Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

June 22, 2005

Ignoring the fact that her stage name brings to mind wide-eyed orphan girls, Norwegian pop star Annie is pretty tough to resist. Her debut, Anniemal (Big Beat) captures a charismatic talent that isn't afraid to let her thin voice ease into the mix of the slinky, catchy robo-pop production surrounding it. Her pop stardom was delayed by the death of producer and romantic partner Tore "Erot" Kroknes, which might account for some of the melancholy beneath the surface. That same melancholy air might also explain why listeners who keep their Kylie Minogue CDs stashed away from public view have rushed to embrace her. It's Euro-disco however you market it, but there's no need to be ashamed of that when it works this well…

Like the one-man Seattle band Aqueduct, the Swedish group Shout Out Louds plays music that couldn't exist without West Cost '60s pop, '80s college rock, or drawling '90s indie rock, but Shout Out Louds doesn't really sound like any of the above. Its unpredictable combination of jangly guitars, strained, emotional vocals, and swelling choruses sounds pretty terrific, however. The band's debut album, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff (Capitol), rushes breathlessly from one anthem to the next, setting a high standard with the album-opening "The Comeback" and meeting it with every one of its 11 tracks, including a mini-epic that closes the album with enough ambition for a whole sophomore effort…

Power-pop doesn't come much more powerful, or poppier, than the music of Fountains Of Wayne. Last year saw the band transforming from an under-the-radar favorite to a full-on Top 40 hitmaker with the success of "Stacy's Mom." The wonderful new two-disc rarities-and-B-sides collection Out-Of-State Plates (Virgin) provides a reminder that a) the band's been around for a long time, and b) even its discarded tracks blow most bands' best efforts out of the water. Covers of ELO and Britney Spears rub shoulders with odes to Karpet Kings, some holiday tunes, and two terrific new tracks, "Maureen" and "The Girl I Can't Forget"… Sure, Poi Dog Pondering has inspired countless aimless jam musicians, but don't hold that against the band, which always understood that the words "eclectic" and "tuneful" don't have to be mutually exclusive.

A snapshot of the venerable act with the constantly rotating lineup after it left the streets of Hawaii, but before it became a self-sustaining Chicago institution, The Best Of Poi Dog Pondering (The Austin Years) (Columbia/ Legacy) collects singles and rarities from Poi Dog's years as a late-'80s/early-'90s college-radio favorite. The songs range from tender acoustic ballads to odd flirtations with the then-breaking Madchester sound… Miss the sound of Joe Strummer's voice? Then pick up The Dead 60s' self-titled debut (Epic), on which singer Matt McManamon busts out his best Strummerisms and the rest of the band tries on the sound of London Calling. For all its debt to the past, however, it's not bad. But why choose such a nostalgia-bashing name for what's essentially a nostalgia act?