Adventures in Music Shopping

By The Columbia Chronicle

It’s hard to find good music these days. Q101 is a joke. WXRT is a dinosaur. MTV doesn’t play videos anymore. Rolling Stone just keeps reviewing new albums by old bands. My suggestion is to go into a local independent record store (Reckless or The Quaker Goes Deaf), and ask somebody what to buy. If you don’t want to trust some local rock star wannabe with your 15 bucks, here are a couple of suggestions.

ARAB STRAP–Philophobia (Matador)

Saturday morning, 3 a.m. The bars are closed, your ex-girl/boyfriend has left. You sit down on the couch and light a cigarette, enjoying a nice buzz. Soon enough, the regret and shame from tonight’s slip-up with the ex will start eating away at you. You need something to get you through ‘til sunrise — someone who understands. You need Arab Strap.

Lead singer/storyteller Aidan Moffat’s deep, thick Scottish voice shares tales of twisted relationships, long nights on the bottle and old regrets. His ramblings are expertly layered over a bed of soft drum machine and piano. The music is good enough to stand alone, but adding Moffat’s voice and amazing lyrics make this the best record I’ve heard all year.

There are no big guitar licks or uplifting choruses — this is a record for music fans with an open mind and a longing for a fresh, new, literate, incredibly unique sound.

Memorable Lyric: “…I’m not listening to what my mother said — what we’re doing inside my bed. And I’m not pretending this time you’re someone else, but I’m cleaning these sheets all by myself.”

Check this one out if you like: the movie “Trainspotting,” New Order, Tom Waits, Mogwai, waking up sticky, wet and confused.

BRAID–Frame & Canvas (Polyvinyl)

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m from the suburbs. I’ve lived in the suburbs my entire life. Braid’s new record has helped ease my shame. This is the sound of some kids from suburban Chicago, and commuter students can take pride in that.

Braid’s last record showed some promise, but it lacked focus — their passion and musical chops were evident, but the songwriting was lacking and the songs weren’t well constructed.

On “Frame & Canvas,” Braid has put it all together and it’s a joy to hear. After disappointing recent albums from Superchunk, Pavement and Sebadoh, independent rock needs some new blood. Braid is a fine start. “Frame & Canvas” is filled with jump-up-and-down bass lines and high-energy melodies.

Memorable Lyric: “…so elated that this soul so understated could be making eyes at me, but first I’ll be another innocent victim looking for some sense of sympathy.”

Check this one out if you like: Superchunk, Sunny Day Real Estate, Seam.

UNKLE–Psyence Fiction (MoWax)

Unkle is a collaboration between DJ Shadow and MoWax label founder James Lavelle. DJ Shadow is credited with writing all the music, so in a sense this is the follow up to his outstanding debut album, “Entroducing.”

Guest vocalists include Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Richard Ashcroft of the Verve and Beastie Boy Mike D. “Psyence Fiction” is another incredible example of DJ Shadow’s unique ability to blend together massive beats, grooved bass lines and samples. Thanks to the high-profile guest vocalists, this could be his chance at mainstream success.

Thom Yorke’s track, “Rabbit In Your Headlights,” is beautiful. Yorke’s fragile voice floats magnificently over the shuffle beat and soft piano. Radiohead fans will not be disappointed.

DJ Shadow does his best to help him, but Richard Ashcroft can’t seem to mellow out enough to fit in with the rest of the voices on the record. The album’s standout track “Bloodstain” is sung by newcomer Alice Temple. She fits DJ Shadow’s music as well as Martina fits Tricky’s.

Nowadays, when hip-hop sounds stale and dance music is endlessly repetitive, it’s exciting to hear a fresh new blend of music that’s inventive enough to please MoWax disciples and radio friendly enough to possibly sell some records.

Memorable Lyric: I don’t really remember any — hey, it’s all about the groove anyway.

Check this one out if you like: Tricky, Portishead, Underworld.