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.”
August 26, 2009
For 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.”
August 21, 2009
Watch 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.”
July 19, 2009
If you can imagine a really poppy X, or a Blondie produced by 60’s era Phil Spector, that’s what you’re in for with Southern California based band Miss Derringer’s third album, Winter Hill. Fronted by Liz McGrath and Morgan Slade, the band blends bluesy Americana, rockabilly, surf music, 60’s girl group music and a bit of punk into slickly produced indie pop tunes. The best songs, “Click Click (Bang Bang),” “Bulletproof Heart,” “Black Tears” and “Heartbreaks & Razorblades,” hit on just the right mixture of the above influences. Considering Miss Derringer’s influences, one would think the music on Winter Hill would have a bit more grit and fire, but alas, those qualities are mostly in short supply, which is a bit of a disappointment. However, if you can forgive the album for its lack of edginess and embrace its poppiness within, Winter Hill may be the album for you.
July 10, 2009
Lungs is the auspicious debut for UK based Florence and the Machine, that is, Florence Welch and and her backing band. Welch has gotten a lot of hype in her home territory, but not so much in the United States, however, though with the release of her record here, that will hopefully change. Add the fiery pop of Sinead O’Connor, the eccentric, eclectic arty beauty of Kate Bush, mix in the experimental tendencies of both artists along with some punk and a bit of soul and you have a sense of what you’re in for with Lungs. After releasing some brilliant singles, including “Dogs Days Are Over,” the surrealistic “Kiss With A Fist” and the current “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up),” I can’t imagine Welch coming up with a more pleasing debut that more than delivers on the early promise of those first releases. It’s pop music delivered with force, verve and real joy and passion. Or, to put it simply, it’s one of this summer’s essential releases. Standout cuts: “Dog Days Are Over,” “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up),” “Howl” and “You’ve Got The Love.”
June 26, 2009
Travels 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.”
June 19, 2009
After 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.
June 2, 2009
One of the appeals of seeing a concert by Swedish band the Sounds is their determination that everyone in the audience have a great time, since they’re seeing, after all, the greatest band in the world. Super charismatic lead singer Maja Ivarsson introduces songs by saying, “Here comes another hit,” and the band plays with such passion and commitment that for the duration of the song, it’s not just a hit, it’s a super hit! For their third album, Crossing The Rubicon, they haven’t altered their formula much: It’s more of the same propulsive New Wave and punk inspired pop they’ve been doing since their 2003 debut, Living In America. They sound rather like a less serious minded the Killers, albeit with a heavy Blondie influence and a singer with a Swedish accent, though they are no less ambitious. They’re at their best with their dance rock numbers, like the opener and current single, “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake,” and later tracks like “Beatbox” and “Underground.” Their slower numbers tend towards the sentimental, as on “Home Is Where The Heart Is,” case in point, but that said, “Dorchester Hotel” and “Midnight Sun” are album highlights as well, the latter track coming in a second half that features slower numbers in general. When they’re at the top of their game, the Sounds make some pretty irresistible dance music, and Crossing The Rubicon features enough of them at the top of their game to make it a worthwhile listen for fans and people looking for unpretentious and unabashedly entertaining pop.
May 25, 2009
Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey, the latest album from Cracker, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman’s “country band within a rock band,” finds the band expressing its rock side more so than its country side, after spending a good portion of the past few years doing the latter. There’s only one country track, in fact, the amusing “Friends,” which appears midway through the album. The vast majority of the record is full on rock and roll, starting with the opener “Yalla Yalla (Let’s Go),” one of the many songs that reference contemporary events, in this case the Iraq War, right on to the closing title track. There’s even a punkish track called “Hand Me My Inhaler,” which clocks in, appropriately, at a minute and a half. My favorite track, for the moment, anyway, is the first single, the sweetly sardonic midtempo country rocker, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me,” though their collaboration with John Doe, “We All Shine A Light,” the title track and “Time Machine” all ring my bell as well. Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey is a entertaining, sometimes exhilarating, full on dose of the keen-eyed, witty and inventive rock music that first earned them fans when they first appeared on the scene in the 90’s, and one of their most enjoyable and richly satisfying albums yet. Standout cuts: “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me,” “We All Shine A Light,” “Time Machine” and “Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey.”
May 24, 2009
“And if I could, I would refrigerate this moment…”
When Jarvis Cocker released his solo debut back in 2006, titled Jarvis, I found myself thinking I should be liking it more than I actually did, considering my admiration for his work with Pulp. This is definitely not the case with his second solo album, the Steve Albini produced Further Complications, which is flat out a pretty fabulous album from start to finish. It’s the sort of album that keeps finding new ways to kick your ass with every track, as Cocker runs through 60’s inspired pop, garage and punk rock, soul and even some dance numbers to boot. Much has been written about Further Complications about Cocker’s supposed “midlife crisis,” but I think it’s safe to say that to the extent that the album is about that, the midlife crisis has seldom been taken up in modern music with such ferocious wit and brutal, often cringeworthy honesty. Startlingly, it all comes to a joyous close with “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong),” which, true to its title, is a nearly nine minute disco song, on which Cocker channels a little Barry White. Further Complications is the sound of a freshly inspired Cocker reasserting himself as one of the great music makers of his generation, and you really ought to hear it. Standout cuts: “Angela,” “Leftovers,” “Slush” and “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong).”