Sound Advice 

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Scarlett Johansson Anywhere I Lay My Head
Sounds like: A swamp fairy returning home from a long circus stay

Short take: Johansson has immense musical talents ... around her

Scarlett Johansson, on her full-length singing debut, avoids being dismissed entirely by surrounding herself with unshakable legends Tom Waits (whose songs she's covering) and David Bowie (who can break your heart simply wailing harmonies), as well as credible musicians Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio. The one person whose name appears on the cover, Johansson, has a singing voice Sitek describes as like "Tinkerbell on cough syrup"; her baritone has limited range and almost no inflection. Waits' own voice isn't pretty, but he commands attention and conveys experience the very things Johansson does well on screen and doesn't do on this album. Sitek's production is the real headliner, painting a dreamy canvas on which the vocals are held at arm's length amid a palette of starry bells and ethereal keyboards. Kiernan Maletsky

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Mates of State Re-Arrange Us
Barsuk Records
Sounds like: Mates making an earnest pop statement

Short take: One for the glass-half-full crowd

An album wiser, Mates of State the wife-husband team consisting of Kori Gardner (keyboards, vocals) and Jason Hammel (drums, vocals) return with their fifth and most cohesively tuneful CD to date, Re-Arrange Us. While influenced by '60s pop, the act finally offers a new-millennium gem filled with catchy hooks ("Now") and smart songwriting ("The Re-Arranger"). Songs such as "My Only Offer," with its piano-driven melody and bubbly vocals ("I always wanted to be the face in front of me"), contain an earnest optimism that eschews any hint of marital-bliss schmaltz. The twosome saves the best for last with the album-ending, mid-tempo daydream "Lullaby Haze," a memorable, broken-hearted love song. Granted, indie pop in 2008 contains plenty of familiar landmarks, but Mates of State have managed to reach the point where they can rearrange their own boundaries without missing a step. John Benson


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