Late last month, London's Mark Ronson, brother of Lindsay Lohan lover Samantha and producer of booze-lover Amy Winehouse, released his third studio full-length, this one coming under the name of Mark Ronson & The Business Intl. And international business it indeed is, featuring contributions from everyone from Ghostface Killah to Duran Duran's Simon LeBon. Lead-off track and lead single "Bang Bang Bang" is a mostly American affair, though, featuring legendary New York-based MC Q-Tip and New York electronic duo MNDR. All together, it's a slice of electro-pop goodness, with Q-Tip, quite predictably, dropping knowledge all over the place. Retro soul's not all Ronson's great at. Consider this your proof.--Pete Freedman
Combine the retro-soul of Amy Winehouse and the pop-minimalism of The xx, and you have Quadron. The Dutch duo has been cranking out their sparse sounds for just a couple of years now, but they've gotten pretty good at making old sounds seem fresh and instantly familiar. Some tracks, like "Pressure," seem like a long-lost gem buried on an old Motown compilation while "Simili Life" or "Horse" could fit nicely on an Alicia Keys and Corinne Bailey Rae collaboration. In my opinion, though, the standout track is "Jeans," which I nominate as the funkiest track of the year.--Andy Odom
Led by ex-Gogol Bordello member Ori Kaplan, Balkan Beat Box is a New York-based band by way of Israel and most of the Mediterranean. Incorporating several seemingly disparate styles, the basic trio of Kaplan, Tomer Yosef and Tamir Muskat is augmented on stage by up to a dozen other musicians. The resulted multi-cultural fiesta is a pleasure to behold. While Balkan Beat Box's 2005 self-titled debut remains my personal favorite, the more recentBlue Eyed Black Boy
offers up several pleasures of its own, including the above, politically themed "War Again."--Darryl Smyers
Ohio's Two Cow Garage has been a reliably good band for a while now. And on their new album,Sweet Saint Me
, their dependability continues. Taking on a punk tone that, at times, recalls The Boss (which will never go out of style), the album still crunches and acts as quite the aggressor, even as, in the above song, it finds the band varying somewhat from its alt-country roots. That's just the voice and songwriting of Micah Schnabel continuing to bloom, as he out-growls contemporaries such as Lucero's Ben Nichols this time around.--Kelly Dearmore
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It only seemed like a matter of time before Tim Kasher would put out a solo album. After a number of releases with Cursive and The Good Life,The Game of Monogamy
stands as just that--and it works out just fine, thanks. It's nothing too drastically different from the Kasher you've heard before, but still quite worthwhile. Very poppy, too. He's always had a way with words--no matter how bleak they may be--and makes that fit the vision he has for the music.--Eric Grubbs