Released in the United States in January, Lily Allen's "Alright Still" is proof that there are pop albums that hipsters can like. With producer Mark Ronson by her side, Allen sings reggae and R&B infused songs packed with attitude. Her level of sass and use of humor are very distinctive, whether she's singing about an upset ex-boyfriend ("Smile"), describing a London street scene ( "LDN") or singing about her underachieving brother ("Alfie"), the wit and delivery are all her own. You want to hear what she has to say, and yet at the same time, you know that you'd never want to cross her. Her voice is often sweet, but her lyrics are often pointed and unforgiving. She seems like she might be a troublemaker, but that's part of the fun. Her intelligence and her attitude make her stand out in the field of vacant pop-stars, which makes her seem all the more authentic.
"Take What You Take"
"Knock 'Em Out"
9. ELENI MANDELL — "Miracle of Five"
Eleni Mandell is a Los Angeles-based acoustic guitar-strumming chanteuse. She's the kind of singer you might find singing at any urban nightspot. You can listen to her soft, descriptive songs and just imagine her dressed in black, with the spotlight on her in a smoky bar. "Miracle Of Five" is her sixth album in eight years. It's also her most straightforward. The payout is huge. Her songs are full of characters and scenery, whether it is the snowy descriptions in "Salt Truck" or when she's singing "I can't be seen kissing the make-out king." There's a humorously reflective quality to these songs. At times she comes off like a less snarky Nellie McKay. "Girls" is a career high. On the deceptively simple track, she asks "Do you still cry about girls you wanted?" and with that she opens a floodgate of nostalgia for anyone who has ever lost love. Similarly "My Twin" is a disturbing bluesy death song, and "Moonglow, Lamp Low" is a song meant for lovers. Altogether, this is a disc that should really find more of an audience.
10. YEAH YEAH YEAHS — "Is Is" (EP)
Yes, it's only five songs. Yes, it's less than 20 minutes long, but it's worthy. All five songs are single-worthy. The band sounds bold and focused.. Brian Chase wallops his drum kit, Nick Zinner unleashes unpredictable guitar attacks, and Karen O squeals and yells with authority. You can feel the whole band fighting to climb out of your earphones and into your ears. It is loud and powerful. For a few minutes, we all know rock and roll is safe!
"Rockers to Swallow"
11. P.J. HARVEY — "White Chalk"
On "White Chalk" Harvey trades up the guitar for the piano to make a striking, sad, quietly haunting record. See the blog archives for a complete, in depth review.
"When Under Ether"
12. MARK RONSON — "Version"