Out There

Don't fence me in
Arista Records

When Sleeper's debut album, Smart, came out last year, the band was lumped together with Elastica and Menswear under the banner of the New Wave of New Wave movement. Well, it wasn't really a movement and--for Sleeper especially--it was a misnomer. While these bands play a style of music that could be termed similar--to each other and to early '80s New Wave--what they lack is the emotional distance, the coldness that marked that era's music.

Louise Wener, Sleeper's singer-guitarist, is anything but emotionally distant. She is yet another example of a woman who can be honest and direct without delving into the land of confess-for-cash Alanis clones. Sometimes Wener can be a little too direct for her own good. Smart contains a lyric ("We should go to bed till we make each other raw," from "Delicious") that had British journalists both aghast and scrambling to get a quote from her.

TheitGirl contains no such fodder for the media, but it is a much stronger album than Smart. Producer Stephen Street--best known for his work with Blur and The Smiths--lets Wener's witty lyrics come to the forefront. Musically, the band picks up where New Wave left off, and improves on it to such an extent that labels become irrelevant. No matter. Call it the New Wave of New Wave; call it Britpop; or just call it good.

Expecting To Fly
The Bluetones
A&M Records

Expecting To Fly is a record based on juxtapositions: between old and new, loud and soft, flippant and serious. The great thing is that these odd combinations appear throughout the album without ever becoming intrusive, and give it a quality that can't be defined by a label. Little touches, like a fake record skip at the halfway point, seep in unnoticed, to be picked up on and analyzed at a later time.

The Bluetones recorded the album in a converted farmhouse--does anyone use studios anymore?--giving the band some creative distance from the burgeoning Britpop scene, and it shows. From the first listen, the record sounds familiar but completely different at the same time. The band doesn't simply copy its idols (hello Oasis); it takes what they did and creates something new.

A kind of radiance propels Expecting To Fly, from the opening sound clip of a plane flying by--an in-joke relating to the proximity of the band's hometown, Hounslow, to London's Heathrow Airport--to the popadelic album closer, "Time & Again." Ignore the usual hype; this is the real thing.

--Zac Crain


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