Another Six Minutes…

I’m thinking of doing away with these intro paragraphs, I never know what to say. Anyway, here’s another six reviews that should take you about six minutes to read…

The Antlers – Hospice (self-released; 3/3)

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Slow-burning anthems of melancholic regret weaved in and around a loose narrative of nurse falling in love with patient; the story line goes like this- lead Antler Peter Silberman moves to the big city, spends two whole years sequestered from society writing this album, losing touch with family and friends along the way only to emerge with this stellar offering of dolorous melodies and heartrending storytelling. Think Radiohead-meets-Bon Iver with an Arcade Fire fascination and you can begin to draw a line connecting The Antlers’ influences to one another. If you like pop songs structured around ambient textures and falsetto-styled vocalizations with anthemic aspirations, Hospice may be your favorite album of the year. 9/10

Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications (Rough Trade US; 5/19)

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So the guy from Pulp is releasing another solo album. I say this with disdain because it seems whenever Morrissey‘s prowess is being discussed there’s always some little Jarvis sycophant that sticks his nose (and unwanted opinions) into the conversation. Look, Morrissey‘s a snarky, sad recluse who is ill at ease among his fellow humans and was the frontman for the greatest band of the last 30 years, while Jarvis Cocker is a gregarious, model-dating ladies man that could steal your girlfriend off your arm with his wit and charm and you’d thank him for doing so and gladly pay his cab fare. And that’s kind of why I’ve always disliked the man; he’s everything Mozza isn’t and he’s introduced into those conversations too often, so this is me knocking him down a peg. Similarly revered by Brits, Cocker is a glammy, sometimes scuzzy rocker; and Further Complications is a rock album in the tradition of lecherous middle-age man seeking early-20s model; think Bryan Ferry (that’s a more accurate comparison and I usually interject that to deflect from anyone challenging Moz‘s superiority; likewise Cocker is at his best on this record when he’s veering into Roxy territory). It’s a look at the mind of a recent divorcee that’s trying to reconnect with hip young ladies (Angela), meeting a woman at a museum (Leftovers) and casting off pretension (I Never Said I Was Deep)- an exploration into a mid-life crisis that’s both endearing and pathetic. 6/10

Terry Urban – Southerngold (Gold Coin; 6/1)

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Thank god for the mixtape culture that’s pushing both hip-hop and mash-ups to the next level. This mixtape by Terry Urban and Gold Coin Clothing almost didn’t happen- he sent the mixes to Santigold who was like “this is awesome, put this out” but her label, Downtown Records, was all “hell no!” Ironically, they’re the label that signed Danger Mouse after he gained fame from his Grey Album thing (Jay-Z‘s Black Album mashed into The BeatlesWhite Album). Basically, Southerngold is all the top southern rappers over the backing tracks of Santigold‘s debut album; and everyone’s here: Ying Yang Twins, Andre 3000 (OutKast), Bun B (UGK), Slim Thug, Mike Jones, T-Pain, Lil’ Wayne, Rick Ross, Trick Daddy and Young Jeezy. It ain’t gonna win any awards and isn’t groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it sure is fun. Download it for free here. 7/10

Pelican – Ephemeral [EP] (Southern Lord; 6/9)

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I said “uh oh” when I saw that Pelican had made the leap from Hydra Head Records over to Southern Lord. From being on Isis‘ label and going to Sunn O)))‘s label; please, no collaborations! Okay, good- they left you alone, the hooded douches from Sunn O))) aren’t on this EP (thank Satan!) Anyway; Pelican does what Pelican does- which is blaze neatly meandering instrumental post-metal trails into the ether of the stratosphere, built on top of jet-like riffage, walloping basses and punchy drums. A cover of Earth‘s Geometry Of Murder (with the infamous Dylan Carlson) rounds out the three-song, 21-minute affair with brutal ardor. Pelican is set to release another full-length in late October titled What We All Come To Need and it has that dreaded Sunn O))) collaboration that I’m fearing. Oh well, there’s always this EP… 8/10

Future Of The Left – Travels With Myself And Another (4AD; 6/23)


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I couldn’t stand Mclusky, so I was glad to seem them go the way of the dodo bird. So Future Of The Left, with two members of that Cardiff-based three piece have given us Travels With Myself And Another; it’ alternates between screamo shouting and cabaret call-and-response over Queens Of The Stone Age styled-wank. Great, it’s the British equivalent of “cock rock”. Except it’s all edgy and political. Oooh. I still do not like. Sharing a common thread with another band from that part of the world that I don’t “get” would be Northern Ireland’s Therapy?, FOTL is so ridiculously Anglocentric that I feel like I need to sit with a Brit slang dictionary with the Beeb on the telly so I can get their whole vibe down. But then the actual music underneath the Welsh-inflected is quite lousy, so I shant be giving this any further listens. 4/10

Discovery – LP (XL Recordings; 7/7)

discoveryThis wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to b… no- wait, there’s the auto-tuned vocals. Okay, well at least your indie cred can remain intact for a… no- let’s discard that as well. Wes Miles, frontman of Ra Ra Riot (not a fan, but apparently the rest of the music world has been eating the peanuts out of their poopy for about a minute) and Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend) basically made you a synth-pop album, inviting Dirty ProjectorsAngel Deeradorian and fellow Vampire Ezra Koenig along for the glitz-fest. Oh joy. They add nothing spectacular. What I’m about to say is going to be awfully sexist (probably) so if you’re easily offended, stop reading now. Still here? Okay, this kind of music is only remotely okay to make if you have a female singer because if you’re a man and you’re making this soft-ass treacle pop shit you’re basically a gigantic pussy. 3/10

By The Numbers…

I know- you’re wondering where all the full length reviews are, right?

Why write 1,500 words on one album when I can spread 2,000 words out on 10 at once? Since we’re in an economic downturn, I’m trying to save words like I’m trying to squeeze every penny. And since eMusic changed their rates by adding 200,000 new tracks and getting all “major label” on us; inking a deal to bring on artists from Sony and their subsidiaries Columbia, Epic, RCA and Arista; which now means Springsteen, Miles Davis, Wu-Tang, The Clash, OutKast, et. al.

Now we’ll only be getting 50 downloads a month at $19.99 instead of the 100 for $24.99, effectively raising the 25 cents a song fee to 40 cents per. It’s nice to know someone’s still making a killing when the rest of us are losing our jobs and re-mortgaging our homes and all that awesome stuff you thought wouldn’t happen before something did last September 15th…

…oh, yeah. Music reviews!

Peter Bjorn & John – Living Thing (Almost Gold, 3/31)peter_bjorn-john

Man, that Young Folks song was pretty awesome, huh? It was everywhere back in ’06-’07, I swear you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting that song in the face. Even Kanye sampled it. So did it really take almost three years to make this record? Because I gotta say, Peter, Bjorn and John, that you guys really half-assed it. You Swedes write hooks like Ikea sells strange-sounding cheap mode furniture, and there’s only half an album’s worth of hooks here. This record literally hurt my feelings; where Writer’s Block was an overflowing bag of hooks of delicious Scandanavian pop goodness that we as a public didn’t deserve, this record offers me nothing when I feel we deserve more. It’s like PB&J drew a line right down the middle of this record, saying: “songs 1-6 will have spare melodies, we musn’t bother too much with infectious hooks because that’s what everyone expects from us- so that’s our big ‘fuck you’ to everyone”. Then songs 6 through 12, we’ll basically take a shit into the microphone so people really know that we mean “fuck you”. If you bought this record, the jokes on you. 3/10

Telekinesis – Telekinesis! (Merge; 4/7)telekinesis

I remember a time when Death Cab For Cutie didn’t suck so bad- I’m thinking back to pre-Transatlanticism days now, so what’s that, like 2003? So yeah- that’s what my first impression of Telekinesis does for me; bedroom indie-pop that’s both suffocatingly self-aware and completely hummable (which doesn’t always translate to “good”). And here’s the rub- Chris Walla (of Death Cab) produced this record, so that’s where it goes horribly wrong. Besides for the two Decemberists‘ records he’s done (Picaresque and The Crane Wife) and the four decent records his own band has done, Walla‘s production is perfectly suited for Michael Benjamin Lerner‘s Gibbard-cloning sound; right down to the echo and reverb vocals heard on Company Calls Epilogue (from 2000’s We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes, my fave DCFC record), that faux 4-track tape hiss- I mean, really; were you trying to make another Something About Airplanes or The Photo Album? I recently read this guy passed up a major label deal with Columbia to sign with independent stalwarts Merge, but I think that’s only so he can gain some of that oh so hard to get “indie cred”. Anyway, Death Cab For Cutie comparisons aside, Telekinesis! is better than their last record, but only by a little bit. 4/10

Easy Star All-Stars – Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band (Easy Star, 4/14)easy-stars

When this band released Dub Side Of The Moon, I was firmly entrenched in my dub phase and went ape shit for that record. Likewise Radiodread, it was important in that reggae was a vital third world music. I think reggae’s been surpassed as the most urgent voice of the struggle now that there’s so much wonderful music coming out of Africa, and I’ve been having a hard time taking reggae serious as of late. Reason being; how is it possible to take something serious that on one hand deplores Babylon and its commercialism yet relies on it for income? If you want to “bite the hand that feeds you”, release an 80-minute album of straight noise (like Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music.) That being said, why this band would cover The Beatlesfifth best album is completely beyond me; plus- why they’d include a corny Hasidic rapper-toaster (Matisyahu) with legends like Luciano, The Mighty Diamonds, Max Romeo, Sugar Minott, U-Roy and Steel Pulse renders this project moot and destroys its credibility. Reggae’s been dead for a long time now; it’s merely a reproduction of itself in its glory days that seemingly will carry on ad infinitum as long as this brand of campy, sentimental “cover” album-project shit exists. 1/10

Prefuse 73 – Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian (Warp; 4/14)prefuse

Who’s more prolific? Guillermo Scott Herren or Omar Rodriguez-Lopez? It doesn’t matter anyway, by the time you’ve finished reading this both artists will have put out at least three more records under whatever moniker they’re using right now. You’re also probably wondering why the hell I’d drag Omar into a review of a Prefuse 73 album; because I was trying to think who P-73‘s contemporaries would be- he’s too progressive to be thrown in with J Dilla, Peanut Butter Wolf or DJ Shadow; uses the craziest and obscure samples so I can’t compare him to Girl Talk; so I went the other way and lumped him in with that crazy guy from The Mars Volta who never sleeps and puts out like 12 albums a year. I imagine P-73 doesn’t sleep; and this record sounds like a disturbed electro-phonic nightmare. I heard that if you take Ambien but force yourself to stay awake you have crazy patterns of behavior which you won’t remember in the morning. I think that’s what Herren did here. I’m going to call this album Everything She Touched While On Ambien. Pretty all-over the place, in a good way; or at least in a way that you won’t remember in the morning. Why is there a fucking lawn chair on my roof? 7/10

Two Fingers – Two Fingers (Paper Bag; 4/14)twofingers

Some call it drum and bass, some call it jungle- I can remember (barely) going to some “jungle” parties back in Philly, mid-to-late ’90s. I remember taking a ton of ecstasy and dancing all night. I remember saying to the person who took me, “Man, this deejay has been playing for a long time”, to which he replied, “Dude, there’s been like ten different deejays since we got here.” Yeah, I thought it all sounded the same- I couldn’t tell LTJ Bukem from Reprazent (I think they were the two headliners). So fast forward to present day- Two Fingers uses that classic cut and paste d&b sound as the context for a hip-hop project; producers Amon Tobin and Joe “Doubleclick” Chapman fashion an interesting mix of underground genres (more well-known in the UK as grime/dubstep) with the excellent Sway rapping over six tracks, as well as dancehall legend Ce’Cile and former Missy Elliott protege Ms. Jade on the remaining songs. The two instrumentals on here take on Turkish violins (Keman Rhythm) and glitchy click-core rhythms (Moth Rhythm). Definitely worth checking out. 8/10

The Horrors – Primary Colours (XL Recordings; 4/21)the-horrors-primary-colours

This album is dark- as dark as the production team of Portishead‘s Geoff Barrow, author Craig Silvey and video director-turned-producer Chris Cunningham (the guy who did those creepy Aphex Twin videos) could get. It’s got creepy churning synths underneath everything, drony basswork and the too-low-in-the-mix vocals of Faris Badwan sound amazingly like the Psychedelic FursRichard Butler. So in effect this sounds like shoegazer zombie music- as if The Cramps grew up listening to bands like Ride and The Jesus & Mary Chain and were produced by an undead Martin Hannett. It’s so undeniably British as well, and as most hyped Brit-rock bands lately totally suck (Doves, Elbow, Frightened Rabbit, Muse, etc.) this doesn’t suck at all, not even a little. 8/10

Isis – Wavering Radiant (Ipecac; 4/21)isis

Whenever I get jaded out by wuss-rock, it’s good to know there are bands out there like Mastodon, Red Sparowes, Russian Circles, Pelican and Isis. Just to remind me that huge walls of jagged guitar riffage are there to rip my fucking face off if need be, then settle me down in passages of serene eloquence before crushing my fucking skull once again. Isis makes heavy (but listenable) post-metal (although the “post” thing has been done to death, they really do push the envelope past what conventional metal allows) with nods to post-rock’s slow-building towers of grandiose moodiness, all the while planting one foot firmly in prog metal by concocting epic mountains of technical excess (each song ranges from seven to eleven minutes, unless of course the “passage” title track at just under two minutes). One of the better metal albums of the year, but I’m only saying that because I don’t listen to metal. 8/10

Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band – Outer South (Merge; 5/5)conoroberst

Conor Oberst is the type of artist that needs to suffer in order to make great art; there’s something about the urgent immediacy of 2002’s Lifted… or the follow up to that, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning– both trenchant and revealing albums, a snapshot of a tortured soul struggling through early adulthood. Now that he’s almost thirty, and somewhat “sober”, his art has suffered as he’s escaped relatively unharmed- his stories aren’t as fascinating as the womanizing, drug-taking young artist lost in New York City. In fact, this new record is just boring- middle of the road alt-country that borrows from Wilco, The Eagles and ironically, himself (in another lifetime). Underwhelming and mediocre. 5/10

White Rabbits – It’s Frightening (TBD Records; 5/19)white-rabbits

I wish that I could just review a record without having to find out who produced it; when a record sounds as fully-realized as It’s Frightening does, I have to take a peek as the press packet to see who was twiddling the knobs on the other side of the glass. Spoon‘s Britt Daniel is (in my opinion) the best producer in music today- just listen to any of his band’s albums from 1998’s A Series Of Sneaks up to now; he’s best at getting the songs to sound exactly what they’re supposed to sound like- this snare goes here, this guitar there, etc. Basically: perfect records. So White Rabbits entrusted Mr. Daniel to take their sound and do as he sees fit- the result is a heavily percussive affair (Percussion Gun) with piano lines doubling as bass lines (Midnight And I), layers of rhythm (Right Where They Left), textured bits of ambient passages (Lionesse)- White Rabbits are poised to make a surprise run at the top of some year-end lists. 9/10

Black Moth Super Rainbow – Eating Us (Graveface; 5/26)eatingus

A friend told me about these guys like a month ago; sorry, I got to the party late on this band. But 2007’s Dandelion Gum would’ve been one of my albums of that year, in case I was going to do any last minute revisions to a list that’s been done for about seventeen months now. Oh well. Anyway, what does Black Moth Super Rainbow sound like? Imagine that one good Air album (Moon Safari) run through crazy analog synths and vocoders, recorded somewhere in the woods near Pittsburgh on what I would consider copious amounts of mind-altering chemicals. Eating Us is stylistically a continuation of their previous record; they’ve added a live human drummer and overall it takes less risks but is still infinitely interesting in that all these sounds are made from vintage, pre-digital equipment like mellotrons, Echoplex delay looping and Arp Odyssey mini-Moog synthesizers. It’s old school made futuristic, and all I can say is when they eventually start filming porn in outer space, this is the band that’ll be playing the soundtrack. Like an orgasm in orbit, y’all. 8/10


Playing Catch-up…

In addition to all the reviews we’ve posted this year, we’re obviously going to miss a lot of records; there’s too many coming at us from too many different angles. So, in true “rock magazine” style, here’s some less-than-a-hundred-word reviews. Seeing as I’ve always considered short, capsulized reviews to be rather half-assed, I’m going to mix it up with grades and such, so consider this somewhat of a progress report as well. We are a third of the way through the year, y’know…

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Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains (self-released; January 20th, 2009)

Being as much as an homage to the ’90s as it can without any of the band members being old enough to remember Pavement or Sebadoh (who I hear a lot of in this record), these four recent high school grads’ debut Why There Are Mountains toes the line between noise/shoegaze and straight-up alt-rock; every song on the record has intricately layered instrumentation, draped in anthemic guitars with just enough of the lo-fi aesthetic to give it a savvy street cred. Oh, and it’s insanely listenable as well. Grade: 8/10

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Iran – Dissolver (Narnack Records; released February 3rd, 2009)

I’m going to have to claim ignorance on two fronts: 1) Iran has two previous albums I’ve never heard, and 2) TV On The Radio guitarist Kyp Malone has been in this band since before hitting it big with TVOTR. Now that that’s out of the way, can I also mention Dave Sitek (of who? TVOTR, of course) produced this record. Let’s see how many more times I can mention TVOTR in this review. Who does Iran sound like? A poor man’s TVOTR. Which band has been one of my favorites over the last five years? TVOTR. You know, I don’t think I’m being fair here. I love TVOTR, and if Iran is like a stripped-down (read: watered-down) version of TVOTR I should love Iran‘s Dissolver as much, right? Well, not quite- this is just a good album, not great like Dear Science or Return To Cookie Mountain or Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. But better than OK Calculator Grade: 6/10

spearin

Charles Spearin – The Happiness Project (Arts&Crafts Records; released February 10th, 2009)

Spiritually uplifting, a celebration of life; the joy of living, rejoice ye for the gifts ye hath been blessed with. That’s the basic message behind Spearin‘s side project (he of Canadian post-rock heavyweights Do Make Say Think). It’s a series of interviews set to music (classical, jazzy, rock, etc.) with seven of Spearin‘s neighbors in his Toronto neighborhood, asking them, in effect; what is happiness? The responses are amazing; ranging from an elderly Jamaican woman’s musings on love, a deaf woman hearing for the first time, ideas of “happy” from some school-age children and an older Indian gentleman; their responses are varied but the result is heartwarming. Grade: 8/10

qs115lp jacket.indd

Sholi – Sholi (Quarterstick Records; released February 17th, 2009)

The drumming on this record stands out the most upon the first listen, courtesy of Jonathon Bafus. Then upon the second listen, it’s become more of a prog-rock record, courtesy of Payam Bavafa‘s churning guitars finely interwoven into Eric Ruud‘s bass. Upon third listen the acoustic and stripped-down sections jump out to me; this is really just an electric folk record. Fourth listen; the lyrics grab hold of my attention, there’s a struggle, suffering and rejoicing. Fifth listen; this is one of the best albums of the year- it’s got some noisy sections, some weird time signatures and abrupt tempo changes, structured both around experimental elements and pop textures, all the while produced by Deerhoof‘s Greg Saunier. Grade: 9/10

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Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen (Saddle Creek Records; released March 10th, 2009)

I love Cursive‘s records; I love concept albums and they’re the only “emo” band I can listen to without kvetching into the little wastebasket behind me. That being said, I’d also love to see Tim Kasher branch out a bit and get off the whole “god/religion/evolution/sex/mistrust/etc.” vibe he seems to re-hash album after album, basically he just changes the characters but the concept is about the same every time. Not a bad thing, not a great thing. An average thing… Grade: 6/10

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Mirah – (a)spera (K Records; released March 10th, 2009)

Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn has carved out a nice little niche of a career crafting tales of love and loss over lushly orchestrated instrumentation; it’s a wonder she’s still somewhat under the radar. I figure the Starbucks’ set would be eating this stuff out of the palm of her hand, but I guess she’ll have to toil away in relative obscurity, just for us who care. Where C’mon Miracle felt like a more fully realized and cohesive album, (a)spera feels slightly more eclectic in its scope. The track Education is pretty lovely, ain’t it? Grade: 6/10

elvis

Elvis Perkins – Elvis Perkins In Dearland (XL Recordings; released March 10th, 2009)

Mr. Perkins comes back with sophomore record and a new recipe: less depression and more horns! I gotta stop comparing artists’ last record to their new one. Okay, this is the last review I’m using that tired formula. Where Ash Wednesday was understandably about death, loss and grief (in a nutshell: Perkins lost his father to AIDS in 1992 and his mother to the 9/11 attacks); Elvis Perkins In Dearland is about life, love and in his words, having “no interest in making Ash Wednesday II. After the dust had settled I was weary, worn and confused…” So he wrote this record with his band, and the result is a more comprehensive primer to what Perkins can do. Grade: 8/10

chijimi

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Chijimi EP (Drag City Records; released March 17th, 2009)

This is a four-song EP released with the limited edition 10″ vinyl, so I didn’t get an advance copy. I wish I did, because Beware would’ve gotten a better review with these four stunners tacked on the end; instead it’s here as an EP release. There’s also alternate covers to this record, another something I didn’t know. I guess Will just wants to stay a few steps ahead of his audience, which I’m also totally okay with. I’m okay with these tracks as stand-alones, they fit with Beware but on their own they’re gorgeous little Americana-folk ditties. Champion sounds as if it was recorded in a shipping container; echoes, reverb and hand drums make it creepy. And satisfying. Grade: 9/10

mono

Mono – Hymn To The Immortal Wind (Temporary Residence Limited; released March 24th, 2009)

I was turned on to this band watching their DVD The Sky Remains The Same As Ever and was blown away- but that’s to be expected of a band on the same label as Explosions In The Sky and Eluvium. That’s kind of what I’d describe this band like, a cross between those two projects; powerful and violent, yet elegant and ambient- quiet passages into building tensions leading up to an explosive release, all the while seamless segues and beautiful cinematic grandeur. Grade: 8/10

swan

Swan Lake – Enemy Mine (Jagjaguwar Records; released March 24th, 2009)

A supergroup that’s not so super; not as great as the sum of its parts, sadly. I love Dan Bejar and his Destroyer (I’m offended that he doesn’t show up on this record until the third track), am somewhat anti- about Spencer Krug‘s Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade and have to claim indifference towards Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes, Blackout Beach). I was just saying to someone the other day how I love singers with unconventional voices (Joanna Newsom, Colin Meloy, etc.) and they mentioned Spencer Krug. Meh, I said. “You don’t like Sunset Rubdown?” they responded. I meh’d them again. In fact, I’m listening to Enemy Mine right now, and all I can say is “meh, meh, meh”. Grade: meh

pjh

PJ Harvey & John Parish – A Woman A Man Walked By (Island Records; released March 31st, 2009)

PJ Harvey may just be the hardest working woman in rock; I don’t think she ever calls in sick. And longtime collaborator John Parish gets equal billing on this record- after all, he wrote all the music and performed it all, Miss Harvey wrote the lyrics and sang ’em all. This album is not for the faint of heart; there are teeth hidden in the grass- the title track has enough vitriol in it for two records worth; it’s like getting simultaneously kicked in the balls and punched in the ear. Some tracks are limp and languorous, while others have moxie for days. Grade: 7/10

…so that’s just the first installment of half-assed record reviews from yours truly. Stay tuned for more. Something tells me I won’t ever catch up…

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (released January 29, 2008; XL Recordings)

There are an infinite number of bands that sound like other bands yet still have enough originality to distance themselves from their heroes; that’s the mark of a good band. Reinterpreting the past without straight-up ripping it off, Vampire Weekend‘s self-titled full-length debut sounds as if it’s been culled from a myriad of influences. Extracting their musical direction from Peter Gabriel’s early solo catalog, King Sunny Ade’s Nigerian juju polyrhythms, Paul Simon’s Graceland, not to mention English post-punk (I hear some of The Police and The Cure in here as well as the decidedly un-English post-punk Talking Heads), this foursome from New York City couldn’t have made a finer album, it’s actually the first great record of 2008.

I was trying to pigeon-hole this band into a genre, but I really can’t. And the closest thing I could find to a press release on them is from their own website, where they offer up this little parcel of info: “We are specialists in the following styles: “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”, “Upper West Side Soweto”, “Campus”, and “Oxford Comma Riddim.” Infusing styles from far and near, their self-fashioned classification would have you believe they’ve been all around this world. There’s a nod to Beantown (via the Congo) and NYC (by way of southern Africa). There’s also the whole UB40-meets-Gang Of Four reggae-tinged dub, with a hint of an Ivy League education, namely, Columbia University (where these lads all met each other).

Lead singer Ezra Koenig’s voice is a pseudo-cockney inflected styling reminiscent of a young Sting’s emotive yelpings, cross-pollenated with the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner’s sonant vocalizations. That’s pretty good company to be compared to. But it’s the everyman songwriting that’s got me impressed.

The album opens with staccato-organ blasts and into the jaunty Mansard Roof, both an ode to Victorian architecture and a retelling of the defeat of the once powerful Argentine navy. It’s a heady sentiment, with two opposing viewpoints in the same song, it’s as if it’s a conversation. On one side, a proper English gent content to look out over Olde London Town above the roofs and industrial pollution, the second, a once-proud admiral watching his ships sink off the coast of South America. The most accessible song on the album is the stellar Oxford Comma, with both tongue-in-cheek lyrics and a name-check of Lil Jon (and a reference to his lyrics; “to the window, to the wall”). Also, there’s a nod to the Dalai Lama in this track, calling attention to pop culture’s over-reaching accessibility over the last few years. Nothing is sacred except pop itself.

A-Punk has a nice walking bass line, sounding as it if it’s been lent from The Cure‘s early discography. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa‘s lyrics act like a roll-call of New England prep school elitism; rhyming Louis Vuitton with reggaeton and Bennetton and an homage to Peter Gabriel‘s unnatural obsession with world music, perhaps triggering Vampire Weekend‘s interest in said phenomena. With its harpsichords and strings, M79 becomes part of a classical theme that’s revisited again on the latter part of the album, as strings show up in the tracks Bryn, I Stand Corrected, Walcott and then used again to near-perfection on the album’s closer, The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance.

Campus is the quintessential college-break-up song, with these lovely little lyrics:Then I see you/ You’re walking cross the campus/ Cruel professor/ Studying romances/ How am I supposed to pretend/ I never want to see you again?” I often wonder (usually aloud), “has there been more songs about falling in love OR falling out of love? The next track, Bryn, is a falling in love song, yet, there’s a unrequited tone to it, a summer love ode with the line: Wait for the season to come back to me…” And the following track, One (Blake’s Got A New Face) is as “island” as it gets, acting an updated Caribbean calypso for the hipster set.

The triplet of closing tracks, I Stand Corrected, Walcott and The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance are as good as any album closer I’m sure to hear this year, making this album a complete success front to back. Walcott is the “we gotta get outta here before we die” jam that all young artists write, filled with that suffocating agony of “home”. However, the trip is to New Jersey (of all places!). I can relate a wee bit; I’ve spent almost every summer of my youth on the over-crowded beaches of Jersey, and one on the beach of Cape Cod’s Orleans township. I’d be as well to reverse the lyrics to fit my own bullshit teen angst; getting out of NJ to reach the quaint flexed muscle of the Cape, reaching out into the northern Atlantic like a fist, daring the English to come back and take what was once theirs.

But alas, the final ode warns the “kids” that indeed, you don’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hades. Could it be that the shattered dreams of our generation rest solely on our parent’s shoulders? There’s no doubt that the preceding generation has left us with all of their problems, an all-encompassing, all-too-heavy burden that we have to figure out what to do with these; global warming, over-population, over-reliance on pharmaceutical cures for our perceived ills, polluted seas, food shortages, political corruption, racism, etc. Not to mention a serious oil addiction that seems a lot like the inner city crack-fest of the late 80s.

Before this review turns into a sociology paper, I’ll leave you with this: the simple facts remain that this record is full of gorgeous pop melodies, laden with super catchy and hooky choruses, rife with wonderful west-African guitar riffs, and Caribbean calypso stylings. I’m doing away with the rating system, but if this was a paper and I was a professor, Vampire Weekend‘s self-titled debut would be the best of the new year. It’s totally wrecking the curve; other bands are going to need to do some extra-credit work to catch up…



Vampire Weekend