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Athlete 

Vehicles and Animals (Astralwerks)

We used to be a British colony. We threw 'em out, they got over it, and more than two centuries later, Tony Blair stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Dubya, bragging about the two countries' "special relationship." The U.S. and the U.K. have had a long and productive cultural conversation. Nowhere is this better exemplified than with music: They sent us the Beatles, the Stones, and Bowie, but they couldn't have done it without our proud inventions: jazz, blues, and rock and roll. The Brits are restless reinventors of American idiom -- for the best new examples, listen to Dizzee Rascal or the Streets, who've made hip-hop sound indigenous to the housing estates of East London.

But then, every once in a while, a band comes along that breathes new life into the truism that the U.S. and U.K. are two nations divided by a common language. We scratch our heads over why a band like Athlete, say, has caused such heart-racing over there, and the Limeys scratch their heads over how we are scratching our heads. Similarly, Athlete's Mercury Prize-nominated debut, Vehicles and Animals, suggests that the group is England's answer to Soul Coughing: In its Britpop-nostalgic way, the music dances merrily along that narrow line between catchy and cute, clever and precious, accomplished and unbelievably annoying. For Anglophiles only, in other words.

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