Album: A New Tide (ATO Records)
In stores: Now
Why we care: Ben Ottewell might be the best singer on the planet. His voice is sad but gruff, like an indie kid sent to work in the mines for the summer. I've often said Ottewell would make the perfect voice for a Disney character, perhaps Eeyore's three-legged cousin Stumpy. Ottewell's pronounced brokenness is even more apparent on A New Tide, the sixth album from U.K. rock royalty Gomez. Winners of the coveted Mercury Prize in 1998, the blokes promised a return to the fractured melodies of their early work, and they deliver just that, 11 complex cuts ranging from jam-band trippery to ornate love songs with deceptive edges. Ottewell splits vocal duties with Ian Ball and Tom Gray, but as with most Gomez albums, you can't wait for Ben's next turn.
Why we like it: Gomez frames everything in a drum-circle clambake scrum. But for all the unpluggery, they sneak in offbeat Stax keyboards (If I Ask You Nicely), greasy slide guitar (the first half of Win Park Slope) and ominous violin mixed with trip-hop beats (the second half of Win Park Slope). Gomez wants to keep you guessing; on the acid-jazz breakdown of Sunset Gates, they futz around too much, snuffing a perfectly good buzz. Ball's songs are deceptively catchy, and Gray is considered the leader. But Ottewell is the ringer, especially on Natural Reaction, which is up there among his best. Over Jim Croce plucks, Ottewell laments: "The photographs don't lie / We can't be alone." With the help of producer Brian Deck (Foo Fighters, Counting Crows), Ottewell makes his songs both intimate and epic, perfect for mix tapes or the end credits of a Cameron Crowe movie. Oh, and for all you parents: Ottewell has twin boys and often sings his songs to coerce the tots into sleepytime.
Reminds us of: Gomez's best cut is 1999's bittersweet heart-stabber We Haven't Turned Around. Ottewell repeats, "So you wanna spin the world around?" and each time the effect is complete Kleenexian swoon. The band's top-selling song on iTunes is 2006's See the World, another Ottewell gem. Check 'em out.
Download these: Bone Tired, Natural Reaction and Very Strange
Album: Kingdom of Rust (EMI)
In stores: Tuesday
Why we care: When mad-popular U.K. trio Doves sat down to pen their fourth album, the new Kingdom of Rust, they had a great dorky vision, the kind of slobbery fanboy fantasy that drives sci-fi conventions and long dateless nights. Singer Jimi Goodwin and brothers Jez (guitar) and Andy Williams (drums) wanted to write a song for the end credits of 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner. The result is the buzzing, strobing Jetstream, a dreamlike synth-pounder about "carbon seas, cast adrift on a trouble dream." Yeah, I have NO idea. But it's a sublime head-spinner for both humans and replicants, and it sucks you in like a vacuum, refusing to let go. The silly movie game was supposed to end there, but the rest of Kingdom of Rust pretty much follows that future-shock theme, Goodwin's acrobatic vocal plea searching out the real in the unreal.
Why we like it: When Doves released debut disc Lost Souls in 2000, they were primarily a noise-pop band in love with gauzy fields of mellow and modern psychedelia. Follow-up albums The Last Broadcast and Some Cities were decidedly more regimented, big, booming — and pretty darn awesome — attempts at arena-rock reign. Doves never became worldwide stars a la Coldplay — or even Travis. And maybe that's why Kingdom of Rust is a return to that early abstractionism, with all those pretty parts spread randomly across the floor like a toddler's colorful puzzle pieces. It's not as tasty, but it's still pretty good. On Compulsion, they mix Martian breezes with a disco beat. Sweet!
Reminds us of: Back in 2000, I saw Doves at the Metro club in Chicago. It was like rocking out in a cocoon of cotton. Sleepy, weird, cool.
Download these: Jetstream and Spellbound