PLAY > SKIP: New Music for January 11
Winter break is officially over, and it's back-to-school week for new music. Edie Brickell and Wire are the seniors looking to get to the front of the class. Cake, Cage the Elephant, and Steel Magnolia are the juniors, sophomores, and freshmen who all want to be the teacher's pet. As the first entrants of the new year, they offer some signs that the Class of 2011 might be one to remember.
PLAY: Edie Brickell, Edie Brickell
More than 20 years after her New Bohemian days, Edie Brickell has cranked out a small but eclectic catalog of solo and side projects. Her most recent collaboration was the seriously sexy and under-the-radar Heavy Circles album recorded with Brickell's stepson, Harper Simon (Brickell and Paul Simon have been married since 1992). Her new self-titled album -- followed in two weeks by another band project, the Gaddabouts -- is full of the sly observations, coffee-house cool vocals, and idiosyncratic melodies that make me wish I was Edie Brickell's stepson. Or husband.
VISIT EdieBrickell.com to listen to her single "Pill."
SKIP Steel Magnolia, Steel Magnolia
Out of the train wreckage that was the mercifully short-lived competition series "Can You Duet" comes Season Two winner Steel Magnolia with all of the fake plastic country charm of a self-conscious Las Vegas line dance. The album is "Twilight" with twang, replete with faux tortured passion, preciousness, and pain drawn from a high school journal that should have been burned with the Aqua Net and Seventeen mags. Look for the Burger King tie-in, the Wal-Mart clothing line, and the Steel Magnolia-themed diner coming your way. Or maybe I'm giving them too much credit. Either way, it's Nashville commercialism at its best. Worst. Whatever.
PLAY Cake, Showroom of Compassion
It's hard to believe that 15 years have passed since Cake's "Fashion Nugget" brought them face-to-face with mainstream success. Now with "Showroom of Compassion" Cake sounds like a band looking for alternative respect. Leader John McCrea is one of music's best satirists and king of the droll. He deserves to be naked on the cover of Rolling Stone. Until then, we'll have to cross our fingers that the hit parade has some compassion . . . and some taste.
PLAY Wire, Red Barked Tree
Since their 1977 sonic-boom debut, "Pink Flag," British post-punk minimalists Wire have subverted the genre and propelled it forward more than any other art band of the period. They've also furiously maintained their commitment to sonic exploration. "Red Barked Tree" is an avant-garde rock lover's esoteric wet dream: full of screaming tempos, discord, and sonic curve balls. Play it to bend your mind, not for background music.
PLAY Cage the Elephant, Thank You Happy Birthday
The American South produces fraternal rock bands like Jack Daniel's produces morning-after regret. Brothers Matthew and Brad Schultz stand in the center of Cage the Elephant and their reckless Southern rock. This follow-up to their 2008 self-titled debut is equally unruly and ragged as only a bunch of Southern boys transplanted to the UK could produce (Cage did a London residency after getting signed by UK label Relentless). Cage the Elephant's raw rock devotion almost makes those Kings of Leon siblings sound like Coldplay.