John Mayer seems to be at his zenith right now. On the heels of his Battle Studies (Columbia) album, he will be playing two nights at Madison Square Garden on February 25th and 26th. His new album is easily his most popular album in some time. Don’t waste your time reading the tabloid stories about Mayer’s private life. He continues to get better as an artist and proves again and again to be more than a precocious child prodigy. There is not another triple threat as lethal as Mayer in music today given his unique vocal style, ability as a songwriter and of course dazzling guitar work.
We’ve been covering a lot of singer-songwriters lately, given the wealth of good ones around, so how about giving some of the great bands on the scene right now their due? The Flaming Lips are back with a very adventurous new album Embryonic (Warner Bros.). The Lips have come up with an even more atmospheric and rhythmically terse recording than on previous releases. Their music continues to evolve into a sound that would best be described as the soundtrack to the apocalypse filmed in the deepest corner of a cold, forbidding universe. While the Lips have only gotten more edgy, Pearl Jam is downright loveable on its latest album, Back Spacer, its first for its own Monkey Wrench label. They certainly haven’t become a pop band, but with the help of producer Brendan O’Brien, the group has come up with its best collection of songs to date. The Low Anthem has really created a stir with its latest album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (Nonesuch). The bands moves from rustic and sparse sounds that recall Fleet Foxes, the Avett Brothers and The Band to more dissonant and raucous instrumentation and vocals. This is clearly a band to watch for. Five For Fighting is back with another blockbuster album, Slice (Aware/Columbia). Like The Fray, Five For Fighting has the ability to make great, melodic music that reaches a large audience without sacrificing quality. There is also a hint of the vocal and keyboard approach of Bruce Hornsby, but ultimately the band has a sound all its own. Its latest is just a monster success. Train is also a band that seems to be able to write memorable, hooky songs, without ever pandering to pop trends, as evidenced by its latest Save Me, San Francisco (Columbia). This new album is a real rocking effort and is no doubt material that will really take off live. Yo La Tango was indie rock before the phrase was ever invented. Led by the husband and wife team of Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan, these Hoboken denizens have been making wonderful, grossly under-rated albums for years. Their subtle sound moves from understated concise pop to jam-like instrumentals on their latest Popular Songs (Matador), ironically their most popular album to date. One of the most influential bands in the last 15 years, Yo La Tango will continue on long after the next trend evaporates on your video screen. Weezer has had great success with its recent album Raditude (Interscope), but it also suffered a major setback with the injury of lead singer Rivers Cuomo in a bus accident, which forced the band to cancel some key December dates. Oddly enough, the band is ending its tenure with Interscope, but will soon release a collection of rarities. Death Cab For Cutie has released a five-song EP entitled The Open Door (Atlantic). “Little Bribes” has been receiving steady airplay for months and fans will have to own this release since it includes a demo of “Talking Bird.”