Sounds like: John Lennon meets Billy Corgan on a Travis disc
Short take: First album's a charm
Everyone seems to sound at least a little like the Beatles, but former Grandaddy guitarist Jim Fairchild writes some dead ringers that somehow still maintain originality. As All Smiles, he plays all the instruments (save drums) with cameo performances by Modest Mouse, Menomena and Sleater-Kinney, as well as Great Northern's drummers. And why he wasn't tapped for vocals a decade ago remains a mystery; his voice and lyrical style trumps the album's instrumental work, which is largely sleepy and downbeat in a daydream kind of way. Propelled by beautifully resonant tracks like "Backward, Forward, Through," Fairchild could very well emerge as another Jeff Buckley or Elliott Smith in coming years. He's had the lungs; now he's got the breakout album. Matthew Schniper
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Sounds like: Pre-glum Blur exhumed
Short take: Pouting wiseacre turns blithe with age
With age usually comes some apathy or at least detachment, as youthful vitriol becomes drowned in shrugged shoulders and yawns. But Jarvis Cocker, the snide leader behind the seminal Brit-rockers Pulp, has never been one to follow the trends. After 20-some years of grouchy pouting, he's reversed the tracks and released his most upbeat album yet, an eponymous solo debut. It works wonders: His knack for songwriting carries through even as he has his first good time, snarkily chiding "Fat Children" or sampling Tommy James' "Crimson and Clover" on "Black Magic." Even the slower songs, such as "Baby's Coming Back to Me," are more smile-inducing than anything. Cocker is taking all of life's grief in sprightly stride here. Matt Martin
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The Academy Is...
Fueled By Ramen / Atlantic font>
Sounds like: The flavor of the week
Short take: Catchy? Yes. Forgettable? Yes.
Unlike their Fueled By Ramen labelmates (Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco and Gym Class Heroes), The Academy Is... creates a sound that connects to the roots of rock more than to other, more out-there genres. That means you get tracks that are far less eccentric than their contemporaries'. The music made by The Academy Is... (ellipsis and all) is quite catchy at least five of the 11 tracks on Santi are sing-along-able, including the first single, "We've Got a Big Mess On Our Hands." Unfortunately, that's about as far as it goes. The rock- mixed-with-pop sound makes The Academy Is... incredibly palatable for the young high-school set. They'll swoon for these Chicagoans. And they'll forget about them by the time they hit 18. Pete Freedman