May 2008 Archives

Terminus - Debut Album

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Terminus - Debut Album (Unchi) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Something never explicitly present in the work of bands like Ladytron and Broadcast is a Kubrick-ian sci-fi component, yet it's always seemed like it was there. French duo Terminus capitalizes on those mistakes with Debut Album, nicking samples for the opening track "Colossus" from the 1970 film of the same name. That sets the tone throughout, as they jump back and forth between spacey instrumentals and rigid-but-human pop songs that are custom made for stylized interstellar travel. It's simply too cool for words.
Bryan Scary & The Shredding Tears - Flight of the Knife (Black & Greene) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Flight of the Knife is operatic, strange and instantly catchy. Imagine Squeeze teaming up with The Fiery Furnaces to re-work A Night at the Opera and selling it as a power-pop musical. Bryan Scary and friends have mastered the ELO version of the wall-of-sound and collected some mighty powerful hooks for a concept album reminiscient of Alan Parsons' Eye in the Sky. The stage version, featuring sci-fi vignettes set in the sky & cosmos will no doubt blow minds when it hits Broadway.
Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple (Downtown) [audio] [upcoming shows]

I'm a little pissed off. I used to love St. Elsewhere, and now I can't really listen to it anymore because this album so thoroughly exceeds it in every possible way. Where their debut put Danger Mouse in the driver's seat, their sophomore release is built on Cee-lo's shoulders, and it is a much stronger foundation. Tracks like "Open Book", "Who's Gonna Save My Soul" and "Surprise" exceed anything on their debut in depth and power. I wasn't sure Gnarls could improve on their first effort, so I certainly didn't expect leaps of this magnitude.
Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple (Downtown) [audio] [upcoming shows]

If you have developed an allergy to fun since St. Elsewhere was released, you will probably love this album. The pace on this disc has slowed tremendously; those searching to compliment will say it has "matured". Two party tracks energize the first 15 minutes of the disc, but the back half drags quickly into relative monotony. The "joi de vivre" has all but evaporated. Their shows will still rule, and the collaboration will remain of interest, but this disc will slide from my mind quickly.
Amber Kai Morgan & Garrett Kelly - Analog America: A Four Course Meal of Found Sound (Noise Order)

23 tracks—mostly bizarre phone messages involving free baklava, overdue video rentals with celebrity voice impersonations, an intervention coordination, arguments at town council meetings, disagreements at church—exemplify how dysfunctional we all are. As if checking your own phone messages isn't irritating enough, here's a chance to hear strangers leaving nonsensical messages for other strangers. This could be a historical document, capturing the essence of miscommunication between people all speaking the same language.
Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious (ATO Records) [audio] [upcoming shows]

M. Doughty's strange, delightful, early solo records were the albums I was seeking for after the fall of the great Soul Coughing. The blessed arrival of Haughty Melodic was a bewildering letdown, forging a clear-cut path away from the deep slacker jazz of the past with plodding steps into silly-fun acoustic pop. A new perception of Mike Doughty as an artist with limited range was born, and has subsequently become a lamentable reality. This is for fans of Jason Mraz, Sister Hazel, and Barenaked Ladies.
Puscifer - "V" is for Viagra — The Remixes (self released) [audio]

Wow. Remix albums usually seem like a half-assed attempt to sell you the same product twice with the original vocal tracks thrown over some shitty drum loops. This is nothing like that. Maynard James Keenan enlisted some great talent to put together this creative reconstruction of Puscifer's dance/electronic music. The resulting sounds are so unique that this does not come across a remix album at all. If for no other reason, buy this album for "Country Boner (Disco Viagra Mix)" by 8MM.
The War on Drugs - Wagonwheel Blues (Secretly Canadian) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Inevitably, every review of Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile's first record will include entire paragraphs devoted to a certain "greatest songwriter of all time." Too bad cause there's a heap going on in these wonderful songs besides plain hero worship. The lyrics are more fever dream than narrative, poking in and out between orchestrated Krautrock loops. Guitars were transmitted from some other dimension. They didn't have samplers at Big Pink, but don't assume Wagonwheel Blues is merely The Basement Tapes with modern technology.
Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing (ATP Recordings) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Not yet destined for next week's Top 40, Fuck Buttons are more orthodox about song forms than you'll likely get from anyone else in the noize/drone genre. These songs have actual discernable melodies that appear not only once, but are revisited like choruses would be. The songs twist and grow—volumes swell and underlying instrumentation broadens—giving each an epic quality. Street Horrrsing is the score to an imagined movie, where the sky is sloshing plasma, the sea is tv static and actors talk in day-glo colors.
Colin Meloy - Colin Meloy Sings Live! (Kill Rock Stars) [audio] [upcoming shows]

As Colin Meloy himself point out, when he sings live it's "like a campfire sing-along." This collection comes from his 2006 solo tour, so don't expect any songs from his Decemberists' celebrated The Crane Wife. Here Mr. Meloy performs a variety of Decemberists tracks with a sprinkling of cover songs, work from his former band Tarkio, and the self-described "worst song I ever wrote." Mixed in with the wisecracking banter and the ensuing crowd laughter, you'll find some earnest solo offerings from a hugely talented songwriter.
Alina Orlova - Laukinis Šuo Dingo (Metro Music) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Music in another language tends to sound better than it probably is, and Lithuanian Alina Orlova's album is no exception. The handful of songs in English show Orlova to be an artist in possession of a fearlessness born more from naivete than audacity. Who would dare recast "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" as a dark (and shockingly effective) ballad other than someone who doesn't know better? Proving Polonius right, the brief running time of her album also works in her favor. A record this concise and inviting makes repeat listens an easy decision.
Hiawata! - Blacks on Blondes EP (Sellout) [audio] [upcoming shows]

I welcome the '90s revival Hiawata! and a few other bands (Times New Viking, Wet Paint) are ushering in with their imperfect musicianship, bent vocals and inexhaustible energy. The five little songs on Blacks on Blondes remind me of the years before the internet made finding good music so easy, when the only real option was scouring mailorder catalogs and taking inexpensive risks. Their melody-rich guitar-heavy music would have fit nicely between Sebadoh and Built to Spill on mixtapes, and I might have to throw "Good Looks" on one now.
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Sunday at Devil Dirt (V2 Music) [upcoming shows]

The first collaboration between these two was a belabored borefest that hardly reflected well on those who blindly praised it. However, this second effort from Campbell and Lanegan actually does deliver on what that the first album only hinted at recreating. Sunday at Devil Dirt sounds brilliantly tossed-off, and the looser arrangements free the other She & Him to enjoy the possibilities of their chosen format.
Various Artists - Jerome Derradji Presents: The American Boogie Down (BBE Music) [audio]

Unlike many archival compilations which dig songs up from nowhere that may not even be any good, this Jerome Derradji-curated album unearths some fantastic urban disco that coulda/shoulda/woulda been commercially hot in the late '70s had it ever been heard by anyone. In its continuous mix form, it's a non-stop good time. But as a bonus, the second disc features these same tracks individually for when you don't have time to dig them out yourself—like The Fabulous Kings' "If You Like What We're Doing". I do, I like it.
Martina Topley-Bird - The Blue God (Independiente) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Forget the pre-millennium tension of those Tricky records, when Martina Topley-Bird did little more than supply the vocal wallpaper for Tricky's musical exploits. Now she's front and center, working with producer Danger Mouse. Though the sound of The Blue God is still more identifiable by its producer than its artist, it's a much sexier, groovier record than we'll ever hear from Gnarls Barkley. More pop than soul, more contemporary than nostalgic, singles like "Poison" and "Carnies" will anchor a lot of mix cds this summer.
Earles & Jensen - Just Farr a Laugh Vols. 1 & 2 (Failed Pilot/Matador) [audio]

Prank phone calls aren't funny, but this double-disc set often is—I think there's an SAT question in this review somewhere. The best moments usually result from either the hyper-specific pop culture references (Garfield Takes the Cake, "Lawyers in Love," Cocoon II), brilliant emphasis on word choice, or absurd physical descriptions. Earles and Jensen have elevated pranking to an art. It takes real talent to describe yourself as wearing "The Eddie Murphy Golden Child / Tom Tom Club / Do the Right Thing Worldbeat-style Hat" without breaking.
Lindsey Buckingham - Live at the Bass Performance Hall (Reprise) [audio]

Notoriously pitch-perfect in the studio, Lindsey Buckingham's in-the-moment live performance is full of missed notes and strained vocals...and it's a hell of an exciting listen. This set is split evenly between songs with a backing band and those with just Lindsey and his guitar, the latter completely stealing the show. "Trouble" shines the brightest in its stripped arrangement, along with the now familiar solo take on "Big Love". The bonus DVD is also great, including onstage and backstage footage alike.
Duchess Says - Anthologie Des 3 Perchoirs (Alien8 Recordings) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Duchess Says goes in the "difficult to accurately describe with so few words" column. The Montreal four-piece is high energy, high aggression synthpunk with one foot in disco and the other in the spaz/noize scene. Annie-Claude barrels out of your speakers like Kathleen Hanna at her most severe, but the sounds behind her constantly evolve. "Ccut Up" opens like Rush's "Tom Sawyer", yet ends like a CSS remix. "Tenen no Neu" rumbles along early PIL-style; the best wobbly bassline this year. Harsh, but huggable.

Shwa Losben - Chop Chop

Shwa Losben - Chop Chop (self released) [audio] [upcoming shows]

The independent release Chop Chop is the first solo effort for singer/songwriter Shwa (Joshua) Losben. This is the kind of album you find yourself listening to over and over again, while gleaning something new and insightful each time. Losben's vocals are reminiscent of early Neil Young but the songwriting reminds me more or bands like R.E.M., Radiohead, Jack Johnson and others. This is a rare and great find; a true indie release that doesn't suck.

Alien Father - Paste

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Alien Father - Paste (Brother & Brother) [audio] [upcoming shows]

23 tracks of distorted shambolic lo-fi space rock boombox recordings. While some of it will have you scrambling for the 'skip' button and are clearly meant to punish the listener ("Fgt Lawbuster" for example), others will leave you filled with the feeling of great potential, especially when they sound like the early days of Sebadoh, Minutemen and The Grifters. I'm not sure if these songs were recorded in order but just when it starts to have momentum and blow you away, it's over.
Neil Hamburger - Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners (Drag City) [upcoming shows]

Every time I think Neil Hamburger's schtick needs reinvention, Neil Hamburger's schtick gets reinvented. This very specific parody of the tossed-off celebrity cash-in albums of the '60s and '70s succeeds beyond its base novelty record pedigree. Amazingly, the album is far superior both lyrically and musically to the forthcoming album by labelmates Silver Jews. Look, you knew before you read this review whether this is something you'd like or not, but it really is a lot better than it needed to be.
Intelligence - Debt & ESP/Chateau Bandit 7" (Plastic Idol) [audio] [upcoming shows]

There's something about the music coming out of the drizzly Northwest the past 20+ years that's indescribably identifiable. Lars Finberg (ex-A Frames) has made a couple records now as Intelligence, and his new single continues more or less in the same geographical tradition. The recording levels were pushed way into the red... then beyond. And though these two songs trudge along without much melody, the grooves provide some unfuckwithable hooks. Your neighbors will hate this, but it demands to be played at maximum volume.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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