wilcoAfter being declared “America’s band” eight years ago in the wake of the release of Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, it’s probably been a bit daunting being Wilco sometimes, with great expectations being heaped upon every subsequent album. Wilco (the album), as its title may indicate, is a notably relaxed affair, however, despite some advance press characterizing it as being “experimental.” There are some songs where they go where they haven’t gone before, as with the hard edged, eerie “Bull Black Nova,” but in general, it’s a easygoing pop album, with just the right mix of the lighthearted and the serious minded, sometimes in the same song. There are no real rockers, but there are some terrific midtempo numbers like “One Wing,” “You And I” (featuring Feist on vocals), “You Never Know” (the current single) and the lovely country and soul inflected number “Solitaire.” They close on a bittersweet, close to perfect note with “Everlasting Everything.” Wilco (the album) is perhaps not an album to change the world, but it’s certainly an album that will make you feel better about being a part of it, and when it comes down to it, maybe that amounts to the same thing, really.

http://www.myspace.com/wilco

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futureoftheleftTravels With Myself And Another, the second album from Welsh band Future of the Left opens with the searing “Arming Eritrea” and never lets up from there. It’s a furious, thundering collection of punk inspired rock, with often sardonic, mocking and profane lyrics frequently as abrasive and ferocious as the music itself, all of it sounding something like Ministry’s industrial noise with guitars instead of synths. However one chooses to classify it, nothing quite like Travels With Myself And Another has appeared this year. I can say without reservation that this is a great record that I’ve been listening to over and over since I got my hands on it. If your tastes run to indie folksy or chamber pop, then maybe this won’t be your cup of tea, but to all punk and hard rock fans, I say check this out. Standout cuts: “Arming Eritrea,” “The Hope That House Built,” “I Am Civil Service” and “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You.”

http://www.myspace.com/futureoftheleft

transformers2First of all, let me say there’s absolutely no reason for Megan Fox to be in this movie. She’s not really important to what story there is, and if her character had been subtracted from the movie altogether, most viewers probably would not have noticed much. That said, there’s barely any reason for Shia LaBeouf to be in this movie, either, and he’s the main human character and drives what little plot there is to be found in this sequel to the 2007 original. I say these things because what Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is about, even more so than its predecessor, is giant robots fighting. For two and a half hours. If this sounds good to you, then obviously this movie is for you, especially if you loved the first one. Frankly, though some of the sequences and visuals were admittedly jaw dropping, by the final quarter, I was exhausted by it. I felt a little beat up myself. On the plus side, however, it’s unexpectedly much funnier than the first one, though some of the humor is more adult than one would expect in a movie based on a cartoon for kids, and there’s probably much more bawdy, profane (and often annoying inane) robot humor contained herein than some parents will be comfortable with. By no means a great movie, but a pretty honest and unpretentious one, one where you certainly get what you paid for, and then some. If things like plot, story and character development are important to you, then you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re in it for the giant robot fights, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen definitely delivers.

MONKEY RATING: THREE TRANSFORMER MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

gossipmusicformenAfter a strong, fast paced first half, Music For Men, the new album from Portland based band the Gossip, slows down a lot towards the end, unfortunately putting the brakes on what is otherwise is pretty terrific dance record. Fortunately, the album follows up the concluding two disco and soul-styled ballads with an uncredited B-52’s style rocker, “Spare Me From The Mold,” which closes Music For Men on a high note. It’s not that the ballads are bad, as it’s pretty clear that lead singer Beth Ditto, who possesses one of the most distinctive and powerful voices in modern rock, could sing just about anything and make it sound compelling. It’s just the faster paced songs, which mix up New Wave, punk and disco influences almost seamlessly, are just so much better: Any band would kill to have songs as dance floor ready as the first single, “Heavy Cross,” as well as “8th Wonder” and “Pop Goes The World” and that closing number. (“Men In Love” would be included, too, were it not for a strangely uninspired chorus.) Despite some of my misgivings, I still recommend Music For Men, because when the Gossip are at the top of their game, they play dance oriented rock like they invented it, and that’s just too much good fun to miss.

http://www.myspace.com/Gossipband

Astra – The Weirding

June 19, 2009

astraAccording to the label that’s releasing it, San Diego based band (and “New Gods Of Psychedelic Prog” and “cosmic masters”) Astra’s debut album, The Weirding, has “Guaranteed Cult Status” written all over it. All of that is known as “the hard sell,” but fortunately for Astra, The Weirding is a pretty solid debut, maybe not strong enough to elevate them to immediate rock god status, but filled with enough promise to pay them some attention. Just so you know where they’re coming from, here’s a band picture:

astraband

That’s right, direct from the early 70’s, in spirit, anyway. I can’t say I’ve ever been very fond of prog rock via its early originators, but I’m finding I don’t mind modern practitioners of it at all, and in fact, I really enjoy quite a lot of it. Part of it is owing to the fact that while a lot of the current music, Astra’s included, sounds retro, it’s in fact a kind of blending of prog, psychedelic rock and metal that didn’t quite exist at the time. Astra specializes in the long song, and really that’s where they best show off their stuff, as they are skilled at filling an epic sized space without resorting to silly melodramatics, instead replying on solid musicianship and a keen ear for complex, layered melodies. The two highlights of the record, “The Weirding” and especially “Ouroboros,” are worth the price of admission alone, and take up almost half of the album’s running time by themselves. “Beyond to Slight the Maze” is a good closer, clocking in at just over 11 minutes. Also in Astra’s favor is that they don’t take themselves so seriously that their music drifts into pretentiousness. At its core, it’s good rock and roll fun from a band that knows and respects its influences as well as its likely core fan base.

http://www.myspace.com/astrasound

Regina Spektor – Far

June 19, 2009

farFar, New York based singer/songwriter Regina Spektor’s new album, isn’t quite the leap into greatness that many of her fan base were perhaps anticipating, but it is nevertheless an album of many great moments. No major American artist currently on the scene bumps up against preciousness quite like Spektor, and even if she does in fact dip into it from time to time, mostly she avoids it with an often goofy sense of humor and, most importantly, a gift for striking lyrical imagery and for marrying piano pop balladry with classical and jazz influences. And then there’s her voice, which is a rather glorious instrument by itself and can elevate what are otherwise ordinary songs into something more weighty sounding. Amidst some misfires, the first single, “Laughing With,” among them, there are some truly great songs to be found here, “Eet,” “Genius Next Door” and “Wallet” in particular, all literate, moving and profoundly listenable pop treasures. And “Dance Anthem Of The 80s” eventually wore me down, despite its cutesy refrain, “You are so sweet,” with its sheer charm and infectiousness. Far is far from a perfect album, but it should convince listeners that Spektor may just have a perfect album in store for them sometime in the future.

http://www.myspace.com/reginaspektor

Moby – Wait For Me

June 19, 2009

waitformeThe latest album from New York City based artist Moby was, according to its press, inspired by a speech by David Lynch, which characterized “creativity for its own sake” as “a beautiful, wonderful thing.” The result, Wait For Me, recorded in Moby’s home studio, is a work of sustained, mostly quiet beauty, instrumental for the most part, but featuring some vocals, mostly female, though Moby himself sings on “Mistake.” Listeners looking for dance tracks like “Feeling So Real” or “Bodyrock” will be disappointed, but fans of Moby’s ambient and moodier music in general will enjoy Wait For Me quite a lot. What lyrics there are tend towards the somber, sometimes borderline melodramatic, as with “Hope Is Gone,” but in general the album holds together very well. Wait For Me isn’t really much of a groundbreaking release, but it is easily Moby’s most satisfying work in some time. Standout cuts: “Pale Horses,” “Shot In The Back Of The Head,” “Scream Pilots” and “jltf.”

http://www.myspace.com/moby

placebobattleforthesunAfter making a couple of albums in a row that I really enjoyed, UK band Placebo plateaus with their first release since leaving Virgin Records, Battle For The Sun. Whereas the band has previously combined industrial, electronica and other dance influences with punk and glam rock with some biting, sardonic lyrics, Battle For The Sun feels more like a straight ahead rock album, minus the sardonic point of view. In fact, for Placebo, anyway, it’s downright ordinary, which makes for an uneven, mostly disappointing record. That said, the second half of the album picks up quite a lot, with tracks like “Speaking In Tongues,” “The Never Ending Why,” “Happy You’re Gone” and “Come Undone.” All in all, it’s not a bad album exactly, but it is my least favorite of their records, and I definitely hope it isn’t a harbinger of Placebo things to come.

http://www.myspace.com/placebo

sonicyouththeeternalNew York City based band Sonic Youth’s sixteenth album, The Eternal, sounds, well, like a Sonic Youth album: Dissonance mixed with melody, literate lyrics and some of the most distinctive and often flat out gorgeous guitar work in rock. On top of all that are Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s vocals, distinctive and gorgeous in their own right. No one mixes beauty with ferocity quite like Sonic Youth, and whatever else The Eternal has, it has a ferocious beauty about it. It also rocks harder than any Sonic Youth album in some time, which I admit is one of the primary reasons I really liked it. Apart from a couple of songs that I didn’t hate but didn’t love, either (“What We Know” and “Walkin Blue”), this is good stuff. The Eternal doesn’t constitute a turning point for the band, nor is it a midpoint, or a tipping point, or the like, it’s just a very good, sometimes excellent, Sonic Youth album. Standout cuts: “Leaky Lifeboat (for Gregory Corso),” “Antenna,” “Poison Arrow” and “Massage The History.”

http://www.myspace.com/sonicyouth

secretprofanesugarcaneRecorded with T-Bone Burnett over a three day period in Nashville, Elvis Costello’s latest release, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, is probably the very definition of a mixed bag, but as such, it holds up pretty well just the same. This is Costello in country/Americana mode, and since it’s a collaboration with Burnett, it’s been compared to King Of America, though this album is not nearly so carefully crafted nor is it as serious minded as that 1986 release. What is it is very entertaining, and I expect that was the primary intention here. The album includes four songs written for an unfinished commission about Hans Christen Andersen, duets with Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris and a couple of songs written with Burnett. Burnett the producer has assembled a crack team of musicians to back Costello, so musically it’s always a pleasure to listen to. It’s not on the level of his finest records, but Secret, Profane & Sugarcane is still great fun in its best moments, and certainly recommended for Costello fans and fans of Americana and country music in general. Standout cuts: “My All Time Doll,” “Hidden Shame,” “I Dreamed Of My Old Lover” and “The Crooked Line.”

http://www.myspace.com/elviscostello