October 2, 2009
A cursory listen to In And Out Of Control, the new album from Danish but US based band the Raveonettes, may give the impression that the band is playing it safe and treading on familiar musical ground, but it’s in fact one of their strongest albums yet. Yes, their mix of droning, fuzzy guitars with 50’s and 60’s rock and pop is still in effect here, but it’s in the service of darker, sometimes harsher material, both lyrically and musically, as songs with titles like “Boys Who Rape (Should Be Destroyed)” and “Suicide” might indicate. “Break Up Girls!” starts with a shrillness that almost sounds like screaming, and the album in general has a more confrontational feel to it. Somehow they’ve managed to make it all sound energizing and dance floor ready for the most part, despite the overall dark tone. I wonder if this is an album some fans will feel put off by, but I liked it a lot, and definitely recommend giving it a chance. Standout cuts: “Bang!,” “Gone Forever,” “Last Dance” and “Break Up Girls!”
September 30, 2009
The new album from Nashville based rock trio the Ettes, Do You Want Power, is somewhat gritty and a bit more poppy than their 2006 debut, which may or may not be a disappointment to their longtime fans, but they haven’t lost their knack for writing catchy tunes. The music here retains the blues, garage and punk rock mix that made that first album so memorable, and while they’ve retained their edges, they’ve also polished those edges up quite a lot this time out, adding some psychedelic and power pop touches here and there. They’ve even thrown in a couple of country inspired ballads, “Love Lies Bleeding” and “While Your Girl’s Away.” Do You Want Power is certainly their best sounding album, their most wide-ranging, and generally their most accomplished and fun set of music yet. Standout cuts: “I Can’t Be True,” “Modern Game,” “Seasons” and “No Home.”
September 27, 2009
Album, the new record from San Francisco based band Girls (Christopher Owens and Chet “JR” White), didn’t exactly set me on fire the first time I heard it. I didn’t hate it, but something about the way it mixed 50’s and 60’s rock and pop styles with distinctly modern, angst ridden and sometimes profane lyrics just rubbed me the wrong way. I did like “Hellhole Ratface,” however, which starts out as a gentle Wall Of Sound influenced ballad and gradually builds into a droning guitar shoegaze influenced workout. It’s such a good song that I had to go back and listen to the album again, and I finally started to get what was bugging me about the record. The songs that influence the material on Album are frequently about complex emotions and situations that are distilled into simple, sometimes deliberately evasive lyrics. Girls, however, bring those complexities to the surface with startling and often deeply unsettling honesty, as on “Lust For Life”: “I wish I had a father / Maybe then I would’ve turned out right / But now I’m just crazy, totally mad / Yeah, I’m just crazy, I’m fucked in the head…” Of course, bands like Belle and Sebastian have made sweet sounding music laced with lyrical acid in the past, but yet the work Girls have done on Album has a unique power all its own, accomplished without a surfeit of irony or campiness. If you can listen to the album on its own terms, I think it will make for a remarkable experience. Standout cuts: “Lust For Life,” “Laura,” “Hellhole Ratface” and “Summertime.”
August 26, 2009
Miami based band the Postmarks follow through on the promise of their debut record, and then some, with their excellent sophomore release, Memoirs At The End Of The World. Like on the first album, the Postmarks (Tim Yehezkely, Christopher Moll and Jonathan Wilkins) find inspiration in 60’s pop by way of Burt Bacharach and the like, but expand their range of influences on this record to 60’s movie composers, most notably John Barry and his work for the James Bond films, but also composers along the lines of Michel Legrand and Francis Lai, among others. The music is by and large lush and romantic sounding, but with undercurrents of mystery, intrigue and even a bit of menace. It’s great stuff, an inspired mix of retro influences, Yehezkely’s savvy, seductive vocals and a very modern indie pop sensibility. The release of Memoirs At The End Of The World is an indie pop event of the first order, and as such, it’s highly recommended. Standout cuts: “No One Said This Would Be Easy,” “Thorn In Your Side,” “I’m In Deep” and “Go Jetsetter.”
August 16, 2009
For music fans who became aware of Brendan Benson only through his involvement with the Raconteurs, it may come as a surprise that My Old, Familiar Friend is in fact his third solo album. But what nice surprise for those fans, as well as long time fans, as Benson’s new record is a career high. It’s a stylish, often lushly produced (complete with strings on some tracks) collection, somewhat of a paean to 60’s and 70’s pop and soul, with some psychedelia and some muscular power pop by way of Cheap Trick added to the mix as well. Most of the album rocks, though the handful of midtempo tracks are just as good, with “You Make A Fool Out Of Me” being a particular highlight. Definitely recommended for indie rock and pop fans, power pop fans, and fans of the Raconteurs who are curious about his solo work. The latter fan base will definitely get a feel for his influence inside that band. Standout cuts: “A Whole Lot Better,” “Garbage Day,” “You Make A Fool Out Of Me” and “Poised And Ready.”
January 6, 2009
The debut album by Scottish band Glasvegas arrives on American shores with some rapturous UK press, notably from NME, which declared it “the best album of the year (2007).” Having now listened to the album, I recall a critic reacting to record industry ad that touted an Echo and the Bunnymen album with the rhetorical question, “Best album ever?,” by writing, “It’s neither good enough to be true, nor bad enough to be funny.” Glasvegas would have been nowhere the top of my best album list of 2007, but that said, it is an earnestly made, promising pop debut, which will justifiably earn them some the Jesus and Mary Chain comparisons, as they share with that band a fondness for droning guitars and “Wall of Sound”-style percussion. Glasvegas also shows some serious 50’s and 60’s pop music influence in their music, but whereas the Raveonettes and Clinic can draw from the same sources and have the result sound positively menacing and weird, Glasvegas opt for a more traditional, less edgy approach, though they certainly are not shy about dropping the F bomb from time to time. Glasvegas could be capable of great things if they maybe roughen up their decidedly glossy edges next time out. For now, they’ve produced a solid, appealing debut. Standout cuts: “Geraldine,” “It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry,” “Polmont On My Mind” and “Daddy’s Gone.”
August 2, 2008
Los Angeles based singer/songwriter Matthew Sweet’s latest album, Sunshine Lies, showcases the sort of 60’s and 70’s flavored power pop that most longtime Sweet fans crave from him. In fact, it’s so exactly the kind of music you associate with him that you wonder initially if you’re listening to actual good music or just extremely well crafted Matthew Sweet product. And the answer to that is Sunshine Lies is maybe a bit of both, with an emphasis, however, happily, on the former. The album starts off with the muscular, quasi-psychedelic guitars and noise of “Time Machine,” “Room To Rock” and later, “Flying,” and ends with the sweet, hopeful ballad, “Back Of My Mind.” It’s an album that gets better with repeated listens, as the individual songs begin to separate out from each other, and you begin to appreciate how good tracks like “Sunshine Lies” (which also features Susanna Hoffs), “Byrdgirl,” “Feel The Fear” and “Daisychain” really are. If Sunshine Lies isn’t necessarily great Matthew Sweet, it’s mostly very good Matthew Sweet, and I think most listeners aren’t going to quibble much over that fine line, anyway, and just be content to enjoy the music he’s offered up this time around. Definitely recommended, at any rate.
May 10, 2008
First of all, if you’re a longtime Speed Racer fan like me, odds are you’re reading this already having seen this movie. Granted this version of the 60’s Japanese animated TV series comes over three decades or so after I really would have appreciated seeing it, but now that it’s here, I have to say, I liked it a lot. It’s best when Speed (Emile Hirsch) is racing the Mach 5, his family’s way-tricked out car, against all variety of wild and exotic adversaries, with names like Snake Oiler and Blackjack Benelli, each with their own way-tricked out cars. He also races against, and then with, the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox), and is supported on and off the track by his girlfriend/helicopter pilot Trixie (Christina Ricci), his race car engineer Pops (John Goodman), Mom (Susan Sarandon), younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) and mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry). Chim-Chim, the family’s pet chimpanzee, is also part of the gang, though I have to admit, he was so oddly drawn in the original series that I wasn’t sure what he was; my friend Curt thought he was just some “really weird looking kid.” The movie is perfectly cast for the most part, and the Speed Racer universe, as re-interpreted by writers/directors the Wachowski Brothers, is as laws-of-gravity-and-physics defying, bizarre and colorful in its own way as the TV series and the manga books from which it first sprang. The live actors are almost perfectly integrated into the largely computer generated backgrounds, vehicles and action, so much so that the green screen work that looked so obvious and distracting and just plain fake in other movies is nearly undetectable here, as all the elements onscreen are put together seamlessly. The cinematic world of Speed Racer is a riot of color, richly and freshly imagined with a lot of wit and style, while staying fundamentally true to its sources. The races are thrillingly staged, and they electrified the mostly young audience with which I saw the movie. The movie doesn’t fare as well with the scenes between the races, where the “Speed Vs. the Man (aka the corporate sponsors who are corrupting the race world)” plot gets played out. The scenes in particular where Royalton (Roger Allam) tries to tempt Speed into racing for his evil corporation are the biggest yawns: Not many kids are going to understand, much less care about, underhanded corporate dealings, and certainly not in the terms and at the length in which Royalton goes on about them. Speed’s scenes with his parents also tend to fall flat, but fortunately there’s real spark in the scenes with him and Trixie. The other problem with Speed Racer is that at 135 minutes, it’s almost fatally overlong by at least half an hour. When the movie works, it definitely works, though, and so it’s worth a look, especially for Speed Racer fans, and fans of the Wachowski Brothers, who, after the dud that was The Matrix Revolutions, have produced a flawed, but mostly entertaining and possibly groundbreaking piece of cinema.
MONKEY RATING: TWO MONKEYS
(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)
April 18, 2008
Having apparently taken the brown acid, Liverpool based band Clinic turn on, tune in and drop out with their latest release, Do It!, a collection of eleven 60’s psychedelic rock inspired songs. The result is a groovy good time, and one of their most accessible albums yet. True to their penchant for eerie, sometimes menacing music, Do It! more often than not sounds like the soundtrack to a bad trip as opposed to a good one, so longtime fans needn’t worry about them selling out to the Man. They definitely haven’t. Like their last album, Do It! has a running time that hovers around half an hour or so, short, but it’s definitely sweet. Standout cuts: “Memories,” “The Witch,” “Shopping Bag” and “Emotions.”
February 23, 2008
If the new Raveonettes album, Lust Lust Lust, never quite hits the peaks that its first two brilliant tracks do, well, so what? Most albums don’t have a single song as cool as either the eerie, almost menacing “Aly, Walk With Me” or “Hallucinations,” with its beautifully distorted guitar riffs. It’s not that the rest of the album pales in comparison, either, as the Danish band, now based in Los Angeles and New York City, have returned with an inspired, powerful album that finds them playing their now familiar mix of distorted, fuzzy guitar sounds and 50’s and 60’s rock with a renewed energy, infusing and complicating even the album’s poppiest moments with a strange, almost delirious obsessiveness, true to the album’s title. Other standout cuts: “Dead Sound” and “You Want The Candy,” but there are no duds to be found here.