"Other People's Songs" (Mute)
Singer Andy Bell knows all there is to know about the crying game. At least the vocal half of this veteran British dance-pop duo sure sounds as if he does on the best of Erasure's quirky new collection of covers. From widely disparate sources, the songs are generally about keeping that romantic torch ablaze, a favorite subject for Bell and his music-making partner, Vince Clarke.
Updated with such modern touches as two-step beats, these 12 shiny synth-disco tunes pulse with unfulfilled desire and swoon with cosmic soul mate possibilities. The automaton-like proto-electroclash (read: old-school new wave) sound does get repetitive, but Bell makes a fine gooey center for the machine.
He infuses understated passion into a languid, echoing take on Buddy Holly and Norman Petty's "True Love Ways" and cosmic soulfulness into Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill." But he doesn't reveal much besides reverent affection on such standards as the Weiss-Peretti-Creatore Elvis Presley hit "Can't Help Falling in Love."
Some material doesn't even bear revisiting, such as the Korgis' frothy 1980 hit "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime." As for the Buggles' robotic classic "Video Killed the Radio Star," Bell wisely lets the computer sing it and just contributes backup. It isn't any more transcendent, but it does have an appropriately Lounge Lizards feel. Erasure headlines the Mayan on March 17.
-- Natalie Nichols
"Loose Fur" (Drag City)
Neither a Wilco side project nor the next genre-defying post-rock experiment by Jim O'Rourke, "Loose Fur" is a brilliant bag of well-mannered, acoustic guitar-driven pieces whose lightness and prettiness are hung with art damage and emotional gravity. Wilco's leader Jeff Tweedy and its drummer Glenn Kotche bring that band's gut-wrenching struggle to demolish the alt-country love song, and O'Rourke takes time out from the electric post-punk deities Sonic Youth and his own introspective solo works to spin off an effortless combination that transcends expectation.
At its most familiar, on gorgeous pieces like "Elegant Transaction" and "Chinese Apple," the trio achieves delicate, countrified traveling music in the vein of the Grateful Dead or J.J. Cale, with O'Rourke's bright, clear vocal playing off Tweedy's low rasp. Stranger and more interesting are such repetitious electronica-based pieces as the opener, "Laminated Cat," in which Tweedy's lyrics about the leftovers of relationships are propelled along on a drum and keyboard jam.
The beguiling guitar and banjo instrumental "Liquidation Totale" demonstrates a purely sonic connection that is probably the genesis of this collaboration. Even when the group drifts into O'Rourke's noisy corner, as on "So Long," with rattling percussion and off-key guitar asides, it resolves into a perfectly lovely shuffling chorus of "la la la" harmonies, revealing a belief in beauty that keeps this whole album centered.
-- Dean Kuipers
"From Music in High Places" (Lava)
The So Cal quintet's lustrous anthems have enabled it to outshine the rest of the neo-punk pack for years, and these reworked renditions of tunes from its last three releases (as recorded live for an MTV show that aired late last year) go a step further by gently stripping away the aggression to reveal an idyllic balance of tenderness and tension. The unfettered approach is likely to attract new fans, but it's too mellow to satisfy the band's moshing minions.
-- Lina Lecaro
Songs matter to moe. And noodling is no substitute, a notable distinction within the groove-heavy oeuvre of jam bands. The New York act opens "Wormwood" (in stores Tuesday) with the anxious folk-rock of "Not Coming Down," shuffling and rocking harder than R.E.M., before drifting into an improvisational title track. Less Phish than Allman Brothers, moe. jams freely but never wanders out of tune. The group plays the Wiltern on Feb. 13.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.