AIR When computer nerds need some slow jams for a night of virtual lovin', who might they turn to? Why, the most sensitive French duo ever to tickle a Moog synthesizer, Air. Probably best known for their amazing contribution to the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's "Virgin Suicides," they've released another wonderful collection of 10cc-meets-Kraftwerk nuggets, "Talkie Walkie" (Astralwerks). It's sure to make even the most macho programmers weep.
THE PIXIES Face it, the quiet/loud dynamic that's dominated alternative radio for the last 14 years can be attributed to one and only one band, the Pixies. Undoubtedly one of the most influential groups of the new rock generation, they are back on tour to reclaim their status as the coolest American band since, well, possibly ever. In the 12 years since the band broke up, we've been blessed with some incredible solo albums from the singer and guitarist Frank Black; the bassist Kim Deal has graced us with the Breeders and the Amps; the drummer David Lovering has become a magician; and the guitarist Joey Santiago, he's just bad (as in good). There is a new greatest-hits CD, a two-and-a-half-hour DVD (both on 4AD) and an 11-city tour kicking off next month. Not to be missed, the Pixies are a live band like no other. Be prepared for an over-capacity sing-along, night after night.
THE DARKNESS Show of hands: who here misses the days of extended guitar solos, striped leotards, falsetto vocals and songs demanding, "Get your hands off my woman"? Yeah, me too. The Darkness is here to put that hickey back on your neck, fire up the Camaro and party down at the nearest parking lot like it's 1979. Is the band for real? Yes. Does it rock? Yes. Is it hard to get around the multiple-octave range that Justin Hawkins is ripping in every song? Well, a little, but the band is gaining speed here in the States after selling more than a million copies of "Permission to Land" (Atlantic) in its native Britain. I'll take the Darkness over those whiny emo bands any day. At least they're getting chicks.
BRITNEY SPEARS Take it from me, the airplane videos get 'em every time. Long gone are the days of Britney's high school pep-rally dance routines. Proving once again that she will not be outdone when it comes to pop sleaze, she's back with "Toxic" (Jive), four minutes of "Showgirls" meets 007. Here, you get three flavors to choose from: Britney the blonde, Britney the brunette and Britney the redhead. Without being nasty enough to really cause a stir, she manages to make out with about 27 guys in the course of a few minutes, although it's hard to keep track, what with all the hair dye going on. Oh yeah, then there's the song. Kudos to the mad genius who finally wrote the musical equivalent of brainwash. Deprogram me, now, please.
MY MORNING JACKET "It Still Moves" (RCA) is the perfect soundtrack to a humid, Southern summer night. Drenched in reverb created in a grain silo, My Morning Jacket summons the lost spirit of classic Neil Young with its heartbreaking melodies. Not since Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis has a vocalist so purely captured the sweetness of a first crush the way Jim James does.
EAGLES OF DEATH METAL Wait a minute, I've heard of drummers becoming frontmen, but why would a frontman demote himself to being the slobbering idiot in the back that does nothing but pound on stuff with sticks? That's right, Josh Homme, lead vocalist of the greatest rock band in the world, Queens of the Stone Age, has taken the leap. This time, he's going to make you dance like a meth-head at a Cars concert. Quite possibly the catchiest party record to hit the shelves in the last 20 years, Eagles of Death Metal's debut, "Peace Love Death Metal" (Ant Acid Audio), is unadulterated, unabashed Ramones-driven boogie. Fronted by some dude with a mean mustache — Jesse (the Devil) Hughes — whom Josh grew up with in the desert, it gives new meaning to the word "weird." Drummers always have the most fun, anyway.
PARIS HILTON Her forthcoming singing debut: sign of the apocalypse or inevitable career move? Perhaps both. Either way, this baby's going to get some serious play on this D.J.'s deck — right alongside Divine's cover of "Name Game" and Steve Martin's "King Tut." Granted, I haven't heard it yet, but I'm looking forward to this like I look forward to the next Christopher Guest movie. And she's already made the video!
YEAH YEAH YEAHS Beautiful in its delicate simplicity, "Maps" may well be the song most likely to be played during couples skate at every roller rink across the nation this summer. Better than "Stairway to Heaven" when it comes to make-out music (I could never figure out what to do when the fast part kicked in), "Maps" is like the best cherry-lip-gloss kiss you never had.