Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Portishead - Third (****1/2)

After defining the 1990s trip-hop scene and cementing their legacy as one of the world's most innovative and important bands with their two previous records, 1994s landmark Dummy and 1997s self-titled LP, Portishead return 11 years later with a remarkable avant-rock record, one which sees the group removing their signature turntable-scratching, vinyl samples and hip-hop beats in favor of a sparser, heavier, more oblique sound. Utilizing a simple guitar-drums-vox-digital editing setup, Portishead re-build their sound from the ground up on Third, diving headlong into harsh industrial rhythms ("Machine Gun"), krautrock grooves ("We Carry on"), free-jazz skronk ("Magic Doors") and even an acoustic ditty ("Deep Water").

Vocalist Beth Gibbons again charts murky and terrifying lyrical waters here, her voice a beacon among the dark and free-form instrumentation. And although the band has excised all remnants of trip-hop, Third is still an album built primarily on it's low-end, with songs like "Plastic" and "Machine Gun" presenting some of the most inventive electronically manipulated percussion this side of Kid A. Third is easily the most dynamic record Portishead have ever recorded, a perfectly modern reinstatement for a band that has always played by it's own unique set of rules while never letting themselves fall victim to over-saturation. They've certainly never been dictated by the current "sound", and with Third, one of the year's most stunning records, they've dropped yet another out-of-left-field album full of wonder, bewilderment and glorious noise.

Highlights: "Silence", "Plastic", "We Carry On", Machine Gun", "Magic Doors", "Threads"

"Machine Gun"

"We Carry On"


"Magic Doors"

Monday, April 28, 2008

Coachella 2008 Video Roundup

For the first time in years I didn't make it out to the Empire Polo Field for Coachella this year. Every year I tell myself that it isn't worth the exhaustion, but somehow I always end up suffering for the music. This year I came through on my promise though and instead watched a good deal of it from the confines of AT&Ts Blue Room (which is where some of these good quality clips came from). This wasn't the best lineup Coachella could have produced, but it was pretty deep with good bands. Here are some random youtube clips to help document the experience for those of us who didn't make the trek this year.

Animal Collective - "Comfy in Nautica" (Panda Bear, ummmm, cover)

Portishead - "Mysterons"

The Breeders - "Cannonball"

Prince - "Creep" (Radiohead cover)

Black Lips - "Bad Kids"

Holy Fuck - "Lovely Allen"

I'm From Barcelona - "Tree House"

Justice - "Phantom Pt.1"

Dan Deacon - "Okie Dokie"

Kraftwerk - "Man Machine"

Man Man - "Mister Jung Stuffed"

Sean Penn gettin' (what else?) political

Friday, April 25, 2008

Guillemots - Red (**)

I tend to cut a little slack - and at the very least respect - sophomore albums that turn a complete 180 on a band's previously successful formula (see the new Long Blondes record), but Guillemots' follow-up to 2006s wonderful Through the Windowpane is woeful attempt at reinvention that falls flat from track one and never recovers. Their debut was odd a proposition as well, somehow coming off as modest despite it's epic arrangements, yet Red's production is much more jarring and on the nose, with many moments of rock bombast shoved unceremoniously into the mix. This harder edged sound doesn't fit the group's core sound well, and their bad habit of cushioning Fyfe Dangerfield's ghost-of-Jeff-Buckley-vocals with gospel harmonies grates more often than it uplifts. The base elements that made the band so refreshing in the first place - that voice; the understated orchestration - are still present in most every song here, but they have been unfortunately pushed to the sidelines in favor of studio tricks and a more condensed energy that adds nothing to the finished product.

RIYL: British Sea Power, Brit-Pop, Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk-era Jeff Buckley

Video: Guillemots: "Get Over It"

"Standing on the Last Star"

"Kriss Kross"


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell (**1/2)

The long-awaited debut album from Tokyo Police Club has finally arrived, but instead of building on their wave of strong EPs, this ultra-brief 28 minute LP carries with it a deflating air of disappointment. Whereas their fantastic Lesson in Crime EP transformed Strokes riffs and Les Savy Fav keyboard runs into dynamic chant-alongs, Elephant Shell is content to merely toe the line - musically, compositionally and lyrically.

Singer Dave Monks was never the greatest singer, yet previously the band had managed to mask his lack of range with their infectious melodies and barely-containable energy. There is no dynamic range to speak of on Elephant Shell however. And to make matters worse, Monks has distractingly been pushed to the front of the mix, bringing an increased focus to his Colin Meloy-lite vocals, a characteristic that I had never previously noticed but is horribly blatant here. And with most songs barely passing the 2-minute mark, there isn't a chance for any of the hooks to stick, forcing Monks' vocal cadences to carry the load (also not unlike Meloy). Perhaps if there were some lyrics worth remembering, it would help salvage this sidestep. And while there are no outright bombs on the disc, there is very little that stands out from the surrounding din, save early single "Your English Is Good", which bottles the energy of the band's EPs into yet another compact gem. Beyond that, nearly everything is interchangeable, meaning that you can get about as much as you can out of Elephant Shell with but one listen to any single track here.

Highlights: "In a Cave", "Nursery, Academy", "Your English Is Good"

RIYL: The Strokes, Good Shoes, The Rakes, Colin Meloy

Video: Tokyo Police Club: "Your English is Good"

Video: Tokyo Police Club: "Tessellate"


"Nursery, Academy"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Roger Ebert Launches Blog

This is a smart idea considering Ebert doesn't currently have the ability to speak. He still writes a good deal of reviews over at his site (including a recent 4-star review for Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light) considering the circumstances, but a blog seems like the best platform for him to get his thoughts and opinions out to the public. I for one will be keeping tabs, as there is no critic we need back more than grand 'ol Ebert.

Roger Ebert's Journal

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours (***1/2)

Coming on strong after a four year absence, Australia's Cut Copy return with In Ghost Colours, a sizable improvement over their debut and a record bursting with day-glo synths, insistent rhythms and vocal hooks for days. They've noticeably expanded their palette here as well, with many tracks hewing closer to the rock end of the dance-rock spectrum, as opposed to their electro-chic debut which was slightly derivative, even then. Not that they're doing anything very original here, it's just that they're doing it at a much higher level than many thought they had any right to. This whole electro-rock thing may be on it's last legs (I mean, James Murphy did pretty much perfect it last year), but records like In Ghost Colours make you hope the trend sticks around just a little longer.

Highlights: "Feel the Love", "Lights and Music", "So Haunted", "Hearts on Fire"

RIYL: Klaxons, LCD Soundsystem, Muscles, Human League, Chromeo, Daft Punk, Midnight Juggernauts, The Rapture

Video: Cut Copy - "Lights and Music"

Video: Cut Copy - "Hearts on Fire"

"Feel the Love"

"So Haunted"

"Unforgettable Season"

"Out There On The Ice"

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Long Blondes - "Couples" (***)

In a startling about-face from their well received debut Someone to Drive You Home, Sheffield, England's Long Blondes return here with a sophomore album that drops a good deal (but thankfully not all) of the Pulp and Brit-pop signifiers for an moody album brimming with unexpected electronic flourishes. Yet it's not a dance album by any stretch. In fact, their debut could probably get more bodies moving. This change of pace can most easily be attributed to electronic producer Erol Alkan, who has seemingly taken the reins here, dropping the band into uncharted waters. They're a restless bunch though, and while the results aren't always for the better, something about "Couples" has kept me consistently returning to it almost daily for the last couple weeks. Even if they've dropped all the classic film & pop culture references, there's just something in it's odd sonic juxtapositions and ultra detailed songwriting makes the whole thing rather compelling despite the album's noticeable flaws. The Long Blondes have a better and more accomplished record still in them using these same elements, but this is a surprisingly bold and interesting first step.

Highlights: "Century", "I Liked The Boys", "Here Comes the Serious Bit", "Erin O' Conner"

RIYL: Pulp, Artic Monkeys, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Video: The Long Blondes - "Century" (promo)

"Here Comes the Serious Bit"


"Too Clever By Half"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

M83 - Saturdays=Youth (***1/2)

In the past, M83's Anthony Gonzalez has been almost stridently forward-thinking in his approach to electronic shoegaze, yet on his 4th full-length he has unabashedly sought to recreate the feeling of 1980s childhood nostalgia. His masterpiece, 2003s Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, and it's follow-up, the epically bombastic Before the Dawn Heals Us, were records steeped in grand gestures and heart-string pulling moments of unadulterated emotion. On the perfectly titled Saturdays=Youth, he ropes in and wallows in the new wave tropes that are intrinsically linked to the Reagan-era. In another change-up of sorts, every song - minus eleven-minute ambient closer "Midnight Souls Still Remain" - features vocals in some capacity, whether from Gonzalez himself or from newest collaborator Morgan Kibby, whose angelic sighs pepper the best of the tracks. With the increased use of vocals, Gonzalez has been forced to write some accompanying lyrics, yet I'd hesitate to read to deeply into anything here, especially when things don't go much deeper than, "She's the dirty witch of her high school/She worships Satan like a father/But dreams of a sister like Molly Ringwald". But like always, the vocals are used mostly as pure texture, another instrument in Gonzalez's ever-expanding repertoire. Gonzalez has made better records in the past, but Saturdays=Youth is certainly his most personal, and therefore most human record to date.

Highlights: "Kim & Jessie", "Graveyard Girl", "Coleurs", "Too Late"

RIYL: Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Mum

Video: M83 - "Graveyard Girl"

Myspace - M83

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tapes 'n Tapes - Walk It Off (**)

Disappointing sophomore slump from blog phenoms Tapes 'n Tapes, who in 2006 made quite a nice debut with The Loon, a record that didn't do too much more than ape Pavement and the Pixies, yet it was a fun, energetic, and above all, catchy indie-rock album that proved their was still room for such a thing in the crowded indie marketplace. On Walk It Off, the band enlists the help of uber-producer Dave Fridmann, whose hands-on approach can yield results ranging from stunning (The Soft Bulletin) to near-disastrous (Some Loud Thunder). You can feel Friddman's presence from the opening moments, as he bloats nearly every spare moment of "Le Ruse" with fuzz and extraneous noises that, granted, probably cover up some pretty mediocre songwriting, at least compared to what this band is clearly capable of. Walk It Off starts off rather innocuously enough however, with "Time of Songs", "Hang Them All" and "Conquest" all retaining at least some of the spirit of their debut. The second half of the record is a bloated mess though, beginning with the rather terrible one-two punch of "Demon Apple" and "Blunt". Tapes 'n Tapes never really recover after that, despite songs with enticing titles like "George Michael" and "The Dirty Dirty". At it's best, Walk It Off is simply forgettable, which may very well be for the better. Let's hope they can walk it off.

"Hang Them All"


"Demon Apple"


Monday, April 14, 2008

Mission of Burma - Ace of Hearts Reissues

Signals, Calls and Marches (*****)

Vs. (*****)

The Horrible Truth About Burma (***1/2)

To be completely honest, I had no idea that Mission of Burma's original Ace of Hearts catalog had gone out of print over three years ago. I've had the original CDs for so long and have continued to listen to them so consistently over the years, that I guess I just never noticed their scarcity. Well anyway, Mission of Burma formed in Boston in 1979, and quickly became one of the greatest and most influential bands from the first wave of post-punk, releasing an EP, a single full-length and a posthumous live album in 2 short years on the fledging Ace of Hearts label.

Their epochal debut single, "'Academy Fight Song' b/w 'Max Ernst'" has been appended to the Signals, Calls and Marches EP since the original CD, although on this new "Definitive Edition" the two sides are placed at the beginning of the record, as to chronologically sequence the band's progression. Signals also includes two previously unreleased tracks, "Devotion" and Execution". And of course there is the original, classic 6 song Signals EP. The big selling point for these reissues however are the live DVDs that come with each. The Signals DVD contains two early live performances, one recorded at The Space in 1979 and another at The Underground in 1980.

Vs. was released a year later, and is a much more dense and claustrophobic listen than Signals, as the band wasn't completely satisfied with those first recordings and decided to strive to document something more closely resembling their chaotic live shows, which consisted of "invisible" fourth member Martin Swope looping live analog tape of their performance while shooting sounds back at random to create the effect of much more music than three instrumentalists could possibly make on their own. This reissue contains the same four bonus tracks as the original CD issue. The DVD documents the first of two shows the band would play in a single day at the Bradford Hotel in 1983, the last time they would play their hometown in their original incarnation. Vs. is the definitive Mission of Burma document in my opinion, yet let it be known that there is not a flaw in the entire studio catalogue of the original Mission of Burma.

With guitarist Roger Miller's fight with tinnitus increasing by the day due to the overwhelming noise of their live shows, the band decided to call it quits in 1983, but not before embarking on a final tour that saw the band string together a number of performances that would come to make up their only live album. The Horrible Truth About Burma was released after the band had amicably split, yet it shows a band still at the absolute peak of their collective powers. No song from the original ten song record (previously only available on out-of-print vinyl) appear on either of their two previous records, making The Horrible Truth the only place to find nearly all of these songs. This reissue contains 4 bonus cuts recorded on the same tour, as well as a DVD of the late night show from the same Boston gig that was included on the Vs. DVD.

Of course, it's a little odd to talk about MoB in the past tense here, seeing as how they are now an on going concern again, having reformed in 2002 with Shellac's Bob Weston taking the place of Swope behind the scenes. Mission of Burma have gone onto release the triumphant comeback album ONoffOn in 2004, and in 2006 released the absolutely stunning Obliterati, an album on par with anything they released during their initial run. If you're new to the band though, there is no better place to start than at the beginning. And now, thanks to Matador, we once again have that option.

Video: Mission of Burma - "This Is Not a Photograph" (live @ The Paradise; 1980)

Video: Mission of Burma - "Trem Two" (live @ The Bradford Hotel; 1983)

"Academy Fight Song"


"Trem Two"

"Einstein's Day"

"This Is Not a Photograph"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Clinic - Do It! (***1/2)

The law of diminishing returns had been plaguing the once-saviors of indie rock, Clinic, ever since their mind-boggling 2001 debut Internal Wrangler, still one of the decade's great records. Their formula, no matter how originally warped, had grown rather tiresome as the band continued to more-or-less rewrite the same songs record after record. And while each of their subsequent records each holds specific rewards, they haven't been able to pull together a full-length as consistently satisfying and surprising as they've done with their 5th album, the appropriately titled Do It!. Clinic don't do anything particularly "new" on Do It! - this is still a 30 minute record full of do-wop harmony, gypsy strut and left-field garage-psych - but they do it all with a renewed sense of vigor and poise, like they've finally put in enough effort to craft a follow-up to one of the aughts most wildly original records. It's time to start taking these guys seriously again, and on Do It! they go a long way towards reclaiming their place as one of England's most exciting bands.

Highlights: "Tomorrow", "Free Not Free", Corpus Christi", "High Coin", "Mary and Eddie"

RIYL: Nuggets, Gogol Bordello, Black Lips, Man Man

Video: Clinic - "Free Not Free"

Video: Clinic - "The Witch"


"Corpus Christi"

"High Coin"

"Winged Wheel"

Sun Kil Moon - April (****)

Long awaited second effort from former Red House Painters leader Mark Kozelek and his Sun Kil Moon project, his first album of all new material since 2003s landmark Ghosts of the Great Highway. Here Kozelek employs the exact sonic template - spare acoustics, minimalist walls of electric guitar, cavernous open spaces - that made Highway so stunning, and while this album isn't as instantly accessible as that record (the 3 best songs stretch to the 10 minute mark), it still remains an impossibly beautiful, emotionally devastating 11 track song-cycle. The lyrics still deal in epically poetic depictions of love, heartbreak and detachment, held together loosely by an overriding feel of a dimly-lit April dusk. Will Oldham (Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Palace Music, Superwolf), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie, Postal Service) and Eric Pollard all make guest appearances, yet April all hangs on the fragile vocals of Kozelek, who 15 years on, still holds the power to break your heart with the slightest quaver in his voice. We're only four months into 2008, yet April has already guaranteed it's place as the year's most gorgeously crystalline musical statement.

Highlights: "Lost Verses", "Heron Blue", "Moorestown", "Tonight the Sky", "Tonight in Bilbao"

RIYL: Red House Painters, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, The Mountain Goats, Bon Iver, Microphones

Video: Sun Kil Moon - "Moorestown" (fan video)

"Lost Verses"

"Tonight the Sky"

"Heron Blue"

"Tonight in Bilbao"

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (****)

Coming just a year after he melted faces with his new cock-rock project Grinderman, Nick Cave returns with his first Bad Seeds record in 4 years, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, splitting the aural difference between the effects pedal ferocity of Grinderman and his more straight-laced, everyman persona made famous with his long-running backing band. This democratic approach has resulted in one of the best and most invigorating records of Cave's already stellar career. Cave is his typical fire-breathing self here, but what really elevates Lazarus to greatness is the increased presence of the Dirty Three's Warren Ellis, who infuses the best of these songs with the odd loops and noisy instrumental flourishes he has built his name on. For the first time in a long while, this is as much a Bad Seeds album as it is a Nick Cave album. And that's to take nothing away from Cave, who helms this whole freak-show with a devilish glint in his eye, outlining a loose but fascinating Biblical narrative, while still managing to wrestle with the sex & death quandaries that have been his calling card from day one. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! finds an aging band fighting harder and with more passionate conviction than most younger bands can muster for a single song. If only every great band could persevere this long. From here to eternity.

Highlights: "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!", "Albert Goes West", "We Call Upon the Author", "Jesus of the Moon"

Video: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!"

"We Call Upon the Author"

"Today's Lesson"

"Albert Goes West"

"Hold On To Yourself"

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Man Man - Rabbit Habits (***1/2)

Third and most grown-up album yet from those Zappa/Waits/Beefheart enthusiasts in Man Man. What the band has lost in sheer audacity and blatant oddness has been replaced here by refined songwriting and (for the most part) fully formed songs with a unique sense of purpose. This can be good or bad depending on how you look at it, yet Rabbit Habits still exhibits so much of what makes Man Man one of America's weirdest and most original bands, that this is anything but mainstream pandering. It's true, that after absorbing the group's first two brilliant records so fully, hearing Rabbits Habits with fresh ears is all but impossible. The goofball chanting, kitchen sink instrumentation and flat-out insane live shows still impress, yet the chances of this band reaching, at least on record, the unhinged brilliance of Six Demon Bag anytime soon is probably too much to ask. What you get with Rabbit Habits though is 13 strong Man Man songs, from a group that has clearly matured and settled into their idiosyncratic sound. This straight faced Man Man is a new and unexpected look, and you know what? It stills works.

Highlights: "Hurly/Burly", "Easy Eats or Dirty Doctor Galapagos", "Top Drawer", "Poor Jackie"

RIYL: Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits

Video: Man Man - "Top Drawer" (live at SXSW)


"The Ballad of Butter Beans"

"Big Trouble"

The Breeders - Mountain Battles (**1/2)

Yet another unexpected return from the legendary Breeders has yielded yet another decent record, their first since 2002s forgettable Title TK. No one in their right mind would expect the Deal sisters to match the heights of 1990s flawless Pod, or even 1993s breakthrough Last Splash, but nothing they've done in the last decade-plus can begin to touch even the worst moments on those first two records. This is easily the band's slowest, and therefore prettiest, record to date, although I'm not sure that's exactly what Breeders fans are looking for (and I'm positive they aren't looking for songs sung in Spanish and German). All that being said however, Mountain Battles does feature some strong songs, mainly "Walk it Off" and "No Way", and Steve Albini's production is predictably raw, keeping the album's sound well within the path the band was charting in the early 90s. But at this point, and with such uninspired results, why bother?

Highlights: "Overglazed", "Walk It Off", "No Way"

"Walk It Off"

"It's the Love"

"We're Gonna Rise"

"Bang On"

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sian Alice Group - 59.59 (***1/2)

This hypnotizing debut album from the London-based chamber-psych group Sian Alice Group drifts slowly but assuredly between piano-laced instrumentals, glacial psych-rock and noisy free-jazz explosions, many times within the same, frequently improvised, piece. Broken down into 16 tracks and stretching to the titular album length, 59.59 is designed to be absorbed in a single sitting, as to accentuate the vivid instrumental textures and angelic vocals of Sian Aher, who floats quietly but evocatively throughout the record. The slow motion drift of 59.59 will sadly lose the attention of the easily distracted, yet Sian Alice Group leave enough of an impression with the graciously included up-tempo tracks to establish a rewarding juxtaposition between their multiple stylistic asides.

Highlights: "Kirilov", "Contours", "When...", "Sleep", "Murder", "Motionless"

RIYL: Spiritualized, Cocteau Twins, Function, Supersilent


"Way Down to Heaven"


School of Language - Sea from Shore (***1/2)

With the perennially underrated Field Music on indefinite hiatus, David Brewis has taken the opportunity to branch out on his own with a debut solo album that carries with it all the hooks of his full time band, while at the same time utilizing enough unique production tricks to justify a change in moniker. This will no doubt satiate Field Music fans, but seeing as how this is also one of the best UK pop records in a long while, Sea from Shore also holds ample rewards for just about anyone craving effortless pop hooks and dynamic, one-man arrangements.

Highlights: "Rockist Pts. 1-4", "Disappointment '99", "This Is No Fun"

RIYL: Field Music, Futureheads, Maximo Park, The Rakes, XTC

Video: School of Language - "Rockist (single version)"

"Disappointment '99"

"This Is No Fun"

"Extended Holiday"

Monday, April 7, 2008

Nick Lowe - Jesus of Cool (Reissue) (****1/2)

Vital reissue of Nick Lowe's genre-bursting 1978 debut album, sadly out-of-print for years and available on CD for the first time in America with it's original title and track list intact. In addition to the original, nearly perfect original Jesus of Cool album, this reissue amends 10 bonus tracks, including all the songs that were initially swapped out for the American album release (renamed for our conservative country, Pure Pop For Now People). The remaining bonus cuts are all golden as well, with the entirety of Lowe's Bowi EP also included here. This is an exceptional and carefully looked after reissue of one of the great records from the late 70s, and an early contender for reissue of the year.

Highlights: "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass", "Shake and Pop", "So it Goes", No Reason", "Nutted by Reality"

RIYL: Elvis Costello, David Bowie

"I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass"

"So it Goes"

"Cruel to be Kind"

Thursday, April 3, 2008

V/A - Love and Circuits: A Cardboard Records Compilation (from Aa to Zs) (****)

Cardboard Records, a label run by noise-rock two-piece Parts & Labor, has amassed quite the stable of artists over the years, and Love and Circuits, a 57 track overview of the label's most boundary pushing acts, has recently been released to (according to their website) "represent the current underground scene as a whole". And while it may not quite accomplish that near-impossible goal, it does comes oftly close on quite a number of occassions.

It's safe to say that if you're into Parts & Labor or the more tuneful side of the experimental rock spectrum, then you'll find lots to love here, from the pummeling Aa to the fierce Double Dagger to whirlwind force of Pterodactyl. There are a number ambient (Insect Factory) and left-of-center pop (Matt & Kim) selections as well, which work as nice pillows between the more aggressive songs that make up a majority of the tracklist. Most every song included here is exclusive to this comp as well, and the ones that aren't (Fuck Buttons, High Places) come from some pretty great records. If you felt that recent Living Bridge compilation lost it's footing during it's final quarter due to some second-rate AOR moments, then Love and Circuits should have no problem frying your mind at a steady clip for more than two straight hours.

Highlights: Aa - "Who's the Boss", Big Bear - "19", Crime in Choir - "Broken Before a Frozen God", Ecstatic Sunshine - "Crystal in the Sky", Gowns - "What If Not You", Japanther - "Charlie Hustle (Free Pete Rose)", Oneida - "Winter Mind", These Are Powers - "The South Angel", Wilderness - "Beautiful Alarms (live)"

These Are Powers - "The South Angel"

Matt & Kim - "Silver Tiles"

Big Bear - "19"

Maps and Atlases - "Songs for Ghosts To Haunt To"

Jonny Greenwood - There Will Be Blood OST (***1/2)

Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood has dabbled in soundtrack work and modern classical composition in the past, but never with as much exposure or as much success as he has with the score to Paul Thomas Anderson's oil/greed/relgion epic There Will Be Blood. The film is a masterpiece of visual storytelling, yet Greenwood augments Anderson's picture perfect frames with some of the most innovative and groundbreaking string and percussive arrangements ever attempted for a major motion picture. I'm not one to really divorce a film from it's musical source material (which is why it has taken me so long to listen to this), but all 11 of these compositions can stand out well enough on their own that a case can reasonably be made for Greenwood as one of the renaissance men of modern music, with or without his full-time band.

Highlights: "Future Markets", "Henry Plainview", "Proven Lands", "Oil"

"Future Markets"


"HW/Hope of New Fields"

"There Will Be Blood"

Plants and Animals - Parc Avenue (***)

Hailing from Canada and sporting more than a few charcateristics of their more celebrated indie-rock countrymen, Plants and Animals debut on Parc Avenue with an epic record full of equal parts soft-focus folk and wide-eyed rock orchestration. The band doesn't seem to have the patience to stay in one pace for very long, genre-hopping through multi-part arrangements, yet they seem to stay focused more often than not. It's an oddly paced record - and a long one at that - without any one standout track, yet anyone looking to explore the origins of a promising young band should pay close attention.

Highlights: "Good Friend", "Feedback in Field", "New Kind of Love"

RIYL: Blitzen Trapper, Wilco, Akron/Family

Video: Plants and Animals - "Good Friend" (live @ Drake)

Video: Plants and Animals - "Feedback in the Field" (Live)

"New Kind of Love"

"Keep it Real"

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely (**)

I still haven't quite figured out why The Raconteurs even exist. I mean, they don't do anything too terribly different than either The White Stripes or The Greenhornes, the two groups whose members form the core of the group. And I'll admit I'm not a Greenhornes fan by any stretch of the imagination (in fact, their self-titled 2001 record is one of the worst albums I've heard all decade), yet I still respect Jack White as much as any other musician out there right now. Still, while I had no patience for the Raconteurs debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, last year the White Stripes put out a stellar return-to-form entitled Icky Thump, one of the best records of their career, so I held out at least a slight bit of hope for the Raconteurs sophomore effort. Unfortunately, it's pretty much more of the same tired classic rock posturing that Broken Boy Soldiers force-fed us, only this time there's a lot more it and it features almost none of the subtle sonic enhancements that separated Icky Thump from it's predecessors.

After a promising start with two aggressive garage rockers (the title-track and "Salute Your Solution"), the record quickly falls off into a boring and predictable groove. Most of the tracks that follow are harmless background MOR, yet a few - "You Don't Understand Me", "The Switch and the Spur", "Many Shades of Black" - are noting short of awful. There's probably enough average material here to put together a decent ten song record like their debut, yet at 14 tracks and 1 hour, things grow tiring in way less than half that time. At least the band rewards your patience, as they nearly end up salvaging the record with "Carolina Drama", the final track and one of the best songs White has ever written. It's almost reason enough to stick around to the end of the album. Almost. Save your ten buck and just stream "Carolina Drama" below. Dig the album cover though.

Highlights: "Consoler of the Lonely", "Salute Your Solution", "Carolina Drama"

RIYL: The White Stripes, The Greenhornes, the worst and most cliched aspects of classic rock

Video - "Salute Your Solution"

"Old Enough"

"Consoler of the Lonely"

"Carolina Drama"

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

R.E.M. - Accelerate (***)

After nearly a decade of embarrassingly ho-hum material, the legendary R.E.M. make a out-of-nowhere return to form with their 14th studio album Accelerate. The album title is no joke, as the Athens quartet pushes for the immediacy of their late 80s material here, while finally sounding like a complete band again, 12 years after the departure of Bill Berry following the release of what many thought was to be the band's last significant record, 1996s New Adventures in Hi-Fi. On Accelerate, the band surprisingly pushes the guitars back to the forefront, speeding through 11 tracks in little over a half hour. Perhaps more significantly however, Mike Mills' contrasting vocal harmonies make an long overdue re-appearance on a number of tracks here, hearkening back to the band's IRS years as well. It's true, nothing on Accelerate is outside of the band's comfort zone, yet the band sounds rejuvenated here, tearing into songs that they clearly put effort into. Above all else, Accelerate is quite simply satisfying, and that's not something I have been able to say about this band in a long time. At this point in their career, a 3-star review is about as a high a compliment I could pay a band of their stature.

Highlights: "Supernatural Superserious", "Hollow Man", "Accelerate", "Mr Richards"

Video - "Supernatural Superserious"

"Hollow Man"


"Mr. Richards"