Eight Record Reviews…

Been quiet over this way lately; in the way of words, yes, but in the way of great music (and some not so great) it’s never quiet…

The Felice Brothers – Yonder Is The Clock (Team Love; 4/7)yonderistheclock

I take a lot of shit for the fact that I don’t really like Bob Dylan. You mean you plugged your guitar in at a folk festival? Wow, man- that’s edgy! You took so many amphetamines that you were able to crank out an album every nine months through the sixties? No wonder people think you’re prolific; you didn’t sleep for about eight years straight. Don’t even get me started on his “lyricism”. The list of complaints go on and on; I get all emotional and pissy when confronted with my earnest dislike of Dylan and his over-rated abilities. My biggest beef with Bobby Zimmerman is all this awful “American folk-rock” he spawned, and The Felice Brothers are another end result of this generation’s fascination with his flaccid brand of protest songs and over-arcing romanticized poetry. Enough, already. I didn’t like you the first time, what makes you think I’d like this? I get it, good ole Bobby D. must’ve rolled through upstate New York 25 years ago and fathered these triplets, right? You guys wrote a song about Ty Fucking Cobb on here, too. What, was Hitler unavailable? 2/10

Art Brut – Art Brut vs. Satan (Downtown; 4/21)artbrutvssatan

Lucky for these guys they hit it big in ’05, right when the whole post-punk revival was smack in the middle of a renaissance- but Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand did it better, Liars and The Rapture had moved on to “new” genres, Interpol and Editors were doing the “atmospheric” thing, I can go on ad nauseum. The thing is, especially with Art Brut; if your lead singer can’t sing (in the case of Eddie Argos) then music critics will say your band is “increasingly self-aware” because he’s basically talking the lyrics. Sometimes he shouts, but basically no lead vocal melodies here. The only thing Argos is aware of is how much his singing voice sucks. If thinking out loud about how much your life is fucked can be considered “increasingly self-aware”, every homeless person is Friedrich Nietzsche. It doesn’t hurt (nor help) that this record is produced by Charles Thompson– it actually sounds really crisp, that’s because their brand of choppy guitars mixed way up front over minimal bass lines and danceable drums has become so formulaic, thanks to the blueprint laid out by Gang Of Four and Wire. Too bad this record wasn’t released four or five years ago, then it would’ve been a) timely and b) exactly like everything else they’ve done. 5/10

Alasdair Roberts – Spoils (Drag City; 5/5)alasdair-roberts

Beautiful Scottish folk songs set against the backdrop of bare bones instrumentation; Roberts’ tunefulness is balanced by stark and appropriately placed (as well as alternately picked/strummed) ancient-sounding acoustic guitars, violins, harmoniums, harpsichords, hurdy-gurdies and dulcimers. Employing adjectives in his lyrics like threadbare and downtrodden, which accurately describe both his music and himself; he also mines the darkest caves for themes ranging from grief and joy, peace and war, inspiration and boredom, all the while joining classical music to a progressive brand of folk-rock. Add all that to his keen historical analysis of the Bible’s implications towards a present day mindset through an imagined conversation with the Irish saint Columba and you come up with a darling little record. 8/10

Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers (Columbia; 5/18)manic-street

Yes, this band is still around- and they still suffer from what I call the “Pond Effect”; they sell massive amounts of records to gushing critical acclaim across the pond but have barely managed to scratch the surface in both areas over here. Another band whose CDs I bought in the early-to-mid-90s during the post-Smiths/next-big-Brit-pop-band fiasco I’ve tried to distance myself from by saying it never happened (but sadly; yes, I owned albums from Oasis, Suede, Blur, Catherine Wheel, Soup Dragons– basically any UK band that was on 120 Minutes circa 1993). Anyway, getting back to my earlier point- this band is still around, still making music, still using missing/dead member Richey Edwards‘ lyrics and riffs (he’s been missing for 14 years now, his status was changed to “presumed dead” during the recording of this record- although he’s been spotted shopping for mangoes in Goa markets and snorkeling in the Canary Islands… with Elvis, Tupac and Michael Jackson no doubt). I haven’t mentioned the music yet; it’s good as in “Steve Albini-produced, loud and muscular riffs from glammy guitars, lyrics either penned by a dead man or inspired by, song after song of radio friendly tunes (that’ll never be on any radio, at least on this side of the pond)”. 7/10

Method Man & Redman – Blackout! 2 (DefJam; 5/19)blackout2

Clifford Smith and Reggie Noble are back with the sequel to Blackout! ten years after their initial collaboration- and the result has some of the nicest flow/lyrical interplay and beats from Havoc, Pete Rock, Erick Sermon and DJ Scratch; it as consistent as its predecessor. It doesn’t hurt that Keith Murray, Bun B, Raekwon and Ghostface all stop by for verses- this album could’ve come out any time during the last ten years and slayed any and all pretend MCs; Meth and Red still got it, in fact- they write the rules and everybody’s just trying to catch up. It’s nostalgic without sounding dated, none of that cheesy caricature shit from their wack-ass How High movie; instead focusing their charismatic personalities on the rhymes- and it shines through with the superbly produced music. 8/10

Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino; 6/9)bitte-orca

Accessible? You bet- Dave Longstreth‘s music is usually a workout; it can be both hard to listen to and lyrically obtuse (but not even a little bit on Bitte Orca). This is more of a group effort and Dirty Projectors‘ sound is rounded out by the lovely voices of Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman; as if their David Byrne-collaboration Knotty Pine (for the Dark Was The Night compilation) wasn’t a precursor to how awesome their music was about to sound; when this album leaked the internets basically shit themselves in anticipation; by the time the album hit the shelves the reviews were pouring in with accolades (even from lame duck publications like Entertainment Weekly and Spin; I’m surprised you both took the time to notice a band that isn’t Coldplay or U2). Crafted with care, it’s artier components aren’t that much of a stretch (try listening to Slaves’ Graves & Ballads or the New Attitude EP if you want to be challenged), conceptually it follows the design laid out by Longstreth in previous releases- brown finches, sleepwalking through life, post-9/11 paranoia, war, etc. There’s music for stupid people and then there’s music for thinkers. Guess which one this is. 9/10

Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer (Jagjaguwar; 6/23)sunset

Roll the 12-sided die against the troll now, and save your hit points for the wizard on level 9- he has illusion magic. Seriously; this album makes it cool to say you were once into Dungeons & Dragons (even if it was only for a few weeks while you were a Boy Scout in 1988). Sunset Rubdown‘s third full-length is a progressive rock concept album with all the imagery of medieval mythologies, twisting melodies, soaring guitars, midi-influenced instrumentation- and for all the shit I’ve given Spencer Krug about his voice; here it works to amazing and eccentric avail. Anyone who has spent more than three minutes talking to me about music can walk away while holding me in contempt for my mentioning how awesome early-70s prog rock is; well, this is akin to that. I have to say I’m really loving this record; all the geekery I once partook in has been neatly packaged into a 49-minute aural landscape of sorcerers, meteors, ancient Greek muses, ghosts and dragons. 10/10

Dinosaur Jr. – Farm (Jagjaguwar; 6/23)farm

Okay, I’m ready to drop my hatred for J Mascis– I’ve been holding on to a grudge against him for so long now I forget why I hated him in the first place. Oh, that’s right- for kicking the immensely talented Lou Barlow out of DJr, which, in retrospect- no booting of Lou, then no awesomeness that is Sebadoh, I guess. I still refuse to listen to any non-Barlow Dinosaur records, and that’s just how it is with me. Plus, I’m not really missing anything- all those records are basically Mascis solo records, I mean, he even booted Murph out before recording 1994’s Without A Sound (with that awful Feel The Pain song, but hey- Spike Jonze‘s golfing-through-midtown-Manhattan video was rad, right?) and starting a love affair with the mid-90’s fratboy set that fortunately for everyone involved died shortly after as DJr went on a ten-year hiatus. So I’d be remiss if I don’t mention previous offering Beyond (first album with the original lineup since 1988’s Bug); Farm is a rocking continuation of that record; if you’re not bowing at the feet of Mascis‘ guitar prowess right this minute, light a candle and hit your fucking knees at the altar, bitch. His walls of guitar noise, feedbacked distortion that’s been processed perfectly, Lou‘s basslines thudding and plodding on top of Murph‘s metronomic drumming, it’s the best pure “rock” record I’ve heard this year. What can I say about an almost nine minute song (I Don’t Wanna Go There) that’s isn’t the least bit boring, including an extended scorching solo? Of course, Lou gets his obligatory album closer- so there’s something for everyone. 9/10