Communiqué Poison Arrows (Lookout)
Like so few musicians today, San Francisco rockers Communiqué remember the nonpejorative meaning of pop: buoyant melodies, clear, repetitive structures and a musical sense of humor. Granted, this group's roots still cling to emo sensibilities, which emerge occasionally as a hint of over-earnestness in the lyrics, but their sharp musicianship forgives all. New wave synths tastefully enhance the band's solid sound without feeling contrived or extraneous—a real feat—while the songwriting can bring a smile to your face long after the record's stopped playing. This is the true essence of pop.
Ricky Fanté Rewind (Virgin)
Listening to Ricky Fanté's warm, smoke-slurred voice, fat brass band and gospel-choir backup singers, and his irresistible, seemingly pre-aged songs, I couldn't resist the comparison to his closest musical soulmate—Macy Gray. Fortunately for Fanté, his appeal goes deeper than Gray's novelty growl. Rewind sounds like a truly great Motown record, albeit one you've already heard, with songs that cover every major style (I was tempted to write "cliché") of the period. It's refreshing to hear such a wholesome and unironic record. Let's hope Fanté's future efforts expand the genre of soul, not merely rehabilitate it.
Tomatohead Punch (GCG)
Tomatohead is the sort of band that sound great in a bar, electrifying the half-listening crowd with a visceral charge of cheery ogre-rock and monosyllabic silliness, but it's hard to see how anyone could get the same kick off their debut recording. I admit to being a bit charmed by their napkin-scrawled lyrics (if I had to choose a highlight, I'd say “You're just a beer drinkin', dick shrinkin', tea baggin' lazy bitch” tops them all), and I can't help admiring their fun loving attitude toward music making. Still, I'll save my money for the cover charge.