Which of these are “must haves”? Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Shearwater, Beach House and Japanther. I like the Yeasayer CD a bit more than Vampire Weekend disc, but really, they’re basically the same idea. Thanks to Webboard member JOC for the idea for the column lead; you can read the whole Midgett essay here.
Column 259: Quarterly Report
A glance at 1Q’10 releases.
Tim Midgett of seminal ’90s Chicago rock band Silkworm (now, unfortunately, no longer a band) said in a frighteningly insightful essay about music criticism that critics should listen to every album five times before putting their thoughts to electronic paper. And while I generally agree with Midgett, you don’t need to take five bites out of a turd to realize that you’re eating a piece of shit. On the other hand, a really good album could take five times that long to really understand, and then you still may not “get it.” With that in mind, the following aren’t CD reviews as much as casual impressions after listening to these albums in shuffle mode for the past few weeks. The bottom line: Very few will leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, The Brutalist Bricks (Matador, out March 9) — Remember the first time you heard My Aim Is True? You thought you finally found a new rock album that was cool (It was 1977, after all. Wait a minute, that was 10 years before you were born?). And then Elvis Costello began to pander to his inner poet and become all wordy and that was the end it. Well, Ted Leo picked up the ball sometime around 2001 and started running and never looked back. Yes, this is hyperbole, and no, TL sounds nothing like EC. BTW, “Bottled in Cork,” and “One Polaroid a Day” already are the best songs of the year. Start counting the days until March 9.
Yeasayer, Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian) — With its weird noises, stuttering rhythms and gaggle of production tricks, this is the Avatar of indie rock, thanks to Chris Keatings’ wholesome croon that drains away any and all of the recording’s subversive-ness. Playful as Vampire Weekend and more interesting (most of the time), and just as mindless (and in this economy, who wants to think anymore?).
Spoon, Transference (Merge) — The guy in the corner of the pool furiously treading water is frontman Britt Daniel, who after six albums in 14 years is just trying to keep his poorly combed hair from getting wet. Do you really need this if you already have one of his last four albums? Probably not, but in an era when indie rock keeps getting younger and cuter, it’s nice to hear something that the teenagers rocking out to MGMT (or vegging out to Animal Collective) won’t understand for a few more years.
Shearwater, The Golden Archipelago (Matador) — Sure, it’s dreamy and atmospheric (as per usual) and head mewer Jonathon Meiburg still sings like he’s trying to coax a camel to sleep, but there’s more drama here than on any of their past albums. And when they get all heroic up in your face, like on standout “Castaways,” you’ll fondly recall John Denver singing “Aye Calypso!”
Sade, Soldier of Love (Epic) — The undisputed queen of loungecore is back after an unexplained 10-year absence (Somehow, we persevered). Same midnight beats, same sultry voice, same pleasant yet forgettable melodies. Get the album before you hear these songs while pushing a shopping cart or staring at ceiling tiles at your dentist office.
F_cked Up, Couple Tracks (Matador) — This singles comp contains selections recorded from 2002 to 2008 that border on goon rock but with indie cred thanks to its Matador pedigree. Included here only so the garage band guys and the folks down at The Hole don’t think I’m a total pussy.
Los Campesinos!, Romance Is Boring (Arts & Crafts) — You can almost see their angry, Walesian snarls through the (oh-so-carefully applied) dirt on their faces. You appreciate the new, slick production, but you can’t help but want it raw and ugly in a way they could never pull off (at least not now). “Nicer” than their last one, and that’s not a compliment.
Beach House, Teen Dream (Sub Pop) — A friend of mine compared them to Al Stewart (Come on, you remember “Year of the Cat”). But for all I know, she was joking (or as drunk as everyone else at O’Leaver’s that night). This is real underwater dream machine music (sorry Mr. Vovk) that’s as appealing as rolling up in your favorite snuggie with your dog (or significant other) asleep on your lap, too afraid to move for fear you’ll wake them up. And now you have to go to the bathroom.
Four Tet, There Is Love In You (Domino) — Like all “electronica,” (or for that matter, like all instrumental-only albums) it can become somewhat tedious after the novelty of the first 30 seconds of each song wears off. OK, I get it. Next. Unless, of course, you’re dancing with 100 people at 3 a.m. in someone’s funkily-lit downtown loft. And you’re drunk. Like that’s going to happen at my age…
Basia Bulat, Heart Of My Own (Rough Trade) — Imagine Tracy Chapman hugging an autoharp while fronting a fiddle-driven hayrack ride of a band emoting shades of The Green Isle by way of Toronto and you’re halfway there. With the Dixie Chicks on hiatus, Bulat is the next in line.
Japanther, Rock ‘N Roll Ice Cream (Menlo Park) — Chock full o’ the cool songs that your pals will include on their next mix CDs (Do people still make mix CDs?). Sure, some of the songs sound like an amateur improv sketch, but that’s half the fun.
Vampire Weekend, Contra (XL) — The most hyped album of 2010 and it’s only February, which makes you want to hate it even more. Despite that inner contempt, you can’t help but smile when you hear their Graceland-ripped melodies, the blue-light keyboard bounce, the hyper-kinetic beat and the silly-love-song lyrics. Utter cuteness wins again
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