everythinggoeswrongFor the first couple of tracks of Everything Goes Wrong, their second album, it seems like Brooklyn based trio Vivian Girls will be serving up more of the same fast paced 60’s pop and surf rock flavored punk found on their 2008 debut, which would in no way would have been a bad thing, of course. That doesn’t really turn out to be the case, however, as the middle of the album contains harder edged tracks like “Tension,” “Survival” and “Out For The Sun,” the latter of which contains stellar punk guitar work that recalls another NYC band, Sonic Youth. They even add a little rockabilly to the mix with “Double Vision.” The album ends as it begins, with two more punk pop tunes, but by then, Vivian Girls have made the case that they are more than a one trick pony kind of a band, and moreover, may even have the chops to someday fill the great void left in the punk scene by Sleater-Kinney when they called it quits, and that’s high praise indeed. Standout cuts: “Can’t Get Over You,” “Tension,” “Survival” and “Out Of The Sun.”

http://www.myspace.com/viviangirlsnyc

jayreatardWatch Me Fall, the new album from Memphis rocker Jay Reatard, skilfully genre hops between garage rock, punk and power pop with pretty irresistible results for fans of those genres, or just plain old good rock and roll. Reatard, whose vocals often recall Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks, is equally adept with both hard driving punk numbers like the opener “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” and “Faking It” and acoustic guitar based power pop numbers like “I’m Watching You” and “Wounded.” Psychedelic garage rock tunes like “Before I Was Caught” and the terrific closer “There Is No Sun” also go a long ways in showing his versatility. Fans of Reatard’s past collection of singles will see both a continuity and a progression, the latter in particular because he’s simply becoming a better and better songwriter: He’s pretty much mastered all the genres contained on this record, and his lyrics are by turns feverish, paranoid, witty, angry and romantic. Watch Me Fall flies by in 32 minutes, but the songs will stick with you a lot longer than that. Standout cuts: “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me,” “I’m Watching You,” “Wounded” and “There Is No Sun.”

http://www.myspace.com/jayreatard

brendanbensonFor 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.”

http://www.myspace.com/brendanbenson

cheaptrickthelatestIf there’s anything wrong with Cheap Trick’s new self-released album, The Latest, it’s that there aren’t enough full on rock tracks like “Sick Man Of Europe,” which is a short, sweet shot to the body that sounds like their early work, albeit with a modern polish. It’s a small quibble, however, as by the end of my first listen-through, I was pretty sold on The Latest: It is, flaws and all, a pretty solid summer album, and ample proof that Cheap Trick have a lot of mileage left in them, even after thirty-five years rockin’ it hard. The first full track is a heretofore buried gem from 1976, “When The Lights Are Out,” which, fairly startingly, blends seamlessly with material recorded over three decades later. Lead singer Robin Zander sounds as incredible as ever, and the band, Rick Nielsen, Bun E. Carlos and Tom Petersson, haven’t lost a step. Sure, a lot of it is Cheap Trick in power ballad mode, i.e. the swoon-ready closer, “Smile,” but it’s such a unique pleasure listening to them play that I didn’t mind. Definitely recommended for classic rock and power pop fans. Standout cuts: “When The Lights Are Out,” “Sick Man Of Europe,” “Alive” and “Closer, The Ballad of Burt and Linda.”

http://www.cheaptrick.com/

artbrutvssatanThere’s something sort of brilliant about the way that UK based band Art Brut, in 11 tracks and 40 minutes, is able to describe the state of the young artist in the early part of the 21st century, or, as my friend Tom might’ve put it, “the same old shit,” circa 2009. Whether lead singer Eddie Argos is celebrating/bemoaning a night of too much fun (“Alcoholics Unanimous,” “Mysterious Bruises”), trying to reconcile lowbrow tastes with a highbrow sensibility (“DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake”), singing the praises of public transportation (“The Passenger”) or the DIY aesthetic (“Slap Dash For No Cash”) or dealing with audience indifference (“Demons Out!”), Art Brut maintains enough of a distance that the songs are both sardonically funny and insightful without falling into solipsism, self-righteousness or just plain old whining. Argos still does his speak/singing thing, and the music is still snotty, brash sounding punk and New Wave inspired indie rock, and it all still sounds pogo-ready great. Standout cuts: “Alcoholics Unanimous,” “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake,” “What A Rush” and “Slap Dash For No Cash.”

http://www.myspace.com/artbrut

This collection of 7″ vinyl singles from Memphis based singer/songwriter Jay Reatard is like a box of candy for garage rock and power pop fans, 13 tracks worth of non-stop indie-style goodness. His guitar and organ infused music has echoes of bands like the Buzzcocks (he often sounds a lot like Pete Shelley), the Cramps, the Plimsouls and early Elvis Costello: A punk sensibility informs his take on 60’s garage rock, which sometimes comes in lo-fi form, sometimes not. Later in the collection, he slows things down with “No Time” and “You Were Sleeping,” which recall Elliott Smith. A full length album for Matador is scheduled for early 2009, which means more garage rock good times are just around the bend. Standout cuts: “See Saw,” “Painted Shut,” “Trapped Here” and “No Time.”

http://www.myspace.com/jayreatard

On their second album, Los Angeles based band the Broken West combines modern indie power pop and rock with 80’s style synthesizer beats, and the result is…pretty entertaining really. I had to listen to it a couple of times to really get a feel for their work here, thinking on first listen that once the band fully commits to the 80’s sound with track five, “Perfect Games,” the album improves quite a lot. However, on repeat listens, I found Now Or Heaven is in fact uniform in its goodness, recalling, in spirit if not always musically, power pop artists of the past such as the La’s, Jellyfish and Tommy Keene, with maybe a touch of Gin Blossoms. Now Or Heaven is a lot of fun to listen to, and it will be a real treat for power pop fans. Standout cuts: “Gwen, Now And Then,” “Auctioneer,” “Perfect Games” and “Terror For Two.”

http://www.myspace.com/thebrokenwest

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t care for Weezer’s last album very much. In fact, it would not be inaccurate to say that I didn’t like any of it, as I can’t now think of any single song that I liked. It hasn’t always been this way, as though I can’t say they were necessarily one of my favorite bands, they have certainly made some of my favorite songs since their 1994 “Blue Album” debut. Pinkerton is probably my favorite album by them, but The Green Album isn’t far behind. The Red Album starts out pretty strong, with three solid, witty rockers in a row, including the amusingly nutty epic “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn).” “Pork And Beans” is a solid song, a natural for the album’s first single, and “Troublemaker” gets things off to a raucous start. Then frontman Rivers Cuomo engages in what Michael Chabon termed “ruinous nostalgia” in his first novel, The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh: “Heart Songs” is a tribute to Cuomo’s favorite songs, and how they inspired him to start his own band. It’s sincere enough, but it’s not really anymore inspiring than Billy Joel’s “Keeping The Faith,” Joel’s ode to 50’s and 60’s songs. “Everybody Get Dangerous” is a flat out misfire, and the rest of the album is passable to good, if not very inspired, with the exception of the final track, “The Angel And The One,” which ends the album on a melancholy, but forceful note. There are four additional tracks on the deluxe version of the album, which, as with the latest album by the Kooks, considerably elevate the quality of the album as a whole, turning an okay album into a good one. If you’re going to buy The Red Album, buy the deluxe version, as top notch tracks like “Miss Sweeney,” the oddly trippy and mystical “The Spider” and the entertaining macho posturing of “King” make it worth the price of admission. All in all, The Red Album is a pretty mixed bag, but it’s definitely a big step up from Make Believe.

http://www.myspace.com/weezer

El Rey, the new album from UK based band the Wedding Present, fronted by David Gedge, is a collection of forceful, often very witty rock and power pop, given extra muscle by producer Steve Albini, who punches up the drums and bass until they’re recalling Nirvana on In Utero. This latter quality is both good and bad, bad because some of the songs start to run into each other, musically sounding very similar. There are enough good tracks here, though, for El Rey to more than merit a listen, especially for Wedding Present and Cinerama (Gedge’s other band) fans. Standout cuts: “Santa Anna Winds,” “I Lost The Monkey,” “The Thing I Like The Best About Him Is His Girlfriend” and “Boo Boo.”

http://www.myspace.com/theweddingpresent

For their first album in four years, Los Angeles based band Phantom Planet fuses all of the musical phases their ten year history has seen them go through, from Beach Boys inspired power pop to jagged garage and punk inspired rock, into one immensely satisfying whole on Raise The Dead. The record leans more to the noisy guitar rock of “Big Brat” than the dreamy pop of songs like “California” and “Lonely Day,” but they haven’t lost their knack for hooks, as the first four cuts will attest, which start the album out with a bang and constitute some of the best songs. “Demon Daughters” and “Leave Yourself For Someone Else” are highlights from the second half of the album, which fortunately never runs out of gas throughout its 12 track, 43 minute running time. It’s a solid return for a band that’s never quite figured out what it wants to do, so it continues to try out a bit of everything. Time will tell if Phantom Planet will settle on a single sound, but it’s fun hearing them work it out in the meantime. Standout cuts: “Raise The Dead,” “Dropped,” “Leader” and “Do The Panic.”

http://www.myspace.com/phantomplanet