More recent listening:
Aimee Mann, The Forgotten Arm - Disappointing. Mann generally writes lovely, lilting melodies with acceptably depressive (if rarely profound) lyrics, but at least half of the joy is in the arrangements - those of the ever-ingenious Jon Brion, but also those of Mann herself, who can easily measure up in the ingenuity stakes. The songs on the Magnolia soundtrack are simple, but nearly unplayable live: the instrumentation is unassumingly complex. Pity, then, that Mann suddenly developed an urge to simplify: she says in press releases that she wanted to get back to basics, which means that this is a boring, ready-for-NPR slog of undistinguished 70s roots-rock. Practically every song ends with an organ fading out and features the exact same instrumental line-up. Opener "Dear John" uses the formula well, bu this is a boring genre, and Mann's songs aren't nearly exciting or ingenious enough to transcend the arrangements. The gems you may want to download (because Mann is far too talented a craftsman to completely flop) are single "Going Through The Motions" and the lovely "She Really Wants You." Oh, and the conceptual framework that makes this something of a rock opera is boring and underwhelming - Mann's lyrics can't carry it through - and it's a pathetic excuse to make the music 70s-ish just because that's the era the characters live through. The 70s were not this monotoned and boring, even in the mainstream - Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything? is the single (OK, double-) album refutation of that: you can be totally of the era without sticking to one sound.
Teenage Fanclub, Man-Made - not much to say. I was familiar only with the guitar-heavy sounds of Bandwagonesque, and assumed the stripped-down string loveliness of recent singles I'd heard on compilations was an aberration, but apparently the Fanclub no longer drowns in guitars. So this is all pretty spare, and I kept expecting it to grow on me more than it did; I ended up cutting half of it, but it makes a lovely EP. These guys have grown into elegiac mode well, although you don't need too many of their songs. So who's gonna finally have the good sense to pair their songs with a Nick Hornby movie adaptation, where they arguably belong?
Roisin Murphy, Ruby Blue - in some ways, it's the Album Of The Year in a way that makes you want to champion it, the perfect meeting of sensibilities between a sultry female vocalist with, perhaps, not a whole lot on her mind, and a normally over-cerebral producer ridiculously dedicated to his craft. Everyone wins as they meet halfway, but it's still light dance music, and as such has little staying power past a few weeks. Still, there's more new, good ideas here than on most of 2005's releases combined, like the lovely, lilting bossa nova of "Through Time" that's increasingly undercut by tape haze and distorted vocals, or the R&B-but-slightly-off single "If We're In Love," whose chilly saxes are rhythmically right on, but sounds texturally a little anti-septic (in a good way). This is also available import-only, and as such knowing about it makes you look that much cooler, if you care about those things. Still, I've stoppped championing it as much as I did a few weeks ago because of its limited listening life. Recommended.