock," Young Money
NS: Group songs like these basically beg the fair-minded critic to evaluate what he or she likes best, and then slowly move his or her way down the like/dislike continuum. The absolute best thing about this song is the hook, and the way Lloyd's chorus line sort of dances around it. So the production is irresistable--but of the rappers, I'd put Drake and Nicki Minaj at the top, Lil Wayne's deeply unimpressive verse near the middle, and everyone else (especially Tyga) basically doesn't need to exist. 4/5
AM: What explains Lil Wayne's continuing credibility? If Rick Ross guested on "Let It Rock," or Jay-Z put out a terrible nu-emo album, would we still respect them? I have no answers, but I would like to point you to the insufferable pap-rap of the Wayne-curated Young Money crew and their "BedRock." Such triviality would eviscerate the street cred of any lesser rapper. Drake's verse is OK, and I can't deny a certain charm, but what is the deal with Nicki Minaj? 2.5/5
"Hide It Away," Retribution Gospel Choir
NS: Confession time: I kind of prefer Alan Sparhawk's amped-up side band to Low, in terms of listening to music for pleasure. In many ways, the difference is purely instrumental. Sparhawk's voice carries the day on this one, and there's a feverish intensity that really marks this performance as something different in the Sparhawk canon. Everything about it is anxious and heartfelt. 3.5/5
AM: Inaugurates Alan Sparhawk's difficult "muttonchops period." Like anyone with muttonchops in 2010, he's not interested in pushing boundaries so much as old fashioned good times, and "Hide It Away" has dour rock attitude to spare. Mimi Parker is missed, but that's some pretty badass drumming. 4/5
Jay-Z, Bono, The Edge, and Rihanna "Haiti (Mon Amour)"
NS: What is it about the best intentions of others that brings out the worst in me as a critic? I swear that this charity collab single would be horrendous no matter what cause it was shilling for. Everybody seems to be at their worst: the Edge's one guitar line is one of his lamest and most reverby, Jay-Z's cornball verse is technically a complete dud, and Bono and Rihanna aren't exactly a great vocal pair. Add that fetid Dido beat, and you have a song that simply sucks. 0/5
AM: Star power and good intentions combine for another turgid charity single. "Empire" aside, Jay-Z has never been one for uplift, and I can barely even hear Rihanna here. You knew U2 would appear, and Bono actually sounds the best of the participants. The absence of Haitian musicians is regrettable. 2/5
Hot Chip, "Take It In"
NS: Among their dancepunk brethren, Hot Chip have stood out as a band that really knows how to write coherent, complex pop songs. "Take It In" definitely ranks up there with their best songwriting efforts. The vocals uncannily manage to sound both detached and menacing, and the keyboard line is Passion Pit-level sweet. So is the chorus, when the menace temporarily bottoms out. 5/5
AM: Well-constructed, as all their efforts seem to be, but I still prefer Wye Oak's song of the same name. This shade of UK grey has never been my cuppa, but there's some menace hiding in the verses. 3/5
Editor's Note: Hot Chip are insanely menacing
Surfer Blood, "Swim"
NS: When you need a reminder that great punk songs are still being created on a daily basis, I would suggest giving this song a listen, if you can get over an inordinate amount of echo at the beginning (you get used to it after a while). I'm not sure Surfer Blood can sustain this kind of energy and ingenuity for a whole album, but this does just fine. 3.5/5
AM: When I saw Surfer Blood (opening for the great Art Brut), I got the impression of a talented young band not quite in control of its songs. On record, things sound a bit different: wild melodies make "Swim," an unhinged number with plenty of good vibes. 4/5