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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
+ Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
+ Deloris - Ten Lives
+ Minimum Chips - Lady Grey
+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
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+ The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
+ The Places - Songs For Creeps
+ Camille - Le Fil
+ Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
+ Various Artists - Musics In The Margin
+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
+ Dudley Perkins - Expressions
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+ Red Carpet - The Noise Of Red Carpet
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White Stripes

Last night on MTV, Madonna held some sort of listening party/hype session for her new album. In between dodging forehead-smackingly stupid questions from the giddy studio audience and sitting down for a heartfelt one-on-one with MTV's resident toothy creep John Norris, she played/lip-synced a few of her new songs. The single, "American Life" (that's her album's title), has a neat little electro buzz riff and spotless production, but half an hour after watching the show, to save my life I couldn't hum any of her new songs.

If you can't count on Madonna to shoehorn a melody into your frontal lobe, pop music is truly in trouble. The pop landscape is dominated by anonymous hacks like Faith Hill, B2K, Godsmack, etc., and there's nary a memorable tune among them. And that, for my money, is what makes the White Stripes special. It's not their blues-exhuming "authenticity," not their publicity-stunt gimmicks, not their up-from-indie success story, not their admittedly-great wardrobes. It has nothing to do with the fucking Strokes. The White Stripes are special because they managed to land an album full of instantly memorable songs into Billboard's top 10. This year, only 50 Cent has managed a comparable feat.

It's impossible to overlook cultural context when judging Elephant. It's also impossible to overlook White Blood Cells, Elephant's stellar predecessor and the album that brought Jack and Meg to the masses. White Blood Cells is practically a masterpiece; it's the album where the duo's fuzz-guitar ferocity, endearing shyness, and uncanny tunefulness all came together into a near-perfect package. It's a much better album than Elephant.

Elephant is still a good album, sometimes a great one. "Ball and Biscuit," for example, is a stomping, snorting seven-minute powerhouse. In a Spin interview, Jack White claims to have "wanted [the song] to be making fun of cockiness." That's a shame, because White does cocky almost as well as 50 Cent. Affecting a bitchy sneer, he whoops, "Right now you could care less about me/ But soon enough you will care by the time I'm done," before launching into a ferocious series of guitar solos. White's never allowed himself to play guitar solos before, but on Elephant he proves he can cold rip that shit. This is telling; White's litany of self-imposed restrictions (this album, for instance, was recorded entirely on antique equipment) may be more of a hindrance than a help.

Most of the band's bolder leaps pay off. The propulsive bass riff of "Seven Nation Army" shows that the band might benefit from the inclusion of an actual bass player. The psychedelic opera chorus on "There's No Home for You Here" makes a pretty good case for them to work with, I don't know, a gospel choir. On these tracks, the Whites deviate from the template laid down by the previous albums, and the departures work mightily. But not all of these leaps work. On "Well It's True That We Love One Another" Holly Golightly stops in for an obnoxious, goofy honky-tonk kindergarten sing-along. The song is a puppydog-eyed pander not unlike the maudlin Nate Dogg love song that nearly killed the momentum of 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin'. Other songs, like "Black Math" and "In the Cold, Cold Night" simply seem thin and unfinished, making Elephant the Whites' most uneven album since their debut. We demand better from our rock stars, Jack.

On Elephant, the White Stripes deal with the pressures of newfound international stardom by completely ignoring them and making basically the same kind of record they always have. This is both admirable and irresponsible. A great number of us in indieland have charged the Whites with saving mainstream rock. The Billboard charts need a kick in the ass, an example that shows how much kids need exciting, powerful, frenetic, passionate music. Elephant isn't that example. It's just a good album, nothing more and nothing less. And from the White Stripes, at this particular moment in time, that just isn't good enough.

by Tom Breihan

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