Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Sigur Rós's latest album, a look at modern Chinese architecture, piano pop for fans of Keane, and more.

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BLOSSOMING CHINESE ARCHITECTS

Positions: Portrait of a New Generation of Chinese Architects (Actar Books) is a lively introduction to a rising generation of Chinese architects, offering biographies and radiant photographs of 40 projects built from 2003 to 2008. By concentrating on designers intrigued by their cultural roots and disinterested in slavishly imitating celebrity Western architects, this book offers a provocative overview of architects synthesizing Eastern and Western styles. High points include the Lake Xiayang cultural center evoking a dragon rising from a lake and the Yangshuo Shopping Center, charmingly ancient yet ultramodern.

Keen on Keane

Recommended: Culture and Science

Keane, the British trio renowned for piano pop with clean lines, has released a statement of bold intent with its new song, "Spiralling." Now available as a free download until Aug. 11 from keanemusic.com, the single is a jaunty blend of distorted keyboards and playful "oohs." They're not exaggerating when they say the upcoming October album, "Perfect Symmetry," boasts "an avalanche of experimentation."

Transcendent music

Just for fun, visit your local record store and ask for a copy of "Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust," the new Sigur Rós record. The Icelandic band's language remains as inscrutable as ever (the title roughly translates as "With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly") but their ethereal pop has never been more universally accessible. On this record, Sigur Rós introduces more varied dynamics than before. The band's signature magisterial epics – swathed in choirs and orchestras – now sit alongside shorter pop songs such as a catchy Icelandic folk ditty titled, appropriately, "Gobbledigook."

Olympic gold mine

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Olympics and probably a whole lot more is all on nbcolympics.com – sports stats, country stats, athlete stats, videos, TV schedules, and photos galore. Quick, how many medals has Morocco won?

NEW! TALK TO HUMANS

Millions of consumers know the frustrations of voice-mail jail – the synthesized voice, the silent treatment.

Gethuman.com, a website that lists thousands of company customer-service numbers, offers vital shortcuts that skip you past the electronic maze to reach a real person.

A different kind of marathon

Take a break from Olympic coverage and wander into the Chinese countryside where you will find anything but a bucolic, small-town existence. In yet another reminder of this vast country's global aspirations, PBS's "Wide Angle" documentary series follows a group of Chinese high school seniors as they prepare for college entrance exams. Students live in dorms, attend classes from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., six days a week and make United States SAT prep classes look like amateur hour. China Prep airs Aug. 12, 9 p.m.

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