Bullying the Jukebox 

Ryan Bradford knows what’s best for your musically starved children.

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Dear Mom and Dad,

I know music isn’t your thing; increasingly confusing band names (Clap your hands and say what?) and know-it-all record stores aren’t much help, either. In spite of all these obstacles, it may seem easier to just get me an iTunes gift card. Hell, I may ask for one, but please, do not heed my requests!

You see, despite the convenience of digital downloads, they’re turning music into one sanguine, indistinguishable hit-single-filled landscape. Do you really think I’m going to develop a rich appreciation of music if attaining it only means a couple frivolous mouse-clicks?

Below is a list of albums (yes, albums) that I’d like, even if I say I don’t.

Love …

A. Your punky progeny—Alkaline Trio’s new album Agony and Irony sounds incredibly polished compared to their abrasive early albums, but this major label outing is actually their most focused since From Here to Infirmary. Sure, the anthems are big, but the lyrics still bite like no other band on the radio. Case in point: the album’s first single “Help Me” is actually a touching tribute to Joy Division’s late singer, Ian Curtis. Nothing “sell-out” ’bout that.

Pretentious Alternative: F—ked Up uses diverse instrumentation to create a rich landscape on their hard hitting Chemistry of Common Life. Sick of It All’s gargling-nails vocals will destroy you before you can even say “there’s nothing punk about a flute.”

B. Your generic, easily offended son/daughter—There’s actually nothing wrong with being a generic rock band, and it’s much better to be solid—albeit slightly generic—than forgettable. Coldplay is an easy band to make fun of (despite singer Chris Martin’s attempts to crossover into hip territory via Kanye West), but you have to give the band credit for their expansive new album Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, which replaces piano-infused moping with Latin/gospel-infused moping.

Pretentious Alternative: Just like Foo Fighters, Snow Patrol have the power to disguise generic rock as something much more exciting. Ever since they broke out in the United States, they’ve scored a string of solid hits (including 2006’s “Hands Open,” which name-dropped Sufjan Stevens[!?]). A Hundred Million Suns is their new album and it’s safe to assume this safe band will deliver the same pleasant goods.

C. Your club-banger offspring—After the success of last year’s single “Time to Pretend,” MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular has become one of this year’s biggest phenoms. Although the album is a little misleading (only half the songs are dance tracks … or good, for that matter), there’s no denying the catchiness of “Electric Feel” or “Kids,” two tracks that make you want to throw on some ironic white denim and shake it.

Pretentious Alternative: How did mash-up artist Girl Talk top himself after his wildly successful Night Ripper? Well, by doing the same thing, but a lot more of it. It’s interesting to view his new album Feed the Animals as a rebuttal/statement about Internet music distribution over the last two years. It’s also fun to catch the hundreds of samples he masterfully uses. But it’s also fun just to dance to.

D. The kid who’s looking for a strong female voice amid the sexualized pop-music industry—If the rise of Katy Perry isn’t a telltale sign of the apocalypse, I don’t know what is. Sure, P!nk’s tough-as-nails schtick can get annoying, but she’s one of the higher-profile pop artists who actually promotes strong will and confidence over sexuality. Her new album FunhouseMissundaztood. is basically a big “f—k you!” note to ex-hubby Corey Hart, but underneath all the mudslinging and hair-pulling, it’s actually her best album since

Pretentious Alternative: While P!nk is yelling “I’m still a rock star!” on her single “Who Knew,” Brooklyn-based Santogold slyly describes herself as creator, an excavator who crept up and suddenly found herself an innovator. She draws from underground influences including punk, dub and afrobeat, and repackages it in pop sheen (like M.I.A. but more accessible). Not only is her self-titled debut a collage of artistic flair, it’s also a genuine hit.

E. Your emo-lovin’ spawn—Death Cab for Cutie is one of those bands that lived through the dramatic rise of emo in the early ’00s into the genre’s current decompression, mostly due to their ability to be one step ahead of the game. Their new album Narrow Stairs is evidence of this chameleon-like adaptability, and it’s unlike anything they’ve recorded. What? You don’t like that their brooding, Radiohead-esque single “I Will Possess Your Heart” clocks in at over eight minutes long? Go and cry about it … er, some more.

Pretentious alternative: Big-time emo peddlers Vagrant Records released The Anniversary’s B-sides compilation Devil on Our Side eight years after the band called it quits. The unreleased material hints at exciting new directions for an emo band that reportedly fell apart due partly (and fittingly) to girl problems.

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Ryan Bradford

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