Test Spin: Thao Nguyen

Every detail composing We Brave Bee Stings and All, situates the singer Thao Nguyen as the perfect Juno MacGuff doppelganger. Thao’s androgynous voice stands in for Juno’s ballsy but completely female attitude.

Also shared is that pithy and kinda witty language: Juno said, “Hi, I’m calling to procure a hasty abortion …” and “They call me the cautionary whale.” Thao sings, “As sharp as I sting / It still soothes you, doesn’t it?” And then, “We don’t dive / We cannonball.” In the end, Thao relishes in the same aesthetic as the hit movie Juno: Animated and spunky and a little bit predictable. But there’s undeniable appeal in magically recognizing a tune at first listen.

Quirky Aussie Not Short on Soul

Dap, duh-doom, dapping drums; tap, tip, tapping tambourine; and then, “Pick me up in your arms / Carry me away from harm,” sings the Australian vocalist Sia on “Day Too Soon,” the first single from her recently released solo-album Some People Have Real Problems, which is now shrink-wrapped and available for your convenience at Starbucks.

She continues, “You’re never gonna put me down / I know you’re just one good man / You’ll tire before we see land.” The band mimics the cadence of this imagined boat swaying at sea. Chip, chuck, chipping cymbals and slowly slithering synth simmer and, finally, voices ascend in a chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs.”

Beat of the Week (2-19-08)

It’s slightly heartbreaking that drama-geek heroes Panic! At The Disco have morphed into a carbon copy of those band-geek heroes Polyphonic Spree with their glorious new single “Nine in the Afternoon.” I long for the good old days when boys could be girls: wear pasty white mascara, black-eye liner and a corset, and prance around a music video fashioned like some Victorian nightmare-cum-Carnivale masquerade. This is, if not a sin, then certainly a tragedy.

Test Spins: Draw the Curtain

Will Hoge begins Draw the Curtains with the lyrics, “Two years, three months and five days.” But Hoge begins the album by singing, “Two years, three months and five day-ay-zzzz-ahh-ha!” It’s that annoying affect of affliction that too many “soulful” singers suffer from: the heightened breathy type of whiny-whimpery-crying groan thing. It’s supposed to be a little flare, like frosting on a cake, stressing the artist’s emotion. Michelle Branch suffers from the same disease when she sings, “Turn it inside out so I can see-ee-eugh-ya-ah.”

Off the Beaten Path

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Sponge Bob Square Pants, of course — and his pet snail Gary, who oddly purrs like a cat. Other eccentrics living down there include a squid in a collared shirt, a crab that sells hamburgers and a Texan squirrel in a scuba diving suit. Although this motley mix of characters is unequivocally charming, even the most peculiar aspects of this famed cartoon have become commonplace, thanks in large part to the commercialization of the show and the fortification of the Sponge Bob Empire (shadowed only by the Nickelodeon Universe).

27 Blehs

For better or for worse, 27 Dresses struts down the narrow aisle between romantic comedy cliché and romantic comedy, well, romance and comedy. At its best, the film is genuinely sweet, somewhat subtle and kind of funny. At worst, it feels not dissimilar from the 27 other films — like the 27 other weddings — in this generally archetypal genre.

Record Review: Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell’s songs are straightforward and simple. He’s a country-rocker-cum-singer/songwriter whose lyrics paint clear images. But we all know that in order to be taken seriously, your metaphors need to be oblique and your emotions need to be obscured. Take Wilco: loved by critics, yet their lyrics make no sense: “I am an American aquarium drinker/ I assassin down the avenue.” Unfortunately, a clear alternative is equally as grim. Take, say, Tim McGraw: “I had a barbeque stain on my white t-shirt/ She was killing me in that mini-skirt” — Yikes!

Legends, Zombies and No One Around

In the first episode of the Twilight Zone, “Where Is Everybody?” (1959), a lost man finds himself in a town completely without humans. The mundane objects and places that compose the town — an ice cream parlor, a police station, a phone booth and a mannequin — become weird, creepy and even frightening in this environment without people. The man eventually loses his mind from the solitude.

Legends, Zombies and No One Around

In the first episode of the Twilight Zone, “Where Is Everybody?” (1959), a lost man finds himself in a town completely without humans. The mundane objects and places that compose the town — an ice cream parlor, a police station, a phone booth and a mannequin — become weird, creepy and even frightening in this environment without people. The man eventually loses his mind from the solitude.

Record Review: Magnet

Sure, Paul Simon had to make Graceland, Nick Drake had to sing breathy, Andrew Bird had to whistle and Rufus Wainwright had to croon in vibrato for this record to be made. But Magnet is not so simply an equal division of these parts. Magnet — really just Even Johansen — loves exotic rhythm (Simon), hyper-mellow singing (Drake), whistling and crooning. He also digs spacey sounds and slithering melodies. What results is The Simple Life. No, actually, just a simple life: a sugary and dreamy reverie. Yet because of all the goodness, Johansen makes even Conor Oberst seem like a badass. Luckily, the heavy rhythm — often synthesized and pulsing — gives the album an edge. The Simple Life is Magnet more revved up, leaving less empty space than before.