These kids are alright

Songs from an indie bad boy, an actress and (sorry) Eminem. Plus: An instrumental loop I cannot get out of my head.

By Thomas Bartlett
Published March 31, 2004 11:05PM (EST)

Now that I'm recommending songs to Salon readers each week, I'm curious to know what you listen to already, so I'd like to conduct an unscientific poll. E-mail me a list of music you've been enjoying recently, and next week I'll report back the top favorites. In the meantime, here's another batch of songs that I'm enjoying, from a chart-climbing single by D12 (apologies to hit radio listeners, who are probably sick of it already, and to others of you who may find it, like all things involving Eminem, potentially offensive), to a song from indie enfant terrible Jamie Stewart's band, Xiu Xiu.

"Naked As We Came," Iron and Wine, from "Our Endless Numbered Days"
Iron and Wine's Sam Beam is far from alone in the enormous debt he owes to Nick Drake, and on this song he evokes folk's archetypal doomed romantic with particular directness. The delicate finger-picked guitar, gentle, almost whispered singing, and general air of wistfulness are pure Drake. Beam's sister, Sarah, joins in harmony on the chorus, and together they sound quite a bit like another Drake-influenced band, New York's Ida. Like Ida, much of Iron and Wine's music is just on the edge of preciousness -- it often seems that they're willing to be simply pretty, and let others do the heavy lifting that true beauty requires. Still, this song has been in my head all week, this CD is staying in my collection, and I'm not nearly jaded enough to say there isn't room for a little more prettiness in the world. Free Download: "Naked As We Came"

"Dip It Low," Christina Milian, from "It's About Time"
Christina Milian is a Cuban-American singer and actress, and she's been flirting with stardom for quite some time, appearing in awful films like "Torque" and "Love Don't Cost a Thing," co-writing an awful song ("Play") with Jennifer Lopez, and even releasing a successful single, "AM to PM" (which I won't call awful, because I've never heard it), in 2001. "Dip It Low" is taken from the 22-year-old's upcoming U.S. debut, "It's About Time." But honestly, Milian, who has a serviceable but entirely indistinct R&B voice, is not what interests me about this track. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, the best part of the song is already over by the time she starts singing: It's the opening instrumental section, a loop of a passage played on some unidentifiable stringed instruments, with a wonderful rhythmic lag to it. I would have guessed the music was West African, but the only reference I could find on the Web said that it was Japanese. Whatever it is, it's very cool, and the way producer Polli Paul works it into the beat is cool as well. I just wish he had mixed it higher throughout the song. (iTunes, RealPlayer, MusicMatch)

"My Band," D12, from "D12 World"
D12 is a Detroit-based sextet of six young rappers: Swift, Kon Artis, Kuniva, Proof, Bizarre and the ever-controversial Eminem. Despite Eminem's notoriety and extreme popularity, D12 is far from a household name, and this amusing song is about the band's continued obscurity, and Eminem's overwhelming fame. Eminem starts off by rapping about how all the fans love him, but don't even know the name of his band (D12). Then the other five take turns griping about Em, and how jealous they are: He gets asked all the questions at interviews, his dressing room is bigger, his microphones always sound better, he gets paid more, etc. Of course, there's a reason why Em is such a big star, and the production on this track, which he handled, is a good reminder of that. It's a simple, repetitive and unforgettable little synth loop that's already taken "My Band" to the top of the iTunes download chart. (iTunes, RealPlayer, MusicMatch)

"Crank Heart," Xiu Xiu, from "Fabulous Muscles"
Xiu Xiu's music is like Vincent Gallo: arrogant, vulgar, pretentious, self-indulgent, childishly intent on shocking audiences and occasionally too brilliant to ignore. On nearly every track from the new "Fabulous Muscles," Jamie Stewart either pushes his already ragged voice so far as to become obnoxious and emotionally incoherent, sabotages the proceedings with a self-consciously disruptive musical decision, or just drops in some disturbing, willfully perverse lyrics. "Crank Heart" somehow escaped the self-sabotage. It opens with some goofy synth programming that sounds straight out of an Atari game, and constrasts strangely with Stewart's emotionally unstable, oh-so-human voice. But what amazes me is the transition to the chorus: No matter how many times I listen to this song, I'm still surprised by the sudden emotional weight, the chasm that opens up beneath those lighthearted synths, hollowed out by little more than an extra note of desperation in Stewart's voice. (iTunes, RealPlayer, MusicMatch)

"Black Cab" and "Rocky Dennis Farewellsong to the Blind Girl," Jens Lekman, from "Maple Leaves EP" and "Rocky Dennis EP"
Last week, I was not very nice about Sondre Lerche, Norway's 22-year-old wunderkind. This week, I discovered that Scandinavia has more than one youthful pop star hidden among the fjords. Enter Jens Lekman, another 22-year-old, who, despite reaching No. 11 on the charts in his native Sweden, remains unknown in the States. Judging from these two tracks, Lekman has listened to a lot of the Magnetic Fields, and he shares some of Stephin Merritt's talent for glossy, tacky self-production. While he can't compete with Merritt's lyric-writing brilliance, his words can be endearing in their clumsiness ("Oh no, Goddamn/ I missed the last tram/ I killed the party again/ Goddamn, Goddamn"). He has a gorgeous crooner's voice, part Morrissey, part Scott Walker, and the chorus to "Black Cab" is a singalong delight. And I have a new favorite 22-year-old Scandinavian pop star. Free Downloads: "Black Cab," "Rocky Dennis Farewellsong to the Blind Girl"

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Thomas Bartlett

Thomas Bartlett is a writer and musician in New York. He maintains a blog called doveman.

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