Robyn's self-titled disc comes with a backstory that nearly matches that of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: Former Swedish pop tart, once a major-label artist, independently records and releases a CD, which takes three years to make its stateside debut. Thanks to tracks being touted on mp3 blogs since 2005, the disc is now being distributed by -- you guessed it -- a major label. More important, Robyn is a near-flawless pop gem.
Formerly seen as the Britney Spears of Europe, Robyn had lightweight international hits a decade ago -- such as 1997's "Show Me Love," which cracked the U.S. Top 10. But the woman born Robin Miriam Carlsson in 1979 wanted to break free of the Lolita role and take the sophomoric R&B dictated by her label in a more mature, electronica-oriented direction. In order to do so, Robyn bought herself out of her Sony BMG contract, formed Konichiwa Records and -- with the help of Swedish electronic duo The Knife and the rock band Teddybears -- made this excellent self-titled album. The disc, mostly featuring songs cowritten by Robyn, shows just how gripping dance-pop can be when freed from lowest-common-denominator record label logic.
Robyn brims with intelligent, sassy and sensitive lyrics delivered in a spellbindingly expressive voice that's alternately assured and vulnerable. The production melds vibrant electronic beats with live instrumentation, resulting in a progressive club vibe that even an indie die-hard could appreciate. For instance, songs don't get much more simultaneously catchy and poignant than "Be Mine," a synth-and-strings breakup ballad replete with an adorable spoken-word bridge.
Self-released by Robyn in 2005, the disc finally hit U.S. shelves several weeks ago, with Interscope getting behind it -- something Sony should've had the good sense to do back in '03, when its little starlet first voiced plans to take her music down a bold new path. 4 stars --Wade Tatangelo
The Ed Mitchell Clinic
On their outstanding full-length debut, the Tucson trio Mostly Bears own a dense, swirling wall of sound on par with early Modest Mouse and The Mars Volta. "The Digital Divide" begins as auspiciously as the first release from another band they've been compared to: The Arcade Fire. It's a tight, frenzied opener that verges on veering off the tracks at any moment, with Brian Lopez's angsty vocals eerily akin to Fire's Win Butler. Clinic never lets up: "Leda Atomica" is pure acoustic-pop bliss, while "Melancholyism" and "Your Smile Decorates the Afternoon" drift into heady, haunting prog-rock, with crescendos of thumping drums, guitar and bass capped by Lopez's yowling falsetto. But while Volta doesn't know when to rein it in, Bears take things down a notch, even with the occasional cello and organ flourish. One of the year's best albums thus far, and among the top indie bows of the past decade. 4.5 stars --Amanda Schurr
Everywhere at Once
For his fourth solo full-length and Anti- Records debut, San Francisco Bay area MC/producer Lyrics Born (who attended Plant High in Tampa) trots out his hot funk band for a fresh batch of largely organic hip-hop and soul that recalls the work Cee-Lo Green has been doing in recent years. In fact, Everywhere at Once's delectably twisted party stomp "I'm a Phreak" has more in common than just a title with Green's 2002 hit "Closet Freak." That's not to say Lyrics Born's latest should be dismissed as derivative. The Tokyo-born, Japanese- and Italian-American rapper has plenty to say, doing so in a sing-song flow that's like a cross between Green's gritty croon and Tone Loc's thick spitting of yesteryear. As for subject matter, Lyrics Born runs the gamut. He successfully champions self-confidence ("Don't Change"), humorously examines the battle of the sexes ("Difference") and gets political on the gleefully sarcastic handclap ditty "Do U Buy It?". On "Whispers," Lyrics Born offers a tender, chills-inducing eulogy for a deceased friend and mentor over subdued bass and simmering horns; it ranks as one of the more haunting rap numbers of recent memory. Granted, Everywhere at Once broadcasts Lyrics Born's influences, but the execution is mostly top-shelf, with only a few tracks sounding flabby -- including the pair of skits, a time-honored rap practice that needs to be retired. 3.5 stars --WT
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