Face the Truth
Stephen Malkmus' third and strongest post-Pavement record suggests the indie icon is the kind of adult that Holden Caufield would have grown up to be had J.D. Salinger penned The Catcher in the Rye II — still too smart for his own good, more sickened than ever by our two-faced lives and unable to shut up about it. The title certainly suggests a corollary, and there is more than one moment when Malkmus' engaging lyrics sound cribbed straight from Holden's mouth — for instance, in the scathing "Post-Paint Boy," Malkmus sings of being "fed up with hypocrisy." As for the music, it may be mostly the standard Malkmus formulas — the gorgeous twang of "Freeze the Saints," the Middle-Eastern-flavored "I've Hardly Been," the irresistible summer pop of "Mama," etc. — only here the hooks seem bigger, the lyrics even more pointed and the overall musicianship tighter. Malkmus shares Holden's hyperactive bullshit detector, and for that alone we should be grateful. After all, Holden hasn't had much to say in a while.
Track to burn: "Post-Paint Boy"
Fountains of Wayne
Sure, it's a compilation of leftovers from the past decade; two of the 30 tracks are actually talk-radio bits and three more are holiday novelties. Yet somehow it works. That's because the remaining 25 songs offer a blend of goofy lyrics ("I'm headed for the sun/I'm going to become/A California sex lawyer"), jingle-worthy choruses, ear-candy guitar riffs and inspired covers (both Britney and Bacharach are represented). Band leaders Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger seem incapable of writing anything but the best kind of radio-friendly pop. They do so without devolving into the overbearing angst that drags down, say, Conor Oberst or Rivers Cuomo. Think Kurt Cobain on Zoloft. Okay, lots of Zoloft. Like a latter-day Cheap Trick, Fountains of Wayne blend pop with rock flourishes and come across as lovably cool nerds. Describing the live cover of Electric Light Orchestra's "Can't Get It Out Of My Head," Schlesinger writes in the liner notes, "It always sounds good to record live tracks in huge venues like the Jacksonville Coliseum. No one needs to know that we were the opening act and that all those people were really there to see the Smashing Pumpkins." Many bands would kill for the delectable discards here, such as the breezy "She's Got a Problem" and leadoff single "Maureen." Biggest surprise? A Gene Pitney cover, "Today's Teardrops," that soars with sublime, strumming-on-the-farm, pedal-steel glory. Just like "Stacy's Mom," Fountains of Wayne have got it goin' on.
Track to burn: "... Baby One More Time"
Considering that Kiran Ahluwalia grew up in Canada, her warm renditions of ghazals and Punjabi folk songs sound as natural as if she had been reared in India. Her love for the music of northern India drew her back to her ancestral lands. She spent several years in India studying classical music, visiting villages in Punjab to learn the traditional music and eventually meeting ghazal composer Vithal Rao to study with him. Ghazals are sung poetry that traveled from Persia (Iran) to India about six centuries ago and have become a part of South Asian music. Her voice isn't forced when she sings in Punjabi and the accompaniment of harmonium, guitar, sarangi and tabla on this recording of mostly original compositions will please traditionalists. Even guest Natalie MacMaster's Celtic fiddle sounds natural in the mix. Nothing here is glossy or over-produced, and the only track in which Ahluwalia stumbles is "Awara," which begs for a male voice. But you have to give her credit for infusing fresh, feminine energy into this traditional track.
Track to burn: "Vo Kuch"
Rating: -Samir Shukla