Albums of the Week

November 2-November 7

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In this edition: Willie Nile, Emperor X, Tom Waits and Real Estate.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Willie Nile: The Innocent Ones (River House)

Since his self-titled debut album in 1980 (one of the standouts of that decade), Willie Nile has lived close to the street, knocking out tales of survivors and failures, rough bitten romantics and dinged up rebels. While his career has been a topsy-turvy series of road bumps and missed opportunities, the work itself – that chugging, folk-inflected, very NYC stuff – has been pretty much dynamite. So, it comes as little surprise that Nile’s seventh studio album, The Innocent Ones (released October 24), is a master class in well-rooted rock. Heartbreak looking one in the eye, Nile and primary songwriting foil Frankie Lee offer us their insightful eyes, a gift that sees the crooked beauty in all the shuffling wrecks walking the sidewalks. Hope and resilience rise all over the album, balanced by Nile’s blacker observations on keepers like Topless Amateur and Rich And Broken. Underneath it all lays a belief in love paired with a pragmatic understanding of what sometimes needs to be done to get through the day. One Guitar works as a career-spanning manifesto for Nile, where he sings, “I’ve only got six strings but like a bell they ring/ It’s like a jet plane, insane crashin’ in my brain.” The man’s passion and conviction has been evident from the start, but what impresses is how he’s maintained them through more than 30 years of travails and is still producing music of this caliber. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Emperor X: Western Teleport (Bar None)

Machines speak and feel, debris falls, and the crazy interconnection of modern existence hums within Western Teleport (released October 4). With the twisted pop ingenuity and devil-may-care production of early Brian Eno or Todd Rundgren (or maybe it’s Aphex Twin if he wrote bedroom love songs…), Chad Matheny, the ferociously smart mind behind Emperor X, has constructed a twitchy contemporary jewel that’s immediately listenable and yet speaks in a language all its own. The subject matter and how the various elements interact on Western Teleport is unique. The center of each song is Matheny’s yearning voice and leaping guitar, but the layers and small complications make this a rich affair, a headphone record filled with chirps and sparking electric lines. What’s happening on each track is tough to state in clear way, and that’s said as a compliment. For music so catchy this set refuses easy explication, dropping the listener into “a shocking, priceless wasteland” and letting us fend for ourselves as Matheny sketches scenes real and imagined that speak with fiery breath. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Thomas Dolby: A Map of the Floating City (Lost Toy People)

Though he may be generally tagged as a one hit wonder from the 80s by the public at large, Thomas Dolby’s role in the pop universe goes far beyond any kind of kitschy cultural box the suits at VH-1 try to keep him inside. And on his first full-length album in 20 years, the uncanny Englishman returns after a sonic sabbatical that saw him spend his down time in Silicon Valley pioneering the ringtone with his best album since his terribly underrated 1984 effort The Flat Earth. Comprised of three separately released EPs, A Map of the Floating City (released October 25) serves as a concept album of sorts revolving around a trio of imagined continents that showcases a diverse range of flavors that gives old fans and newbies alike a good idea of just how versatile Dolby is as a both songwriter and producer. The first third of the set, Urbanoia, is highlighted by the artist’s excursions into the realms of such wild sounds as the quirky world funk of Spice Train, a number highly reminiscent of Naked-era Talking Heads given its original implications as a collaborative piece with David Byrne, and the XTC-gone-King of Limbs electronic pop of There’s Nothing New Under The Sun. Amerikana, meanwhile, finds Thomas dabbling in the style of music suggested by its subtitle, buoyed by the LP’s finest track, a rustic collaboration with Mark Knopfler and Natalie MacMaster called 17 Hills that could have been an outtake from the Dire Straits guitar legend’s 2000 solo masterpiece Sailing to Philadelphia. The final chapter of this trilogy, Oceanea, sees Dolby returning to his roots in classic Brit-pop quaintness on tracks like Simone and the haunting title track that recall the quieter moments of his work with Prefab Sprout on their 1985 album Steve McQueen. A Map of the Floating City is a phenomenal return from one of New Wave’s most misunderstood masters that shows just how deep his artistry as a crafter of pop music goes once you get past the stigma of She Blinded Me With Science. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Real Estate: Days (Domino)

When you drive through the North Jersey town of Ridgewood, the idea of bumping into the likes of Caroline Manzo from The Real Housewives of New Jersey seems more probable than the realization that you are rolling through the stomping grounds of one of the hottest bands in indie rock at the moment. But the next time you are in the area – you might stop through for a little breakfast at the famous Pancake House on Ridgewood Ave. – chances are you may have very well be dining beside the members of Real Estate, a group who in its short four year existence has become the toast of the blogosphere with its surf-inspired spin on the chillwave craze. For Days (released October 18), their sophomore set and first title on the Domino label, Real Estate traveled about an hour and change along the New York State Thruway to beautiful, historic New Paltz, NY, where they linked up with producer extraordinaire Kevin McMahon (Titus Andronicus, Ha Ha Tonka) at his barn-turned-studio Marcata, where they tightened up the loose ends of the sound they created for themselves on their Atlantic City Expressway EP and their eponymous full-length debut on Woodsist. And when polished up all professional in one of America’s finest recording abodes, songs like Easy, Municipality and Younger Than Yesterday (no relation to the Byrds LP of the same name) reveal the quartet to be a mighty fine jangle pop group who knows their Guadalcanal Diary as intrinsically as they do their late-period Pavement. In the case of these Days, your best bet is to believe the hype. (RH)