Five Albums You Should Be Listening To Right Now: Nancy Baym

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This week's curator: Nancy Baym of the blog Online Fandom.

Every two weeks, titans of the mediasphere give Nerve their music recommendations. This week: Nancy Baym, Communication professor at the University of Kansas and creator of the blog Online Fandom, which covers relationships between audiences and artists online. Her new book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, tells you everything you need to know about how communication technologies really affect our social lives in 150 snappy pages.

Madrugada, Industrial Silence (Deluxe Reissue)

In a just world, Madrugada would be as beloved everywhere as they are in their native Norway. Between this brilliant debut record from 2000 (just remastered and reissued as a two-CD set with EP and demo extras) and 2008, when their guitarist, Robert Burås, died far too young, they released six full length albums and several spectacular EPs. Industrial Silence, produced by John Agnello (known for his work with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.) demonstrates all the things that made them great. Burås's guitar ranges from delicate whale-song to twang to thrash, setting a mood matched only by singer Sivert Høyem's resonant baritone. In some songs, like "Shine" and "This Old House," they sound so intimate that listening feels like eavesdropping on a private moment. In others, like "Vocal," the bombastic opener, or "Belladonna," they sound as epic as the mountains rising out of the sea in Norway's north. I bought the album based on the first sixty seconds and have listened to it more than any other in the five years since I did.

Nacho Vegas, El Manifiesto Desastre

To English-speaking ears, that name will conjure images of Mexican snacks and a city known for its excess; thus, you may expect something cheesy and glitzy. Forget about that. In Spain, Vegas is often compared to Leonard Cohen, and is widely respected as a prolific, consistent, and mature independent musician and poet. His Spanish lyrics cover drug withdrawal, anal sex, searching for God, childhood, and other serious topics with poetic depth and wit. His nuanced voice tells me he feels every syllable he sings, whether he's yearning, taunting, or playing. He's a guitar geek who walks the lines between Spanish folk and American rock with spellbinding mastery. His songs are long, starting with quiet and building to angry outbursts, and the album likewise works as a whole, slowly building a world of its own. "Crujidos," co-written with Christina Rosenvinge, is a catchy, powerful song about drug comedowns, and the epic closer "Morir o Matar" finds him ruminating on whether his lover will kill him or whether he will kill her first. It's dark stuff, but beautiful and compelling in any language.

The Fine Arts Showcase, Radiola

The Fine Arts Showcase is led by Gustaf Kjellvander, who lived in Seattle until he was twelve, when he moved to Sweden with his mother. He combines Swedish pop sense with a command of English that lets him throw out turns of phrase like "back when you were high and mighty and I was mighty high" or "where the should-have-beens mix with the never-wills" or "I could gather hordes of vocal chords/and sing the sweetest song/I could tell you everything I know/I swear it won't take long." Radiola, the third of the band's five records and their first really good one, is more than the sum of its parts, which says a lot since each part is killer on its own.

Club 8, The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Dreaming

Club 8 is one of three bands led by Johan Ångergard, the man behind the Swedish label Labrador Records (home of The Radio Dept. and many other top-notch bands). Club 8 features Ångergard and Karoline Komstedt, who's got an airy voice that evokes Astrid Gilberto, french cafés, lazy mornings, and old European films. Their early records worked well on the dance floor, but this one, their sixth, is quiet, sexy and introspective. Komstedt's ethereal voice, lovely without ever being affected, contrasts with melancholy lyrics and shining instrumentation, creating a sound that is at once gentle, dark, and uplifting. As the song "Leave the North" exemplifies, this is a gloomy record that nonetheless soothes and sets things right.

Miss Li, Dancing The Whole Way Home

Miss Li is a prolific young Swedish pianist who's been likened to Betty Boop (as both compliment and insult). She often plays the tart, telling the "Dirty Old Man" to zip up his pants and quit leering at her and her friends and telling "The Boy In The Fancy Suit" that she's happy to let him pay but he'll never get to have her. But she's also a terrific singer and musician who knows how to write and perform. On this, her fourth album in as many years, she demonstrates new maturity as a songwriter. The opening "I Heard of a Girl" manages to make teen suicide catchy, and hence all the more tragic. The affecting "A Daughter or a Son" is the only song I know about the complex emotions of falling for a transsexual. If you ever get to see her perform live, take it. And if you figure out a way to bottle the joy she exudes, please send a case or two my way.