June 2009 Archives

Dave Matthews Band - Big Whiskey and The GrooGrux King (RCA) [audio] [upcoming shows]

You show me a band that had a steeper instant drop-off in caliber of output than DMB, and I will gladly shake the hands of Boston in 1977. Which is why Big Whiskey came as a total shock. I didn't think these guys had another Before These Crowded Streets caliber disc in them, but I was magnificently wrong. The songs collected here reinsert the teeth that had been missing from their pop confections in the last decade. Highlights include the infectious "Why I Am" and the soulful "Lying in the Hands of God", but it is a triumph for its entire runtime.
Various Artists - Not Given Lightly: A Tribute to the Giant Golden Book of New Zealand's Alternative Music (Morr Music) [audio]

NZ's first DIY scene birthed some brilliant music, so expectations were high when I found out Morr was compiling covers by their own artists; maybe too high. The spark of the originals gets extinguished by the drowsy sounds of Lali Puna, B.Fleischmann, The Go Find and others. Still, it's not a complete loss. Masha Qrella brightens up The Chills' "Pink Frost" considerably and The American Analog Set whisper The Clean's "Anything Could Happen" like a secret. If anything, this might steer people towards the original bands and songs.
Rancid - Let the Dominoes Fall (Hellcat) [audio] [upcoming shows]

It seems unfair to give Rancid a hard time for falling short of ...And Out Come the Wolves and Life Won't Wait, when they are easily the only punk band even slightly in the public spotlight that still makes music this strong. The frantic intensity is dialed back slightly on this album, but all 19 tracks are solid, even when veering from their trademark sound (an acoustically mellow "Civilian Ways" is an obvious highlight here). It would be in my best of the year list no matter what; the fact that I never expected another Rancid album of this caliber just makes it that much better.

Kissy Sell Out - Youth

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Kissy Sell Out - Youth (Marrakesh) [audio] [upcoming shows]

With countless remixes to his credit in the last three years, electropop wunderkind Kissy Sell Out has finally delivered a full-length collection of his own material. Youth is, in no uncertain terms, an exhilarating joyride. Kissy treats his synthesizer like a lead guitar, guiding the melody of nearly every song along through arpeggiated workouts that are bent and squelched to their limits. His friend Danimal Kingdom lends charmingly bratty vocals throughout, making songs like "This Kiss" and "Pop Bottle" essential summertime fare.
The Keith Walsh Experience - Back to the Pyramids (self released) [audio] [upcoming shows]

One man bands tend to be built around kick drum and harmonica. This one man plays a full drum set and guitar, and of course, since they are being played simultaneously, you can expect one to scale it back as the other instrument shows off its chops. The end result of this is rootsy folk nonsense? Someone falling down the stairs with an armful of instruments or Half Japanese. This is either a huge compliment for Keith Walsh or an huge insult to Jad Fair. Someone please buy this guy an eight track recorder.

Zee Avi - S/T

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Zee Avi (Brushfire) [audio] [upcoming shows]

I'm surprised I haven't read other reviews of Zee Avi's debut cd make any mention of her similarities to Leon Redbone. You may think I'm being ridiculous, but if you took the cute little Malaysian girl out of these songs and put that straw hat-wearing, bellowing, quirky sexagenarian in her place, the transition would be a smooth one. Zee Avi makes Tin Pan Alley styles a cuddly, almost twee kind of thing, but it's still the real deal.

311 - Uplifter

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311 - Uplifter (Volcano) [audio] [upcoming shows]

It is unfortunate that the music industry and audience in general tend to balk at music this unapologetically happy. 311 don't have much to complain about in life, and they certainly aren't going to pretend they do for the music's sake. Uplifter moves from mid-90s style rap rock to dubbed out power ballad to pop-rock juggernaut without batting an eyelash. Easily their strongest effort since 1999's Soundsystem, and with impeccable production work from Bob Rock (Metallica), this is exactly the summer soundtrack I was hoping for.
The Breeders - Fate to Fatal EP (self released) [audio]

True to form for most non-album Breeders releases, Fate to Fatal is a mixed bag. The title track is a sleepy jam with a magnificent chorus, right up there with anything from the Pod album. "The Last Time" ventures into new territory, though. Bringing in gruff-voiced Mark Lanegan to sing is a risky move that pays off, considering how essential the Deal sisters' voices are to the band's identity. The two other tracks (one a Bob Marley cover) don't offer much, but round out a release that's well worth the money.

Condo Fucks - Fuckbook

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Condo Fucks - Fuckbook (Matador) [audio]

Yo La Tengo is good. Sometimes. Under the pen name "Condo Fucks", they suck. I think it's supposed to be sloppy in a good way, or maybe lo-fi in a highbrow way? Maybe it's like twenty years ago when "bad" meant "good"... but this is just plain "lousy" (meaning "honestly really lousy"). We could use a garage rock revival, but this comes off as just trying to prove they own a 4-track. It reminds me of when I thought I was a punk rocker in high school: my friends recording on 4-tracks sucked and Yo La Tengo was for squares.
Marilyn Manson - The High End of Low (Interscope) [audio] [upcoming shows]

To clear the slate first, yes "LOL Marilyn Manson is old, uncool and not the least bit shocking anymore". Now, let's talk about the best album he's made in ten years. By removing a bunch of the smoke and mirrors, Manson's David Bowie leanings come through pretty clearly. Lyrics that would ordinarily be written off as abstract rage resonate more after his divorce. More than anything, he just sounds tuned in. The High End of Low isn't a retread of his '90s heyday, but a long overdue and welcome progression.

The XX - Crystalised 7"

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The xx - Crystalised 7" (Young Turks) [audio] [upcoming shows]

"Crystalised" is a blast of barely-there songcraft, its strength derived entirely from its minimalism. The xx appear to be heirs apparent to the seat left vacant by Young Marble Giants before any of them were even born; their sound seldom rising above a whisper of a beat and their tempos sleepy and dreamlike. The power of "Crystalised" is hidden by its feather-light touch. B-side "Hot Like Fire" is likewise jarring, as they strip the pop right out of an Aaliyah hit and let it drift away. Watch this band.
John Doe & The Sadies - Country Club (Yep Roc) [audio] [upcoming shows]

John Doe has several sides to his artistic personality: punk god from X, alt-hillbilly king from The Knitters, and an actor in bad-to-decent movies. The John Doe from The Knitters is easily one of the top two John Does around, and that's the one who shows up on Country Club. Together with the amazing Sadies, the resulting stripped-down album of (mostly) covers is initially not as good as expected... and then the outstanding moments begin to shine and you realize "Damn, that John Doe did it again."

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone (Anti-) [audio] [upcoming shows]

The fact of the matter is Neko Case is a great singer. What's disappointing is that the songs she writes herself, as opposed to her work in The New Pornographers or songs she covers, squander her immaculate gifts. Middle Cyclone consists of songs that more closely resemble sketches than finished works, and no matter how strongly she sings them, they still float away from memory almost immediately. One other gripe about Middle Cyclone? At 15 tracks, its purity is compromised. Less might've been so much more.

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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