Listen To This

By SEAN DALY, Times pop music critic
Published May 13, 2007

Pink Martini

Album: Hey Eugene! Heinz

In stores: Tuesday

Why we care: Are they swingers? Loungers? Is she singing in Japanese? Arabic? French? Tell you what: Don't bother trying to figure out this 12-piece Portland, Ore., big band, one of pop's great mysteries. Just pour another Tahitian Lady, lace up your two-tones and let 'er rip.

Why we like it: Led by puckish bandleader Thomas Lauderdale and multilingual wonder China Forbes (who also happens to be our latest musical crush), Pink Martini is boozy, cheeky fun, blending and bending influences from cabaret to pop to sambafied Latin boogie.

Reminds us of: Clinking highball glasses and that mysterious brunet across the room. Go on. Make your move.

Download these: Tempo Perdido and Hey Eugene!

Grade: A



Album: Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)

In stores: Tuesday

Why we care: The gallons of critical drool slathered upon Wilco have always been indirectly proportional to the amount of people who care in the slightest about the Chicago band. Sorry, but it's true. That said, their sixth studio album turns out to be one of their more accessible: a dreamy, straightforward gallop through alt-country twilight.

Why we like it: Wilco's past musical abstractions, driven by Jeff Tweedy's emotional instability, were often unlistenable tinkerings of experimental malaise. But with guitar help from Nels Cline - and Tweedy's newfound 12-step acceptance ("Maybe the sun will shine today, " he sings rather brightly) - this makes for a sweet, mellow mood.

Reminds us of: Campfire songs for hipsters.

Download these: Impossible Germany and Sky Blue Sky

Grade: B



Album: The Reminder (Cherrytree/Interscope)

In stores: Now

Why we care: This Canadian indie fave (born Leslie Feist) started as a punker, a rocker and a constant presence on best-of lists in Rolling Stone and the New York Times. At 31 years old, she is now a pop-folker and a torch-crooner and another shoo-in for year-end huzzahs.

Why we like it: Feist sings as if she, too, is just discovering the power of her voice, which hovers between the preciousness of Sarah McLachlan and the sturdiness of Ani DiFranco. She likes to paint her spare but plucky songs with hard guitar lines or robotic burbles - just to make sure everyone's still paying attention.

Reminds us of: Norah Jones with brass knuckles.

Download these: 1234 and Brandy Alexander

Grade: B



Sufjan Stevens

Song: Free Man in Paris

Album: A Tribute to Joni Mitchell (Nonesuch)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Supposedly based on an overheard diatribe by music mogul David Geffen, who longed for his young days as a Parisian slouch, Mitchell's working-man's lament is reworked here by an indie kid with Next Big Thing stamped on his forehead.

Why we like it: Playing Wurlitzer, piano and electric guitar, Detroit's Stevens turns the song into a daydream fantasy, delivering the lines about 9-to-5 drudgery with a spacey whisper - and then cueing both a string section and a horn trio for the figurative romp "down the Champs-Elysees."

Reminds us of: When's the next flight to Charles de Gaulle?

Song grade: B+

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.