Thursday, April 2, 2009

Quickie Record Reviews Round-Up: First Quarter Of 2009

Since we've reached the end of the first quarter of 2009, it's a good, psychologically-pleasing time to review some of the music released so far this year.

But first I'd like to unveil my brand new Bazooka™ ratings. They're just like stars or thumbs or whatever else people rate crap with, but way more explosive! Watch out for that shrapnel...

Here's the break down:
5 Bazookas: Classic (KABOOM!!)

4 Bazookas: Great (BOOM!!)

3 Bazookas: Good (POW!)

2 Bazookas: Not Too Good (bang?)

1 Bazooka: Total Crap (...thud.)

Easy enough, right? Let's go:

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
I've been a loud critic of this band in the past (they're my new Phish), but I'm one to give credit where credit is due, so I admit that the first half of the album is pretty solid. It gets to be a bit monotonous after that, but at least they no longer sound like raving hippie kids on a Beach Boys kick who like to get high, fart into reverb-laden microphones over repetitive electronic arpeggios, and call it avant-garde music. Or maybe they're just finally writing better songs on top of the same farting noises and repetitive electronic arpeggios. Whatever the case, it's an improvement. Their lyrics, however, are still really stupid; permeated with rampant use of vague, new age-y, spiritual obscuration throughout. No wonder a bunch of Christian kids love them like they're the new Jars Of Clay or something. Pitchfork be damned, it's no revelation but has its merits.

Beirut - March Of The Zapotec
This is more of a collection rather than a proper album. The first half is comprised of Mexican funeral marches and the second half is credited to Zach Condon's pre-Beirut electronic pseudonym, Realpeople. As you might imagine, it's pretty night-and-day between the contrasting styles, but Condon's deep and versatile tenor provides a cohesive thread. He could probably croon over some crunk beats and it would sound good (Oooh, I smell a Lil Jon collaboration in the works... it couldn't possibly be worse than that Chris Cornell/Timbaland album... oh yeah, we'll get to that one in just a little bit.)

The Bird And The Bee - Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future
I enjoyed the debut record from The Bird And The Bee immensely, but this one seems to lack the same chic, seductive atmosphere that immediately endeared me to their first one. The best song, "Polite Dance Song", already appeared on their Please Clap Your Hands EP, so it's kind of a cop-out to include it here as well. Please try harder next time, B&B folks—and try to bring some sexy back with you.

Bishop Allen - Grrr...
Bishop Allen impressed me with their debut (yes, it's a band, not someone's name), 2007's The Broken String, because they can really craft great, short pop songs. Grrr... is no different. Instantly catchy, memorable melodies, and it's all done in little over half an hour. But you'll want to listen to it again by the time it's over, guaranteed.

Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
I got on the Andrew Bird bandwagon pretty late, with 2007's Armchair Apocrypha; the song "Imitosis" was one of my favorites that year. On Noble Beast, Bird is a little less dynamic but still mesmerizing. And while most of the songs build up slowly and tend to be on the mellow side, it's on songs like "Not A Robot, But A Ghost" (where he channels his inner Thom Yorke) and "Fitz & Dizzyspells" that his skills as an arranger really shine. Definitely worth investing an hour of your time.

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Neko Case is who Jenny Lewis wishes she could be. And who can blame her? Case has strong songwriting chops and a timeless voice, whose clarity and emotional range recalls Nashville's golden greats. On Middle Cyclone, she tries to reconcile her love of nature and animals with the distance she feels in her everyday human relationships. Her use of metaphors and self deprecation is as spot-on as always and adds depth and levity to the serious topics she often covers. Another great release to add to her catalog.

Chris Cornell - Scream
All right, I haven't actually listened to the whole thing, but all it took for me to officially renounce the unholy union of Chris Cornell and Timbaland was this video. Holy Christ, it's terrible. Shame on them both. Especially if you, like me, grew up idolizing this. Or just liking this, for chrissakes. Dreadful. Truly, truly dreadful. No wonder his ex-bandmates have resort to this.

Cursive - Mama, I'm Swollen
Cursive's newest is about growing up, but not the fun part of growing up where you act irresponsible and reckless, while all the while trying to figure out who you are and stuff. No, it's about reaching that age when you finally realize that you can't act a fool any more because you're old enough to know better. Basically, it's about reaching that time when you've got to contribute to society and you can never go back to innocence. This makes it pretty relevant to my current state in life, which is scaring the shit out of me. Luckily, Cursive is right there with me and they've made a heck of an album to boot. Musically, they haven't been this sparse and focused in, well, ever; it's kind of a mix of Cursive and Tim Kasher's more singer/songwriter oriented band, The Good Life. If you stopped listening to them after The Ugly Organ, it may be time to pick 'em up again.

Various Artists - Dark Was The Night
Any compilation with new or unreleased tracks by Feist, The Decemberist, Iron & Wine, Spoon, Yeasayer, Kronos Quartet, Arcade Fire, Beirut, My Morning Jacket, Sufjan Stevens, the New Pornographers, Stuart Murdoch, Cat Power, and Conor Oberst with Gillian Welch is pretty much a no-brainer for me. And there's some real good ones on here, it's not just throw-aways. I think it also raises money for AIDS awareness or something, so you can feel good about yourself while listening without doing any actual work. Bonus!

Darla Farmer - Rewiring The Electric Forest
All I know about Darla Farmer is that they're from Nashville and that they took their name from a bank teller. Oh, and that they've made a pretty good record. It's sort of along the lines of bands like Architecture In Helsinki and Los Campesinos!, in the way that there's a lot of instruments featured on any given song and has a musical carnival feel to it. Impressive debut, it'll be interesting to see where they go from here.

The Decemberists - The Hazards Of Love
I don't know what Colin Meloy has been listening to lately, but I'm pretty sure it runs the gamut from mid-70s Heart to early Genesis to Aqualung-era Jethro Tull, because, maaan, does it show. If we take in consideration the progression this band has made since their first album, Castaways and Cutouts, to their current, The Hazards Of Love, they're about two albums away from being the Mars Volta—they're just getting more and more progressive by the day. And that's not a bad thing because Colin Meloy can tackle a concept album with the best of 'em. He certainly does not lack in imagination or has confines to his vocabulary—the dude's practically a walking thesaurus. The music is full of twists and turns and reoccurring themes, just like it should. I could do without the Ann Wilson sounding vocals, but overall it's pretty epic.

Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
I really liked their first two albums, their riffs sort of reminded me of Orange Juice or Aztec Camera, two other bands from Scotland. Their third release is more of the same, but without being repetitive or unoriginal. They're still peppy, poppy and catchy as hell. "Turn It On" might just be one of the best singles of the year and it should be as big of a hit as "Take Me Out", their breakthrough from their debut. I know many have already written Franz Ferdinand off, but it's really to their own detriment because they keep putting out quality releases. Fun stuff.

The Lonely Island - Incredibad
There are some things in comedy that are so stupid, ridiculous, and juvenile that they can't NOT be funny. This album is one of those things. And songs about jizzing in one's pants, doing 'shrooms, and singing the praises of Chex Mix would probably fall short if it wasn't for the fact that the music on Incredibad is actually really good. Lonely Island member, Jorma Taccone, is quite the producer, coming up with beats that rival most popular hip-hop currently being played on the radio; the T-Pain collaboration, "I'm On A Boat", being the best example of this. It's also incredibly satisfying to hear Natalie Portman scream, "Yo, shut the fuck up and suck my dick!" That'll never get old.

Metric - Fantasies
I don't think this album even comes out until April 14th, but I've come across a copy and have been listening to it for about a week now. Just like The Bird And The Bee album, this one is a bit dull. It really fails to capture what a good live band Metric is, and instead presents us with the slick, yet lifeless, studio identity of the group. The music is more of the same that we've come to expect after three albums, and it hasn't even been great since their debut, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? Singer Emily Haines has the potential to be a really charismatic frontwoman, but on Fantasies, most often than not, comes off as detached and a bit naive. You might want to go see them live if you get the chance, but don't waste your time with this record.

AC Newman - Get Guilty
Newman is the New Pornographers' main songwriter and that becomes really evident on this solo outing, his second since 2004's The Slow Wonder. The songs are interchangeable with the ones you're likely to hear on his more high-profile project with Neko Case and Dan Bejar, but that's not a bad thing. He has an ear for harmonic complexity and the structures of his songs are always interesting. Plus, he can really do some power-pop worthy of Big Star when he wants to. It'll keep you entertained until the next New Pornographers comes out.

Pearl Jam - Ten (Deluxe Edition)
I shouldn't even say anything about this album, because you already know how I feel about it. It changed my life. It was the gateway to a lifetime spent obsessing about music. It will always occupy a space in my top 5 for that very reason. That's it. I can't say anything else about it. Well, what I can say is that the remastered version sounds great and the remixed version is even better. The guitars are louder, the vocals clearer, and the entire mix is a little less dated and muddied down with reverb. The DVD included in the set contains the entire MTV Unplugged performance from 1992, which is probably the most energetic and vibrant Unplugged ever. A must watch. A must listen. And the huge box set is friggin' beautiful. GO GET IT!

PJ Harvey & John Parish - A Woman A Man Walked By
Here's the thing: I like pretty much anything that PJ Harvey does. In my book, she can almost do no wrong. That is, until she decided to limit her gorgeous, voluptuous vocal range solely to the higher register for her 2007 album, White Chalk. Suddenly, she lost her inviting inflection and instead withered away in vulnerability. And I'm sure that was the point, but it fell just a bit flat for me. And while there are a couple of instances on A Woman A Man that see her retreating to that vulnerability, Polly Jean mostly found her groove back on this album. Her partnership with John Parish draws out her more experimental side and I suspect she can make this kind of album in her sleep, but this is a pretty satisfying release over all. Phew, I thought I'd lost you, girl; it's good to have you back...

Superdrag - Industry Giants
I went to see what was billed as Superdrag's last show ever in Nashville at the Exit/In in 2003. They played for close to four hours and people from all over the country showed up to bid them farewell. It was a great show. However, like any band that announces a last show or last tour, I knew they'd be back soon enough. And indeed, they are. Starting in 2007, they played several shows that eventually led them back into the studio to record Industry Giants. And although they'll probably never recapture the magic they had on Regretfully Yours, Superdrag can still do the Beatles-meets-punk-rock thing better than most. Now I'm just waiting for Guided By Voices to get back together so that Superdrag has someone fun to tour with; it's bound to happen.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!
A while back I read that the members of the YYYs were not really getting along and because of this, Karen O was off making a solo album. It's Blitz! feels like just that. Nick Zinner's guitars are practically nonexistent, replaced mostly by electro-pop synths; Brian Chase's syncopated, jazz drumming is gone in favor of a more straight-ahead approach; even Karen O's toned down her famous pervasive moans and rabid groans. This is unfortunate because those were all things I liked about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But while the tonal shift is unexpected, it's not terribly unpleasant—quite the contrary, there's some strong songwriting on this album. It's just that it's more Kate Bush than Bikini Kill, and that might be a little disappointing to some of you.

1 comment:

  1. Damn, this is serius shit you're writing. You should do this for a living. well, yuo tried, they didn't get it. Do-ho! La.



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