Maybe the indie-rocker love afforded Annie's 2004 debut, Anniemal (issued in the U.S. this spring), smacks of cred hunting—after all, Anne Lilia Berge Strand is hiding her face on the cover, going pop without the underpants billboards or the VMA cameos or the gold records. And hey—she stocks ESG and Alan Vega in her crate. (See her volume of the DJ Kicks series, out in late October.) But if those trappings mean the Modest Mouse set takes a chance on the best thing to hit club-pop since Kylie Minogue's Fever, fine. For a product of Norway, Anniemal isn't Euro in the traditional sense of the word: Annie's voice wafts like steam, restrained enough to make the one and a half entendre of "Chewing Gum" ("I'm just a girl that's only chewing for fun/You spit it out when all the flavor has gone") sound coy, while on "Me Plus One" she sighs like the ex-cocktail-waitress-turned- superstar from Human League's "Don't You Want Me" rubbing her temples, jaded and fatigued and defeated. When the beats aren't slyly caricature-Americanized ("Helpless Fool for Love," produced by OP:L Bastards' T.A. Kaukolampi) or glossy iFunk (the Richard X–produced "Chewing Gum"), they lean toward contemporary house's sophistidisco atmosphere. Her 1999 debut, "The Greatest Hit," is the sentimental centerpiece: Produced by her boyfriend Erot, its Basement-Jaxx-does-"Ring My Bell" euphoria is matched only by "Heartbeat," her Röyksopp-helmed comeback tribute released after a long hiatus spurred by Erot's death of heart failure. Deceptively basic, intricately weaving its melancholy electric piano melody with the best drone-gone-disco beat since Can's "I Want More," it's the most achingly beautiful pop song of the last five years. NATE PATRIN
Annie plays the Showbox with Röyksopp at 8 p.m. Fri., Sept. 16. $15 adv./$18.
In the 25 years since its release, Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" has been covered by at least a dozen musicians, and whether they work in IDM (Squarepusher) or punk (Fall Out Boy), the reproductions tend to be reverentially straightforward. Not so with Nouvelle Vague, the French team conceptualized by Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux, who drape a bossa nova patina over the shivering shoulders of 1980's most depressing dance song, along with 13 other punk and new wave (hence the name) notables, often recognizable here by melody alone. The duo enlist a bevy of chanteuses who bring a charming naïveté to the originals, as when Camille—the most distinctive voice—conspiratorially admits she "drank 16 beers and started up a fight" in the Dead Kennedy's "Too Drunk to Fuck." Eloisia, who sings "Love," whips Depeche Mode's "I Just Can't Get Enough" into an even airier fluff than the original, its celebratory vibe the inverse of Modern English's "I'll Melt With You," made ponderous by languid percussion and Silja's Neko Case–like delivery. "A Forest" agreeably teems with Martin Denny exotica without forsaking the Cure's sense of dread. And Camille, whose Le Fil was released this summer on EMI, offers the album's biggest surprise: positing Lee Hazelwood–era Nancy Sinatra as the narrator of the Clash's "Guns of Brixton." RACHEL SHIMP
Nouvelle Vague play Chop Suey with Lushy and Velella Velella at 8 p.m. Tues., Sept. 20. $12 adv.
Forgive Röyksopp their MOR-tronica missteps the way you would Franz Ferdinand their caution or MC Hammer his Skidz. Last time out, the Norwegian duo played it precious: Melody A.M. was mostly instrumental, with enough chill filler ("chiller"?) for the downtempo shelves, enough fat groove for 12-inch spins, and just enough songiness for the track frigid. They had rare horizontal-vertical crossover cache, valued all the more after a clutch Coldplay remix and hot knob work for fellow Bergenite Annie. Röyksopp compromised, uncompromisingly, and to whatever extent I now feign been-there-done-that with respect to their debut, I understand their crucial position in this Jaxxless dancescape, and I root(y) accordingly. Some of The Understanding's fun, and the boys are singing more. But nothing can explain away Röyksopp's more phoned-in moments, like talk-show soul theme "49 Per Cent" or the shockingly limp eight-minute lump "Alpha Male." "Only This Moment" will kill on MTV Italia, but probably nowhere else; when Enrique Iglesias did something like it a few years ago, at least he had better drum sounds and no sleeves on his shirt. Things pick up halfway through when all the Björk-alikes start hollering, but nothing here comes near "Eple" or "Poor Leno" until "Someone Like Me," where daft all-treble breaks flip the song's mere title into an irresistible request. NICK SYLVESTER
Röyksopp play the Showbox with Annie at 8 p.m. Fri., Sept. 16. $15 adv./$18.
If Songs Could Be Held
If the 11 songs on Seattle singer-songwriter Rosie Thomas' third album could in fact be held, you might be tempted to try and breast-feed them. But after the second or third listen, their minimal structures begin sounding less fragile and vulnerable. Thomas' soft, comfortable voice and the music's unfettered spirit bolster the album's emotional aspects. As if thinking with the brain of a precocious child, she approaches her lyrics about coming of age and the intricacies of love by describing what's right under her nose, free of glibness. On the piano-driven "Guess It May," she amplifies her refreshing here-goes-nothing approach to love by revealing that she's "still learning . . . the best ways to hold your hand in mine." The stark, bluesy "It Doesn't Matter to the Sun" acknowledges that Earth won't come to a halt when her lover leaves, but implies that Thomas' own world will. Vocal comparisons to Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan are unavoidable on the radio-ready "Pretty Dress," in which Thomas encourages a little girl to ignore classroom taunts and be brave over warm violins and keyboards: "You'll know better than they someday, and they'll wave to you." This time, the song holds you. JEANNE FURY
SCHARPLING AND WURSTER
Hippy Justice: The Best of Scharpling and Wurster on the Best Show on WFMU, Volume 3
The premise of "Timmy von Trimble" is outlandish enough: Created by scientists, he is a perfectly formed man who happens to be 2 inches tall and lives in a dollhouse. But after seven minutes of charming, cutesy patter about playing inside a Slinky and driving Hot Wheels cars, Timmy lets it slip that he doesn't like TV programs featuring "those people," and the ensuing declarations of "pride in my race" and requests to play the band Norse Savage give things kind of a weird turn. That's what pushes the duo of WFMU DJ Tom Scharpling and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster miles above your typical radio call-in sketch show. Fueled by the smarm-oozing con men and sociopath losers played by Wurster and the incredulous, pyrotechnical outrage that is Scharpling's only defense, each bit on Hippy Justice starts out benign enough until the caller lets some unfortunate detail out of the bag (i.e., a reunion of kiddie-punk band Old Skull plays horrible lite-fusion jazz by a ringer who toured with the originals for 14 shows and is blackmailing them for use of the name), until they finally terminate an extended fusillade of escalating unreason with empty threats of absurd recrimination ("I'll murder you. . . . You'll be scared when you see me coming at you with my conch shell"). Scharpling's attempts to fend off an overaggressive salesman at Gene Simmons' Toyota dealership or the dictatorial commune/sweatshop-running hippie scam artist run a bit long (most sketches are 20-plus minutes, and there are only six on two CDs), but it probably wouldn't work otherwise; the comedy of stubborn antagonism doesn't lend itself well to brevity. Tom's exasperated sighs, however, make great punch lines. NATE PATRIN
Life in Slow Motion
David Gray used to write lyrics that gave you a good idea of what it's like to be too much in love. "Help me out here/All my words are falling short/And there's so much I want to say," he sang on "Please Forgive Me," the opening track of his fourth and best album, 1999's White Ladder, and the irony was that he'd gotten the words just right. Nowadays, I have no idea what Gray is talking about. On his latest record, the lyrics don't make sense, so you quickly realize that he's using the same old production paradoxes—slick but spare, wintry but warm—that rocketed him to fame six years ago. Sure, he shamelessly apes Coldplay's "Clocks" in the intro to "Nos De Caraid" and does a folksy Springsteen impression on "The One I Love," but he isn't doing his influences any favors. The chorus of the latter goes like this: "Tell the repo man and the stars above/That you're the one I love." Wait a second—the repo man? I've been lucky enough to never have anything repossessed, but my impression is that most of those guys just want to get in there, throw your shit in the van, and get out. Similarly, the answer to the pretentious question "Where'd it all go wrong/My Friday night enfant?" (from "Alibi") is: When you finished that rhyme, David. That's when. After singing piercingly about the way words fail, Gray is succumbing to that very fate. A better lyricist could write a really moving song about that. NEAL SCHINDLER