Architecture In Helsinki, In Case We Die - I didn't hear the twee collective's first CD, aside from a catchy single I can't even remember the name of. Thing being that at the time I downloaded said single, it just struck me as catchy pop; the discovery that AIH was a bunch of shaggy-haired Aussies with a propensity for getting ultra-cutesy threw me off. When I finally listened, I couldn't stand it at first: there's perky female singers who sound underage and cheap keyboards with fuzzy, cloying oomp. And what bothered me most was that I could see it working with expensive production: with booming drums and bigger choirs, AIH's occasional yen for song-suites and Life-Affirming Numbers would work much better.
And the truth is that numbers like "Need To Shout" can grow annoying, as AIH cross the line between upbeat and cloying one to many times. "Tiny Paintings," from its title on down to the lumbering bass line, sounds like a kiddie soundtrack to a movie about an ungainly but lovable dog (Beethoven 6: Charles Grodin's Revenge). But once you dig past the hippie trappings, they have more than a few moments, like two-minute wonder "It'5" (say "It's five!"), or melancholy "Maybe You Can Owe Me," where they hushedly offer a place for a friend to crash on the floor while summoning up the feeling of long late-night conversations. Bottom line: annoying ethos, decent tunes, could use a bigger budget.
Big Star, In Space - The first three tracks made me glad that Big Star came back; it sounded like Alex Chilton, if not back in top form, was at least warming up nicely. "Dony" has a nice dark hue to it, and "Best Chance We've Ever Heard" is almost quite good. But there's not much good to say about this disk, made seemingly solely for the band's perverse pleasure: the fuck-you funk of "Love Revolution" seems designed to demonstrate that you can have excellent rhythm guitar skills and still make them mean not a damn thing, and "Do You Wanna Make It" is yet another rote round of blues-rock in a time when there's already too much of it. There is one perversely fascinating track on here: "Aria Largo" is a transcription, as its title suggests, of an Italian aria, scored for two guitars, bass, and drums. It's utterly unnecessary and doesn't work, but the sheer absurdity of the enterprise is kind of fascinating. Like so many reunion CDs, this one is destined to sink into obscurity. Not In Space; Lost In Space, more like.
The Cardigans, Super Extra Gravity - I really, really enjoyed the Cardigans' shift into uber-depression on Long Gone Before Daylight, an album whose utter bleakness would've given Nick Drake pause. The album also had some forays into conventional rock to leaven, but it worked fine; instead of sounding adult-contemporary, they sounded like a band writing professional 4-minute songs. The transition doesn't continue quite as smoothly here. There's not much good to say about a song like "Drip Drop Teardrop," a drag of arcane rock where Nina Persson prophetically sings "I'm gonna sing until you hate this song" over endlessly pounding ROCK DRUMS. Fuck that.
The good: opening twosome "Losing A Friend" and "Godspell" move from melancholy to (I'm not kidding) a song declaring the Cardigans' atheism. There's also a single called "I Need Some Fine Wine And You, You Need To Be Nicer" where Persson addresses her lover/dog with obvious relish: "Sit. Good dog. Stay. Roll over. Bad dog. Wooo! Down. Roll over." Sexual vamping suits her well. Before two finishing bonus tracks, there's "And Then You Kissed Me II," a lesser re-visitation of the extraordinary "Daylight" track about love as a form of abuse, and vice-versa. The Cardigans seem to have stopped being bummed-out, and now just want to be a boring MOR band. Bummer.
Metric, Live It Out - Textbook indie-rock, with jagged hooks and sweet vocal harmonies, occasionally marred by sub-Le Tigre political posture. "Handshakes" sounds like a gift from Julian Casablancas, at least until they start howling "Buy this car to drive to work, drive to work to pay for this car." Whatever. The really good: "Poster Of A Girl" may be the one-night stand of the year, and "Police And The Private" rides a melancholy keyboard line for all it's worth. Metric have a particular knack for taking the minimalist instrumentation of indie rock and milking it: piano chords, synths, and fuzz are all deployed expertly. Not a stellar CD, but the very quintessence of solid indie rock.
CDs I hope to catch up with before it's list-making time: Antony & The Johnsons, Babyshambles, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & Matt Sweeney, Dirty Projectors, Fiery Furnaces, Gustav, Isolee, Juan Maclean, M. Ward, Russian Futurists, Sufjan Stevens, TTC, Vitalic. Chime in if I'm missing anything major.