Duffy ‘Rockferry’: Aidin Vaziri | So what if, as it has been frequently suggested by the British press, a bunch of record-company scientists sat around saying, “Now that Amy Winehouse has totally gone coconuts, how can we invent someone younger, prettier and less likely to head-butt random strangers on the street but still make us a billion dollars by singing like an exact cross between Ronnie Spector and Dusty Springfield?” Duffy, left, has made an uncommonly beautiful album, loaded with love and melancholy and genuine 22-year-old yearning. With a hand from former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, the gorgeous Welsh singer slathers her bruised-violet voice on a set of songs that float on an ocean of strings, brushed rhythms and heavenly Motown-style harmonies. It’s hard to pick one – or even seven – favorites, but jittery single “Mercy” aside, the late-night heartbreakers like “Stepping Stone” and “Warwick Avenue” are just about as good as this whole retro-soul thing is going to get.
Death Cab For Cutie ‘Narrow Stairs’: Aidin Vaziri | “My old clothes don’t fit like they once did/ So they hang like ghosts of the people I’ve been,” Ben Gibbard sings here. It’s probably best not to read too much into that line, but more than a few longtime Death Cab for Cutie fans will be ready to sling it back at the Seattle band, which in recent years has left the warm-fuzzy confines of the indie world to score love scenes on “The O.C.,” sign with the majors and headline arena shows. The quartet’s latest leaves the fragile charm of seminal early releases “The Photo Album” and “Transatlanticism” even further behind, turning up the guitars and attempting to disguise Gibbard’s reedy voice. But droning songs like “Bixby Canyon Bridge” and “Cath” sound as if they’re trying too hard. The best track, “I Will Possess Your Heart,” is preceded by a wordless four-minute intro, which makes the whole thing feel hilariously pompous.