The ThermalsThe Body, The Blood, The Machine(Sub Po)
This Portland, Ore., trio stands proud in Anyband, U.S.A. These guys learned a thing or two from The Pixies. Too bad results are post-punk at its most usual. The riffs do what you would think they would. Straightforward hooks with a smidge of fuzz ride a drummer that loves his cymbals. The singing and lyrics follow a similar formula: repetition + simplicity = hook. Thing is, these MP3s may have kicked their muddy sneakers up onto the coffee table that is my iPod. Simple is addictive. I'm glad someone is still making this kind of music.
PharrellIn My Mind(Interscope)
I <3 NERD. Pharrell was one of its founding members. He was also half of the Neptunes, the production team that single-handedly saved many of our least-favorite pop artists. Pharrell has slapped his red handprint on most of hip-hop's über-hits in the last couple years. On In My Mind, he comes out from behind the scenes for a little limelight of his own, and man, I wish it was better. When he connects, he knocks it out of the park. But the flops are really floppy. You can't fault the beats, of course. Still, some tracks meander, relying too heavily on his fallback genius production.
Various ArtistsWhere's Neil When You Need Him(Dancing Ferret Discs)
Neil Gaiman is known for being a bit odd. The author behind American Gods and Mirror Mask has cornered the market on dark and fanciful, and found himself a substantial cult following. The musicians who assembled for his tribute album are as varied as his fans but keep their eye on that peculiar twist that informs Gaiman's stories. In that sense, the album is a success. Gauge the disc on the listenability thermometer, though, and your readings are going to come up hot and cold. The carnival that is Future Bible Heroes' "Mr. Punch" deserves to be on the next mixed CD you make for a friend who has a taste for the bizarre. Rasputina's opening track "Coraline" slithers gorgeously. But some of the electronic goth stuff just goes on and on.