File under “P”

Why does it surprise me how much attention the new disc from Omara Portuondo, Gracias (World Village), is getting in the press? The septuagenarian songstress certainly deserves it, but her association with the Buena Vista Social Club might lead you to guess fickle tastemakers would deem her last decade’s news. Happily, lights are shining on the Cuban’s new international affair, a disc made with Brazilian producers and sidemen from India and Israel, in addition to Cuba. It may offer a mix of styles, but it never feels like an overreaching hybrid. The songs tend toward the intimately melancholy, and Portuondo never sounds anywhere near her age.

I may show my age, but this month’s Pavement reissue excited me more than most things this month, particularly the second-disc bonus goodies including a weirdo Space Ghost theme and a just-quirky-enough version of one of my favorite Echo and the Bunnymen tunes. The Bunnymen don’t get covered on 1-12 By the Numbers (Unfiltered), a new all-covers album by the Postmarks, but plenty of their contemporaries — the Cure, Ride, and the Jesus and Mary Chain — do. The Cure track, “Six Different Ways,” may be the album’s sole undiluted disappointment: The original’s rhythmic quirkiness and vocal unpredictability get straightened out and dosed heavily with Ambien, and I dare you to listen all the way through without losing focus. To be fair, sleepytime sounds often constitute the group’s charm, with Tim Yehezkely’s (Tim’s a gal, by the way) sleepy whisper drawing listeners into finely crafted pop arrangements. But elsewhere, the group’s loungey or coy takes on source material fit great, both when expected (“One Note Samba”) and otherwise (the Pointer Sisters’ Sesame Street counting song?).

I think someone has stolen my copy of Plastilina Mosh’s All U Need Is Mosh (Nacional Records), but while that causes me distress, for this purpose it hardly matters: After the number of spins I’ve given it, I could not only sing you the entirety of “My Party,” but I could draw up a pretty good bit of choreography for it, too. (Don’t ask me to dance it, though.) The Monterrey, Mexico, band’s witty, buoyant party track, which claims everybody from Sting to Paris Hilton wants to be invited and makes you believe it, isn’t the only great song on All U Need. I dig the testimonial to everyone’s favorite scar-faced badass on “Danny Trejo” and the “you better call me” assertions of “Toll Free.”

Takka Takka wouldn’t get filed under “P” in any sane record store. But any eccentric retailer who had a “Pop Polyrhythmic Pleasure” section would shelve them there. The Brooklyn band’s Migration (Ernest Jenning) demonstrates enough awareness of African roots music to earn them a place among this generation of Talking Heads descendants, but doesn’t make too much of it, cooking those ingredients and many others (including modern American folk) over a low flame until they reduce into a trancelike post-rock accompaniment for singer Gabe Levine’s unassuming but distinctive voice.

While I’m cheating on this “P” theme with “polyrhythm,” I’ll slip in one more before I quit: “Party.” Some time back I discovered SingStar, the karaoke game for PlayStation that nails some of my issues with both karaoke and today’s music-based videogames: It lets you sing along with the original instrumental tracks of a given song, instead of hack covers (while the song’s actual video plays, no less), and the game component works in such a way that — Guitar Hero fans may be baffled by this idea — you actually can become more musically competent as you play.

My only complaint has been the tiny number of songs available, and there’s no way I’m buying a PS3 just so I can download tracks off the web. Happily, this fall Sony released a single-artist disc made with full (eager, in fact) cooperation of the band. SingStar ABBA lets you get your Mamma Mia on with 20 guilty-pleasure originals. Also encouraging is another recent title, Legends, full of songs with a substantially longer shelf life than the forgettable pop that has sometimes infiltrated early releases. If I’m lucky, these will succeed well enough to lead to sequels, because my living-room get-togethers could use new material. •


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