"Lady Baby," Allen Anthony, from "Oakland International"
Allen Anthony, previously known to the world as one-half of the obscure R&B duo Christion, is preparing to drop his solo debut on Roc-a-fella. And to judge by the three singles he's just released, it's going to put him right up there with D'Angelo and Erykah Badu as the best that neo-soul has to offer. "Lady Baby" is a classic, content-free R&B love song ("I want you to be my lady, baby/ Come with me, be with me/ Look in my eyes and let's kiss"), basically a blank slate for Anthony to show off his skills as a loverman. And he's dazzling, with a potent falsetto, one of those falsettos that evokes not castration but intense, pent-up sexual energy. Prince comes immediately to mind, especially in Anthony's precise, sharply mannered, idiosyncratic phrasing. The production on this song is also excellent, free of the retro bent of so much recent R&B, with an excruciatingly slow, minimalist beat that's reminiscent of D'Angelo's "How Does It Feel." Also check out "Too Busy Hustlin'," on which Anthony sounds uncannily like Curtis Mayfield. (iTunes)
"Everybody Wants to Be Loved," Salim Nourallah, from "Polaroid"
I had never heard of Salim Nourallah when I put on his upcoming "Polaroid" late last week. The first song on the record, "Everybody Wants to Be Loved," has been in my head ever since. I've also been singing it to myself incessantly, much to the irritation of my girlfriend. It's not a classic catchy song -- there are no brilliant hooks or shout-along choruses -- but something about the extremely simple chorus melody, joined with a trite but sweet lyric ("Everybody wants to be loved/ because, because") and delivered by Nourallah's almost comically misery-laden voice, is both striking and unforgettable. The song is built around a sleepy, lull-inducing guitar phrase that sounds like something off of a Smog record. But Nourallah's voice is the best part -- he sounds quite a bit like Wilco's Jeff Tweedy (i.e., absolutely bloody miserable all the time) and even more like the excellent and sadly underrated Hayden. Free Download: "Everybody Wants to Be Loved"
"Love," Ghostface, from "The Pretty Toney Album"
Notwithstanding its lifeless lead single, "Tush," Ghostface's "The Pretty Toney Album" is full of great tracks. Highlights include (of course) the two RZA-produced tracks, "Run" and "Kunta Fly Shit," and "Metal Lungies," but my favorite is the album's closing song, "Love." It's fascinating that hip-hop, notorious for machismo, anger and violence, can produce music this gloriously, unabashedly sentimental: "First I love God, then love my mother/ love my babies, sisters and brothers/ love my father 'cause that's my mom's partner/ love my grandmother and my grouchy-assed grandfather." There's humor here, but as with R. Kelly's "World's Greatest" and "Step in the Name of Love," there's no cynicism, no undercurrent of irony. It's cheesy, yes, with chimes and a chorus of ooh-aah singers, and lines like "Love, lift us up, take us higher." But somehow the "love conquers all" theme is a little easier to swallow when it's being served up by a man who just recently dropped "Killah" from his name. (iTunes, RealPlayer, MusicMatch)
"2x2," The M's, from "The M's"
Like a number of their peers, the young Chicago band the M's juxtapose the casual swagger and lo-fi aesthetic of garage rock with canny pop songwriting and playful studio tricks, both traceable back to the Beatles. The combination can often feel stale, but on "2x2," a nonchalant, sloppy, druggy mess of a pop song, the M's get it just right. Singer Josh Chicoine is a delight, sliding all over the place in glorious near-tunelessness. It sounds like he's having a whole lot of fun. As does the rest of the band. As will you. Free Download: "2x2"
"Glass Corridor," Lansing-Dreiden, from "The Incomplete Triangle"
It is a rule of New York hipsterdom that any new club that appears exclusive or mysterious -- unmarked door, secret reservation line -- attains immediate trendiness (it's kind of like nirvana) and is soon overrun. Lansing-Dreiden is using the same strategy to market its music. Apparently, it's not actually a band, but an art collective, and no information is available about who is -- or even how many people are -- in it. The collective's cryptic, unhelpful Web site explains that its output ranges from "video to music to production design to the construction of narratives," and that "all Lansing-Dreiden projects are fragmentary, mere stones in a path whose end lies in a space where the very definition of 'path' paths." (Either unbearably pretentious postmodern drivel or sly satire.) Lansing-Dreiden's record, "The Incomplete Triangle," is divided into three sections of four songs apiece, which can be most efficiently described as metal, shoe-gaze and new wave. "Glass Corridor's" thin, echoey drums and hyperactive bass introduce the record's new-wave component. It's an intricate, jittery dance track, with some crooked, entirely unexpected twists. Free Download: "Glass Corridor"