Aa (BIG A, LITTLE A)
gAme
(Gigantic)
I’m grinning with excitement about the slew of amazing discs that are awaiting your reading eyes below. By far, the best lineup we’ve had in one issue… ever. This is a great lead off to this collection (not only because it’s alphabetically unavoidable!). Aa have been getting so much buzz in the NYC/Brooklyn area as of late, playing their hearts out to the DIY-all ages crowd. Beeps and blurps abound, along with vocals characteristic of the above description–oft-wailed, always charming, ala folks like Matt & Kim. I’m in love, but just keep reading…

AIR
Pocket Symphony
(Astralwerks)
I’ve always let the bland hipster types dissuade me from paying any attention to Air. Those are the only people I know that know of this band or listen to it. While truthfully I couldn’t spend a whole lot of time with this music (it’s a little too atmospheric-y and elevator-y for my taste), the time I can spend would be well-justified. It’s undeniably powerful music; layered yet dainty, catchy yet overwhelmingly unique.

GIPSY KINGS
Pasajero
(Nonesuch)
Here again, not for every occasion. And certainly not for the bland hipsters. But Gipsy Kings are absolutely fantastic. It’s inevitable that Gipsy Kings make me feel like going to my parents’ favorite Mexican restaurant up in Deer Park for a quick bite, or make me feel like visiting Mexico for the first time in my life. In large part that’s what it’s after. It’s quite undeniable, though, that it’s also completely listenable while just sitting in your desk chair in your Jimi Hendrix t-shirt while putting the finishing touches on some reviews. Enjoyable, enjoyable.

CALVIN JOHNSON & THE SONS OF THE SOIL
Calvin Johnson & the Sons of the Soil
(K)
Somehow while I’ve existed in the Northwest my entire life (except for approximately two shifts of 9 months in Los Angeles), I’ve managed to maintain a complete ignorance of Calvin Johnson. The guy is seriously everywhere. Still unaware of Johnson’s past efforts, this disc is quirky crooning at its best (imagine Adam Green, a little deeper, with lyrics that make more sense). It sounds promising and it is, and more than promising even. Interested, I am.

Fu Manchu
We Must Obey
(Century Media Records)
With a bang, a fuzz, a crunch, and a wallop this album trundles in to 2007. But, for those already versed in the ancient art of Fu Manchu and its tuned-down buzz, this album also brings something new-clang. As in, Fu Manchu’s getting in touch with their punk rock roots: Clang! However, unlike chocolate and peanut butter, or the Melvins and Jello Biafra, fuzz and clang don’t go that well together. Punk rock and stoner rock are really very polemic art forms and they just shouldn’t be mushed together. Can’t we all just agree to not get along?

THE LOCUST
New Erections
(Epitaph)
Grown men who dress up in costumes for their live gigs might come off a bit goofy, but if you’re at all familiar with the Locust, you’re aware that’s not the case here. These are four hardcore dudes from San Diego that have, quite honestly, maintained the status quo for hardcore (if we can be irked enough to call it that) for the years they’ve been in existence. There’s screamin’ and wailin’ a-plenty on this disc, of course, but don’t forget to really listen.

LONELY, DEAR
Lonely, Noir
(SubPop)
Aside from the Thermals, the SubPop roster holds little excitement for me as of late. The Shins bore me to tears and Low, well, okay, Low bores me to tears and the Shins just bore me. At any rate, there’s excitement to be had in this little upstart. Hardly an upstart, Sweden’s Emil Svanängen, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, is the gent behind this creation, having self-created and self-released 4 albums prior in 3 years-all recorded on CD-Rs (sold into the thousands). Emil makes a stop at the Sasquatch! festival this year, undoubtedly on one of the little stages-so pay attention and make sure to schedule it in.

THE MINT CHICKS
Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!
(Flying Nun)
I’m not sure I have ever connected with a band as immediately as I did with the Mint Chicks. Last Monday they played to a nearly completely empty house at Seattle’s Comet Tavern, but lead singer Kody Nielsen had barely gotten a word out and I was a puddle on the floor. This four piece from New Zealand is the catchiest, most lovable band I think I’ve ever seen live, ever heard on disc, ever encountered, period, in alllll my years as a music lover. I’m pretty sure they won’t be headed to Spokaloo any time soon, but HUNT DOWN this disc and sample the songs on their MySpace. And pay extra attention to the title track, along with “Walking Off a Cliff Again” and “Welcome to Nowhere,” for frickin’ amazingness.

MODEST MOUSE
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
(Epic)
Last month I made the somber confession that I’d never paid attention to the Arcade Fire’s first album, Funeral. Get ready for a bigger, somber-er confession this time around. Ready? The only Modest Mouse song I’ve ever heard is “Float On,” and I heard it on VH1. I RULE! Somewhat surprisingly, I have two Modest Mouse supah-fans in my life-one is my boss, and one is the lead singer of a much-loved Spokane band. Either they’ve never pushed hard enough, or I unwillingly pushed back harder. So anyway, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about on this one, that’s true (admittedly, this time), but the good word is that it’s pretty good, mhmm.

THE PRAYERS
God Save the Prayers
(Art Fag)
If there were two bands I could recommend to everyone on the planet right now, they would be the Prayers and the Mint Chicks. I caught the Prayers for the first time during my last week in LA, and they completely blew me away. Two of the four members were in jazz-punk, crazy-great The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower and while there’s not a frickin’ trace of that here, it maintains the buzzworthiness. The Prayers make SoCal-inspired, loose, laid back pop tunes that have boasted reference in more than one review to the Beach Boys. That’s a hefty comparison, but not unwarranted. This EP is available exclusively through the fellas’ imprint, Art Fag, and via their MySpace page, but watch for a full-length out shortly. And, seriously, do watch out.

ELLIOTT SMITH
New Moon
(Kill Rock Stars)
On Sunday morning, for the first time since October 21, 2003, I heard Elliott Smith’s voice. As the guitar trailed in on the first track of this album, the second posthumous Smith release, Elliott’s voice overwhelmed me and immediately brought me to tears. I had no idea the impact his departure had had on me until that moment. I bought his last disc, From a Basement on a Hill, on the day of its release and have never listened to it. Something about acceptance that I couldn’t quite handle. While I absolutely hate it when it takes someone’s death to bring their body of work to the forefront, Elliott’s work deserves attention, whether then, or now, whether on this album, or those previous.