Victorious Cast featuring Victoria Justice—”I Want You Back”
This is pure karaoke—the only thing that sounds different from the original is the vocals—but it’s a world away from Glee or the worst of American Idol. Still, it’s a well-crafted curiosity and nothing more. It helps that Justice doesn’t try to do Michael Jackson. More and more, in fact, she reminds me of Katrina Leskanich. I await her version of “Walking On Sunshine”.
Darius Rucker—”I Got Nothin’”
After the warm and sleep-inducing paeans to family life on Rucker’s last album, the bleak desolation of this record comes as a surprise. What may be even more surprising is the way Rucker sings it: there isn’t a trace of country phrasing. If anything, he sounds like a grunge singer dabbling in a different genre (if you ever wanted to hear Eddie Vedder sing country, this may be as close as you get). Not a great record, but better than I would have expected.
David Nail—”Let It Rain”
One of the things that makes country so fascinating right now is the sense of growing stylistic openness; more and more it sounds as if they’re willing to try anything. This may be desperation in the face of imploding sales, but it may also have to do with the broadening of the country audience not just beyond the south (which has been going on for decades), but from a rural and suburban base to one more urban. So now you get more traces of urban styles, even touches of hip-hop and urban soul, besides the obvious blues, southern rock, and easy-listening pop. This record, good but not great, features pumping organ as it’s rhythmic base, along with background vocals that suggest both black gospel and the sophistication of Fleetwood Mac, plus the unfortunately de rigueur power ballad climax (when is someone in country going to fight the loudness epidemic? they, of all genres, should be leading the charge). It doesn’t veer far from the basics, especially in the vocals, but it’s enough to make it sound fresh, and to make you wonder just where country is going to be a few years from now.
Skrillex—”Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”
The sound of an early-twenties DJ/producer with a love of not only techno but heavy metal, playing at fun and games in the studio (or on his laptop). In other words, nerd music, but with a twist. It’s no surprise when near the end the relatively unfiltered vocals sound as wimpy and wan as Death Cab for Cutie or Owl City, but Skrillex isn’t interested in emphasizing his sensitive side, he’s into creating alter egos that reflect multiple aspects of his personality, even the nasty ones that aren’t that pleasant to listen to. Right now the dichotomy is obvious, jarring, and somewhat off-putting; if he should ever manage a synthesis, though, he could be something.