POP

MICHELLE BRANCH

Loud Music (3:20)

Producer: Julian Emery

Writers: M. Branch, J. Emery, J. Lawrence-Irvin

Publishers: various, Reprise Records

Michelle Branch has taken some time away from pop-rock to dabble in country music, but the early-'00s star is back with a new album, West Coast Time, set to drop in September. Her new single, "Loud Music," has already debuted on Billboard's Adult Pop Songs chart, marking the possible beginning of the 28-year-old singer/songwriter's return to the mainstream. While the strong beat and steady vocals are reminiscent of her hits "All You Wanted" and "Everywhere," Branch's lyrics don't exactly match the song, and her voice, although powerful, is sometimes overshadowed by the heavy, upbeat guitar track. Yet the minor discrepancies don't diminish the song's strong beat, steady vocals and breezy melody that help catapult her signature sound into the present day.--SM

ALTERNATIVE

MAT KEARNEY

Hey Mama (2:59)

Producers: Robert Marvin, Jason Lehning

Writers: M. Kearney, J. Lehning

Publishers: EMI Blackwood Music/Façade Aside Music/Tastes Like Chicken (BMI) Aware/Universal Republic

With his latest single, earnest pop-folk artist Mat Kearney joins Kanye West and the Black Eyed Peas as the latest act to release a song titled "Hey Mama." Kearney's effort is predictably different from his new hip-hop brethren, but the joyous ode to the singer/songwriter's wife, Annie, also stacks up to those memorable tracks. "Mama" picks up the tempo from previous singles like "Where We Gonna Go From Here" and "Breathe In, Breathe Out," with a steady train of hand claps and nimble percussion underscoring Kearney's Chris Martin-esque delivery. The result is a song that is sincere enough to earn its "woo-hoos" in the chorus and ambitious enough to feature a full drum line in the track's video. "Hey Mama" might not bring Kearney universal recognition on the level of West and the Peas, but the light love song has recently given him some play on Billboard's Adult Pop Songs chart.--AB

ROCK

SLEEPER AGENT

Get It Daddy (2:25)

Producer: Jay Joyce

Writers: T. Smith, Sleeper Agent

Publishers: Sleepaway Camp dba Mom+Pop Publishing (BMI) Mom+Pop Music

"Oooh, I'm not a baby no more," garage-pop band Sleeper Agent sings defiantly on "Get It Daddy," the first single from the group's debut album, Celebrasian. The Bowling Green, Ky., sextet's coming-of-age track packs in energy, angst and ferocious instrumentation in slightly more than two minutes. The song begins with a single guitar line and builds quickly with layers of forceful drums, Alex Kandel's youthful vocals and a nimble bassline. In a surprising turn, the band switches up the groove for the bridge with a slowly descending guitar riff. Guitarist Tony Smith takes on the vocal duties and stresses that he's all grown up?and drops a reference to Pavlov's classical conditioning experiment to prove it. "I'm sick of drooling every time I hear your bell ring," he sings over a cowbell.--ET

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS

The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie (4:42)

Producer: Rick Rubin

Writers: Red Hot Chili Peppers

Publishers: Wagging Dog Tail Music (BMI), Earl Grey Songs (ASCAP) Warner Bros.

As the first single from their upcoming disc I'm With You, "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie" is at once a satisfying and frustrating new entry in the Red Hot Chili Peppers' singles catalog. The first taste of new music since the veteran group's 2006 double-album Stadium Arcadium, "Maggie" slakes the thirst of fans longing for Flea's funk-tinged bass, Chad Smith's assured cymbal-slamming and Anthony Kiedis' elliptical storytelling return. Josh Klinghoffer also makes a smooth slide into John Frusciante's vacated guitar slot, with his screeching ax supporting Kiedis' mantra, "Hey now/We've got to make it rain somehow." The only problem with "Maggie" is the ambiguity it presents as a preview of RHCP's first album in five years: The track glides along without making a statement about the group's next musical direction. A solid if unassuming lead single, "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie" will undoubtedly have a greater impact when surrounded by the rest of I'm With You.--JL

ST. VINCENT

Surgeon (4:28)

Producer: John Congleton

Writer: A. Clark

Publisher: BMG Chrysalis 4AD Records

"Surgeon," the lead single off St. Vincent's forthcoming third album Strange Mercy, finds the indie chanteuse, as usual, all over the map musically. St. Vincent's sole proprietor, multi-instrumentalist and odd beauty Annie Clark, opens with eerie yet ethereal electronica, as the song simmers with lyrics like "I spent the summer on my back" and climaxes into total prog-rock chaos. Clark remains a study in opposites, presenting lyrics that walk the line between sexual and grotesque ("Best find a surgeon/Come cut me open") in her fluttering, feminine voice. There's a groove somewhere in there that presents what could be the most sardonic dance party since the Smiths. But the real paradox in "Surgeon" stems from the mix of funk guitars and far-out synths, turning two polarizing elements into an appetizing sample of Strange Mercy.--JM

DRAKE

Marvin's Room (5:47)

Producer: Noah "40" Shebib

Writers: N. Shebib, A. Graham

Publishers: EMI Blackwood Music/?Live Write (BMI), Mavor & Moses (SOCAN) Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Republic

When Drake confesses that he's "having a hard time adjusting to fame" in "Marvin's Room," a somber R&B taste of his upcoming album Take Care, the moment recalls the time the rapper expressed the same reservations on the Thank Me Later single "Over." The difference is that, whereas Drake previously pushed his hesitations aside and settled on a positive attitude, the MC's feelings of regret, doubt and heartbreak are no longer sugarcoated for radio play. In "Marvin's Room," Drake's emotions are presented in the brutally honest light of a drunken phone call, as each slurred bar ("Are you drunk right now?" a woman asks, to which Drake replies, "I'm just saying, you could do better") is intensified by a hauntingly sparse beat that sounds like a howling wind, courtesy of producer Noah "40" Shebib.--CW

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