Every so often, the quintessential dilemma “what’s worse for you, ‘X’ or ‘Y’” emerges, and usually ends in a vociferous debate between the pot and cigarette smoking camps. Yet, last Thursday, as I attempted to relinquish the weight of the week in front of the television screen, it suddenly hit me that there existed something far more poisonous to humanity than the occasional hit of weed, casual puff of cigarette or friendly fix of heroin (wait . . . scratch that last part): the VMAs. Like most people, I don’t particularly have high hopes for such low points in American pop culture; after all, it can’t get more inane than awards shows. Yet the VMAs struck a nerve, mostly because it attempted to elicit laughs in a manner that seriously compromised any sense of wittiness/ intelligence that any viewer might have possessed (even the I-called-in-and-voted-50-times-for-Taylor-Hicks girl from Idaho who watches these things professionally). Case in point, the sketch comedy shtick at the start of the show, when Justin Timberlake steps out of a shower, runs into a moonman-clad Jack Black who then proceeds to strip down into an Elvis costume, burst out in song and introduce Montel Williams (how the hell is this funny, and don’t you tell me, “you had to just be there, bro”).
I could go on and keep rambling about the VMAs, but considering that this would probably bore you, here is a compilation of some stuff that is about to drop that won’t suck.
Paolo Nutini — The Live Sessions
Who does the marketing for these UK acts anyway? 19 year-old Paolo is the frontman for this soulful Scottish four-piece, whose show selling ability throughout the UK rivals that of fellow underage Anglophiles the Arctic Monkeys. From the groovy guitars of “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty” to the delicate vocal crooning of “White Lies,” Paolo could prove to have the musical arsenal to blow up right here on the States. Be sure to catch him on David Letterman on September 11 (it will be much more enriching than watching an awards show, I promise).
TV On The Radio-Return to Cookie Mountain (September 12)
Yes, I know the title sounds like some PBS show circa 1992 that got cut in favor of Barney. Regardless of the title, to the dismay of many others and myself, the highly anticipated expansive project from this Brooklyn foursome has been out in the UK for two freakin’ months. Nevertheless, David Bowie’s homeboys have certainly proven that Cookie Mountain will be well worth the wait in the States. The follow up to 2003’s DesperateYouth, Bloodthirsty Babes takes the band to a multidimensional level rarely reached by other electro-prog acts. The first single, “Wolf Like Me” is upbeat and catchy, while simultaneously retaining the feeling that it was recorded in a basement; the more airy “Province” features the band harmonizing against a backdrop of bell-like piano chords, and could be the most memorable number on the record.
The Whitest Boy Alive — Dreams
Unlike the name of the group suggests, and (very) fortunately for those of us not still engrossed in the early ’90s, this is not some Vanilla Ice revival group. On the contrary, The Whitest Boy alive is the brainchild of Norwegian folkstar Erland Oye (who is actually whiter than that kid from Long Island that thought he could get signed to Ruff Ryders — just look at his glasses if you don’t believe me). The album Oye’s side project feels like a de-electrified version of his former group, Kings of Convenience: melodies are warm, bass lines are funky and the mood pleasant and comforting — just like a Norwegian disco should. Highlights on the album include “Borders,” “Burning” and “Done With You.”