Wednesday, November 30, 2005

catch-up: The Cribs

The Cribs, The Cribs - Imagine The Strokes, only with three members, British, and frankly less talented, but compensating by being far more amiable. Bookended by songs which might throw you off the scent - "The Watch Trick" opens with a carnival-esque organ in waltz-time, and 5-minutes-plus closer "Third Outing" goes garage - The Cribs otherwise stick to all the slick, one note at a time guitar-lines and basic chords you could ask for (they've also got lo-fi recording down). They're pretty good at it though - good enough for the resemblance not to be distracting or annoying - and their vocals are far less detached. On some songs they form their own, distinctly interesting persona - like on "Learning How To Fight," when they blurt out "You took me out to breakfast!" The Strokes just get all sad and detached and wonder if this is it, or command you to meet them in the bathroom, but the Cribs aren't cool enough to be that alienated, which is probably a good thing (made nowhere clearer than on "Things You Should Be Knowing," where our lovestruck hero meets a girl: "You were drunk and unbelievably cool." Aww!). None of it is bad, and some of it is almost great.

Friday, November 25, 2005

more catch-up: The National

The National, Alligator - "I'll put on an argyle sweater and put on a smile," sings Matt Derninger on "Baby, We'll Be Fine," and that one line sums up why I have trouble taking the National seriously. See, because he has a deep voice and he's singing gravely about covering up his unhappiness with fashionable dress and false cheer. Oh boy. I love my bass-vocal balladeers as much as the next guy (especially if they're the Tindersticks), but there's only so much singing of disappointing nights of drinking and unrewarding sex before I start snickering. (cf. the Tindersticks again, who know that a leavening duet or two always helps.) By the time we get to penultimate track "City Middle" and Derninger says "I feel just like Tennessee Williams," it's hard to keep a straight face. Dude could just quit drinking and get a job, you know.

The National are, however, an accomplished band, the rare unit in which every player seems to be listening to the other and thinking carefully about where the rhythms and melodic lines go. These are well-arranged songs, even without the occasional strings and woodwinds, denser than standard indie-rock. Opening duo "Secret Meeting" and "Karen" are particularly rousing, as is closer "Mr. November." Here Derninger pulls back a bit on the unhappiness: "I wouldn't go out alone into America" is a clever line, succinctly stating the New Yorker's habitual fear of fly-over country. The National sounds better when you're not paying close attention and can groove on the gravitas: close listening reveals an accomplished band that could stand to cheer the fuck up on occasion. They probably keep Livejournals too.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

thanksgiving catch-up

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.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

this week's newspaper stuff

I totally busted my ass to produce a good 2200 words of content this week. Here's 2 articles: a profile of new much-hyped kids Test Icicles, who I'll confess to being slightly underwhelmed by (but I still want to hear their debut CD), and a profile of NYU student label Village Records. This latter is of frankly minimal interest to anyone who isn't actively involved with them, but my editor asked me, and I need to prove myself etc.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Oranger, New Comes And Goes - Like the title says, this is solidly crafted power-pop, no more or less fashionable than it will be ten years from now. Oranger is, according to press notes I got, a San Francisco band that's been knocking around for a while; it has the typical indie rock revolving cast of members (this incarnation, if memory serves, boasts one of the guys from Creeper Lagoon, a teen-angst fave of mine that couldn't be more different). This time, they make barely produced, sparsely arranged guitar-pop. It works. If you listen to closely, it becomes apparent that there's little room for error in this kind of stream-lined pop; a few songs (I'd suggest the primitive "Outtatoch") drag it down, but cutting them makes the album flow even better. Otherwise, not much to say: "Haeter" and "Flying Pretend" back to back means you get a great, punchy pop song (organs in all the right spots, taut drums, a right-on hook) followed by a super-fragile ballad composed pretty much exclusively of piano, vox, and recording fuzz. The good people at Eenie Meenie Records sent multiple promo copies of this, in apparent hopes that they'd get a slot in our meagerly important pages. Sorry guys; I couldn't justify catering to my pop fetish all the time in our reviews. Consider this my apology.

The Dandy Warhols, Odditorium or Warlords Of Mars - a gigantic load of crap. Evidently trying to reclaim some of the "credibility" Dig! stripped them of (as if really doing heroin instead of only pretending to had anything to do with iconic mythology, let alone writing catchy songs), the Warhols delve into one exercise after another of droning, confusing instrumentation and "jams" that go nowhere, with people playing without any real regard for one another. One song stands out as the obligatory clever new single: "All The Money Or the Simple Life Honey" has jangle and cheery horn arrangements to spare as Courtney Taylor-Taylor tells you what it's like to play "in a rock 'n roll band" where you better "do what the man says." I can't even begin to parse the layers of irony: do the Warhols (especially on this messy, thoroughly uncommerical - not to mention wretched - album) really kowtow to the man, especially considering that their biggest success came from a European TV commercial after their label faltered in promoting them adequately, and gave the label Welcome To The Monkey House's synth-pop instead of more pseudo-garage? Or does being successful and wanting to write catchy songs make you an automatic sell-out? Can you do what The Man wants and still be autonomous? Whatever. The rest of this album is well-nigh unlistenable.

Radar Bros., The Fallen Leaf Pages - gave it an agonizing three listens, then gratefully gave up. The Bros.' 2002 release ...And The Surrounding Mountains is a great album, one which builds up a mood of inexplicable, cumulative power. Songs revolved around uncles, mothers, and sons in relationships of ambiguous but unmistakable violence; the tension between the lyrics and the stately arrangements was hypnotic. This is just, you know, a bunch of slow-ass songs with no hooks and no larger conceptual framework. Fuck that.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Hanne Hukkelberg

Just in time for this Friday's update, here's 250 words on Hanne Hukkelberg from last Friday. I know I still need to do a real post. Bite me etc.