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Pop Music | $50 Guide

Two Rockin' Bands and a Sweet New Voice

April 28, 2002|ROBERT HILBURN

Another rush of rock albums, including collections by Sweden's Hives and Texas' ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, highlights the latest installment of Calendar's guide to keeping up with what's noteworthy in pop on an album budget of $50 a month.

March

The Hives' "Your New Favourite Band," Poptones import. They're fresh. They're fun. They're new (to the U.S.). They're Swedish. They're fab. They're part-Ramones, part-Cheap Trick, part-Beatles (pre-"Rubber Soul"), part-Rolling Stones (pre-Mick Taylor). They're cheeky. They're from the same record company strategist (Alan McGee) who gave us the Jesus and Mary Chain and Oasis. They wear neckties. They've got cool names (including Howlin' Pelle Almqvist and Chris Dangerous). They are already big in England. And they're headed our way (the Roxy on May 27-28). They've got a domestic album ("Vini Vidi Vicious" on Sire/Burning Heart/Epitaph), but this British import contains the best of "Vini" plus additional songs and some videos. Enjoy.

Trail of Dead's "Source Tags & Codes," Interscope. I don't like phrases like "blown away," but that's how I felt at this Texas quartet's recent concert at the El Rey Theatre. Purists will demand you call them by their full name, but I'm just putting Trail of Dead on my Word program save string because it's shorter. From the same high-energy, chaos-on-stage-is-good school of rock as the defunct At the Drive-In, this band combines punk sensibilities with classic rock craft. "Relative Ways" is a rock anthem worthy of U2. Enjoy.

Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me," Blue Note. It's one thing for a singer to find the soulful center of a country music classic such as Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart," which this young Dallas singer does nicely in this debut package. But the real clincher here is how she turns John D. Loudermilk's novelty-minded "Turn Me On" into an expression of sweet seduction and desire. The bonus is that some of Jones' musical sidekicks crafted classy pop tunes that seem ideal for her elegant, understated vocal approach.

April

Andrew W.K.'s "I Get Wet," Mercury. Where the Hives woo you with cleverness, Andrew bars anything arty or subtle from the recording studio or stage--as you can tell from song titles such as "Party Til You Puke." This Midwestern singer and songwriter is a throwback to the rowdy, good-time rock of such forces as KISS, Slade, the early Beastie Boys and (again) the Ramones. The guy also knows how to market himself. He's getting press like he was the sixth member of the Strokes, and that bloody-nose photo on the album cover seems destined to be a favorite T-shirt image.

Badly Drawn Boy's "About a Boy," ARTISTdirect/XL. From the gorgeous strings and piano intro to the seductive, "wall of sound" production touches on the closing "Donna and Blitzen," this is a knockout--a rare example of a soundtrack holding up outside the film. For one thing, Damon Gough (a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy) sings in such a pleasingly understated style that the tracks would be disarming even if he weren't also a songwriter in the best modern folk-pop tradition of Elliott Smith and Ron Sexsmith. In the key songs, Gough yearns for days to believe in and a love that is unshakable.

Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," Nonesuch. This is likely to be known for years as the album that the record industry couldn't kill. After turning the collection in to Reprise last year, the band was dropped during an executive overhaul at the label. But Nonesuch, which is also home to such adventurous talents as Emmylou Harris and Magnetic Fields, came to the rescue. The songs are layered with stark, foreboding production touches that seem to overshadow the music itself initially, but the melancholy songs eventually lock in. In its best moments, "Yankee Hotel" offers a glimpse of the raw emotional state of disorientation and loss that recalls the melancholy edge of Neil Young's landmark "Tonight's the Night." A gem.

*

Robert Hilburn, The Times' pop music critic, can be reached at robert.hilburn@latimes.com

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