For those of you who enjoy hearing about the new stuff that I'm hearing, here's what I've been hearing for the last month here.
The short version:
Zero 7—The Garden: 9/10
Conjure One—Extraordinary Ways: 9/10
Nelly Furtado—Loose: 9/10
I've been extremely impressed with Zero 7's The Garden. If you're familiar with Zero 7, you can just skip the rest of the mini-review; just buy the CD, and you'll love it. But, in case you didn't take my advice and are still reading, this CD is a little faster-paced than their previous two albums, and a little less light and ambient, but it's still the same great combination of styles: electronic, jazz, and pop. The great thing is that their music seems to appeal to people who don't normally consider themselves to like all of those genres; myself, I don't really tend to like too much jazz, but this CD is gold. It's quirky and fun, without being nearly so bizarre as some of the other music that I like and few others seem to.
I feel that a lot of people who liked The Postal Service's CD would probably like this too, even though the sound is quite different. This CD is a more personal, relaxed experience, as opposed to jarring, weird vocals on top of a beep-boop-beep 80s video game soundtrack with a hyperactive beat. The Garden is soulful, beautiful, and exciting. Check out my favorite tracks, This Fine Social Scene, Throw it All Away, You're My Flame, and the opening track Futures. This album probably has more mass appeal than most everything I've talked about recently; I think just about everyone could like it.
After Zero 7, I moved on to Conjure One's second CD Extraordinary Ways. Conjure One is the solo band of one of the guys from Delerium, and it sounds close enough to Delerium that it could basically just be considered another Delerium CD, in the same way that Imogen Heap's work under the name Imogen Heap is pretty much the same as that under the name Frou Frou. Anyway, while the first self-titled Conjure One album I'd recommend to anyone who liked Delerium's music, this one is a must-have for those people but also great for a wider audience. Conjure One is more of the "female guest vocals over sweeping electronic chill-out music" genre that I like. But, that's a big genre, and this is up at the top. It's extremely well-done, from the beginning to the end. Check this out if you like Delerium, Balligomingo, Paul Schwartz, or any of the other bajillion similar artists. You also may like it if you like Hooverphonic or Frou Frou / Imogen Heap.
For a lovely representative sample, check of I Believe, Pilgrimage, and Extraordinary Way. For previous Delerium and Conjure One fans, it's worth noting that this album is almost completely missing the "world music" sound of previous albums.
Finally, I've been listening to the third Nelly Furtado CD, Loose. All of her albums have been radio-friendly pop, but all three have different producers and styles. This one is the most dance-pop of them so far, and that's no accident; it's produced by Timbaland, and it's dangerously catchy as a result. But, the CD is not completely shallow dance music; Nelly brings her own Latiny style to every track, and it still explores several different sounds over the course of the CD. It's the kind of CD that you want to play again immediately after it finishes, and it contains my favorite song of the summer so far, a track I've played countless times already. It's probably the only thing I've listened to on the way to and from work for the past week or more, twice in each direction. This song is All Good Things (Come to an End), and it's amazing, emotional, beautiful, and a perfect end to the album, not just because of the title. It's classic Nelly Furtado.
The CD starts off in full-on dance pop mode, with tracks like her first single Promiscuous, then moves on to the Spanish tracks like Te Busque (English and Spanish included on the CD), and then after a bizarre trip into the 80s with Do It, slows down a bit until All Good Things at the end. The way the CD flows from track to track is close to perfect; despite covering so many different styles, it's not unsettling, and still feels like a single album. Highly recommended. I would have probably given it an 8 were it not for All Good Things, but I like the song so much that it raises the entire album up a point to a 9. :)
So, with three albums rated at 9/10, as well as Poe's Haunted and the self-titled Brazilian Girls CD from last month, I've been pretty entertained. Definitely give those CDs a listen.