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Musical je ne sais quoi: When you have Charlotte Gainsbourg and Beck teaming up to write an album, it better be good, and IRM doesn't disappoint. Taken from the French acronym for an MRI, Gainsbourg drew inspiration from her own MRIs following her water-skiing accident (and resulting hemorrhage) in 2007. As such, "Master's Hand" includes the lyrics "Paint my bones/ Drill my brain/ All full of holes" and the title track incorporates robotic, machine noise. Sounds dismal, but the overall affect is often beautiful and mysterious, sweeping strings paired with Gainsbourg's sexy, whispered sing-talking. And of course you have Beck and Gainsbourg's catchy duet "Heaven Can Wait." In a word: IRM is just cool.
Soulful healing: Ever since Corinne Bailey Rae's husband died of an accidental overdose nearly two years ago, the singer has been laying low. Now, she's back in a big way, delivering a rich, layered sophomore album titled The Sea, and surprise — it's actually eerily comforting and uplifting. "Love's on Its Way" conveys some of Rae's despair, but a nice build makes for a pretty, haunting track, and on "The Blackest Lily" she takes on a harder-edged sound. Both are excellent, but my favorite is "Paris Nights/New York Mornings" which feels happy-go-lucky and romantic (and makes me want to dance!) all at the same time.
One more release when you
Childlike wonder: Following their 2008 release Distortion, The Magnetic Fields, led by frontman Stephin Merritt, are taking the opposite approach with the more stripped-down Realism. It's the sort of hipster-approved album you might hear in a Michael Cera movie: quirky, banjo-strumming tunes that at times feel cutesy, e.g. "We Are Having a Hootenanny" which, in addition to having an awesome title, sounds like a kid's singalong at Summer camp. Also worth checking out: the music-box-like ballad "Interlude" and "You Must Be Out of Your Mind," which is simple and upbeat, despite a darker warning of the pains of growing up.