Column 172: CD Roundup; Live Review: American Music Club, Brad Hoshow band; VHS or Beta tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 5:40 pm May 8, 2008

Before we get to a recap of last night’s festivities, here’s this week’s column wherein I tell you what I’ve been listening to lately…

Column 172: First Quarter Report
A glance at some recent releases

Whenever people start asking me what I’m listening to, I figure it’s time for another CD reviews round-up. These are not full, detailed reviews, rather they’re impressions after listening to these albums on and off on my stereo and iPhone over the past few weeks/months. All get the Lazy-i seal of approval.

Aimee Mann, @#&*! Smilers (SuperEgo) — Faithful Aimee Mann fans stood beside this So Cal (by way of Boston) girl back in her ‘Til Tuesday days, did an I-told-you-so when her genius was revealed on the Magnolia soundtrack, and held her hand during all the follow-ups when no one else was around. Here’s their reward: Her best album since Bachelor No. 2.

Black Kids, Wizard of Ahhhs (self released) — Available for free (the trend continues) from their website late last year, the sound is pure ’80s new romantic, and at its finest moments emulates The Cure’s Kiss Me album right down to the Robert Smith groan vocals. Columbia figured it out and gobbled them up for a formal debut slated for July. Black Kids are on the precipice, staring over the edge where bands like Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse stood a few years ago.

The Breeders, Mountain Battles (4AD) — Remember when Kim and Kelley were considered edgy and subversive (and The Pixies were still debonair)? The band never recovered after the burnout suffered at the hands of “Cannonball” way back in ’93, back when MTV still played videos, especially that one, over and over again. There are no Cannonballs hidden here, nor anything as shocking (and grand) as their cover of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” (from Pod). Still, serviceable; but just barely.

Joan of Arc, Boo! Human (Polyvinyl) — Too often, Tim Kinsella tries to sound weird and unapproachable, so imagine my surprise at the simple acoustic pop of opening track “Shown and Told,” as well as the tumbling “A Tell-Tale Penis” and the back-beat rocker (yes, rocker) “The Surrender #2.” There are still plenty of atonal nightmares, like screamer “9/11 2” and startle-noised “Everywhere I Go.” Download discriminately.

The Long Blondes, Couples (Rough Trade) — Their thump-thump-thump New Wave dance rave-ups, like disco opener “Century” and porn-guitar fueled “Guilt,” remind me of another band named after its frontwoman’s hair color. All right, you youngsters, I’m talking about Blondie. And though vocalist Kate Jackson is no Debra Harry, her music and her band have the same upbeat, heart-of-glass style.

Neil Diamond, Home Before Dark (Columbia) — Note to Rick Rubin: Neil Diamond is famous for his bombastic, over-the-top arrangements that boast enough orchestration to launch a space shuttle. The stripped-down arrangements that worked so well for Johnny Cash may be the wrong approach here. I mean, do his fans really want an evening of intimate, acoustic folk songs? No, they want to stand up and punch the sky along with everyone else during “Sweet Caroline.” That said, there’s more to these tracks than 2005’s 12 Songs. Still, I yearn for the day when Rubin and Diamond finally break down and do an album with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

She & Him, Volume One (Merge) — One of the best moments from the 2003 Will Ferrell break-out film “Elf” was the impromptu duet between Ferrell and a showering Zooey Deschanel. I remember thinking, “Jeeze, she sings as great as she looks.” M Ward (the Him) must have thought the same thing. Deschanel is at her best when she croons her own twangy rocking material, sounding like a cuter version of Jenny Lewis. The charm wears thin in the latter half of the album, thanks to Patsy-styled torch ballads (“Take It Back), cheesy doo-wop (“I Was Made for You”) and too many uninspired covers (Smokey’s “You Really Got Me,” a flawed take on The Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better”). Now if we can only coax her back into that shower.

The Teenagers, Reality Check (XL) — Sorta funny French synthpop is funnier because of the odd, spoken-word vocal approach, which combines Pepé Le Pew with a Valley Girl. It’s so well-recorded, however, that you can’t help but get into the clean Weezer-meets-The Cars synthpop. Irony was never so catchy.

Tokyo Police Club, Elephant Shell (Saddle Creek) — I’ve been told that a local music mogul predicted this will be the biggest selling Creek release ever, bigger even than Bright Eyes. Early criticism, however, complained that it pales compared to the band’s noisy debut EP. I say it’s far more listenable, like an upbeat Death Cab (a band terminally lost in ennui). They’re young and hip and will look good on TV. Maybe that mogul is right.

A Tomato a Day (helps keep the tornado away), The Moon Is Green (Public Eyesore) — There’s something lost and lonely about Brian Poloncic’s acoustic folk confessions, which plow the same stark territory as, say, Husker Du’s Candy Apple Grey or sad Replacements or Todd Grant’s yearning solo album. Three years in the making, it’s time that they’re finally heard. Check them out at the CD release show Friday night at Benson Grind.

The Whipkey Three, 26 (self release) — It’s the best recording Matt Whipkey ever produced with any band. As one person put it who hasn’t cared for any of Whipkey’s past projects: “I guess persistence pays off. I actually like this.” I like it, too. And it’s about as DIY as you’re going to get — Whipkey burned the CDRs and hand rubber-stamped the discs and sleeves. Pick one up at the CD-release show Saturday night at Mick’s.

* * *

Despite everything, American Music Club sounded terrific last night at The Waiting Room. Too bad only 50 or so people were there to see it. The band played a short set, maybe 35 or 40 minutes. Frontman Mark Eitzel said thanks and goodnight before starting into their last song. After its climax, they left the stage without comment, leaving the crowd wondering if they were coming back for an encore. The mystery lasted about 20 seconds before the house music came up and people started heading for the door. The usually chatty Eitzel only graced the audience with one story, about how the band formed as the result of members being fired from Celine Dion’s Las Vegas act because they refused to sleep with her (Eitzel said he slept with Celine’s husband). Someone asked me afterward if Eitzel was kidding when he said he wrote a Celine song used on the Titanic soundtrack. I said as far as I knew, he was. It was that kind of evening.

The highlight (for me) was the openers. The Third Men did their usual rollicking set of originals with a few covers sprinkled in. Their high-energy rock seemed like a strange lead-in to AMC’s usually dour, introspective music. Brad Hoshaw, on the other hand, fit right in, and for the first time, a crowd got to see how Hoshaw’s acoustic numbers would sound backed by a full band, put together specially for this gig. The result left me wondering why Hoshaw doesn’t work with a band all the time. Though as many as seven people were on stage, the arrangements were kept simple, never getting in the way of the songs’ core elements. A tune like “Powdernose,” which is powerful enough as a solo acoustic piece, was transformed into a dark rock anthem, while simple songs like “Blue Bicycle” were only slightly accented by additional players. Hoshaw said he recorded the performance, which I’d love to hear. Maybe we all will someday (His remarkable Mick’s acoustic set from this past January is now available on CD). Someone came up to me afterward and said, “This guy is New West / Lost Highway material.” Yeah, he is. Actually, his approachable style of songwriting is broader than what those two labels could offer, but you have to start somewhere. Hoshaw is in the very top tier of Omaha singer/songwriters and deserves to be heard by a national audience. Someone needs to make this happen.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it’s the return of the electro-dance-rock stylings of VHS or Beta, along with Tigercity and Omaha’s own masked crusaders Talkin’ Mountain. $10, 9 p.m.

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