Column 312: Quarterly Report
CD reviews for the first quarter 2011.
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
And so ends the first quarter of ’11. If there’s an early, detectable trend in the world of indie music, it’s a subtle move away from “static-y, vibe bands” (as one local genius put it) like Animal Collective and Sleigh Bells to more-classic songwriting. Music auteurs will confuse this shift with retro or rehash, and in some cases they’re dead right, but the healing has to start somewhere.
Poor But Sexy, Let’s Move In Together (self-released) — Self-proclaimed re-inventors of “Yacht Rock” (their first misstep), this combo of D.C. post-punk veterans (including members of Dismemberment Plan) do their darnedest to translate Steely Dan to these Modern Times, but wind up sounding more like Pablo Cruise or Leo Sayer or Gino Vannelli, which ain’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re into that sort of white-guy disco funk (attention, Satchel Grande fans). It has its moments, like the roller skate handclap groover “You’re Hotter than a Poptart,” which sums up the lyrical deftness of the entire collection. Imagine what they could have done with a horn section.
Destroyer, Kaputt (Merge) — The band hasn’t remade its sound (you heard this coming on Trouble in Dreams) as much as given into its influences. “Savage Night at the Opera” is the best clear-cut homage to New Order you’ll ever find, right down to the “Bizarre Love Triangle” guitar cues. Other, more disco-y moments will make you think you picked up a Pet Shop Boys album, while the dreamy stuff is pure Roxy Music. The differentiator is the gorgeous trumpet and saxophone that slides in and out at the best moments, like the title track, where frontman Dan Bejar croons “Wasting your days, chasing some girls all right / Chasing cocaine to the back rooms of the world all night” over a warm, twilight LA summer disco melody he calls his “song for America” (circa 1988).
MEN, Talk About Body (IAMSOUND) — Fronted by Le Tigre’s SD Samson and Johanna Fateman, this thump-thump-thump electronic dance collection with a feminist edge would have benefited from a tad more (or a lot more) variety, but who’s looking for variety on the dance floor (other than Peaches, who did this better with I Feel Cream)?
Chikita Violenta, Tre3s (Arts & Crafts) — From Mexico City by way of Canada’s Dave Newfeld (Broken Social Scene, Los Campesinos!) you won’t find a hint of south-of-the-border flavor. Instead, they sound like another member of the Arts & Crafts clan, hashed out and shimmering, complete with strutting vocalists that Feist and Stars’ Torquil Campbell ain’t got nothing on. Hot center track “ATPG” feels like revved up Yo La Tengo, while opener “Roni” is revved up Jesus and Mary Chain. Kick those influences to the curb and you have something that could be glorious.
The Decemberists, The King Is Dead (Rough Trade) — They can no longer be marginalized as just another twangy indie band, now that they’ve broken through with a collection that defines modern-day, above-ground Americana. The rural stomp-rock of “Down By the Water,” with its soaring harmonica and squeeze-box solo, is better than anything John Mellencamp has produced since Pink Houses; while the fiddles, banjo and honky-tonk piano on “All Arise!” could get any boots scootin’ at your local 2-step parlor. They’d be radio stars if radio hadn’t died a decade ago. I’ll take them over Mumford and Sons any day (but that’s not saying much).
Yuck, self-titled (Fat Possum) — That the album opens with a song that could be mistaken for classic Dinosaur Jr. is no mistake at all, as these British lads are channeling the best of the ’80s/’90s college rock scene almost note for note. Is that Pavement I hear? Yes, son, it is. How about Teenage Fanclub? Right you are. Is it a sin to emulate your heroes? Take a listen and decide for yourself.
Radiohead, The King of Limbs (XL) — As Thom Yorke’s music became more and more dehumanized and faux-modern (opening tracks “Bloom” and “Morning Mr. Magpie” are prime examples), I assumed this would be just another soulless escape into sterile, forced beats and drone-tones. But Yorke pulls it off with his brilliant voice, which he layers upon the layers upon the layers, and thankfully leaves clean without electronic effects (for the most part). When he tries to make it swing (“Little by Little,” “Lotus Flower”) I wonder if he simply forgot how to rock. He still struggles to find melodies; or maybe he just isn’t looking for them any more. He comes closest when he slows it down at the end. Tracks “Codex” and “Give Up the Ghost” are the closest thing to what we loved about OK Computer (and redeem the entire collection). It’s not as good as that landmark album, but nothing he produces from now on ever will be.
Toro Y Moi, Underneath the Pine (Carpark) — They’re calling one-man band Chaz Bundick’s style “chillwave,” which I guess means that it’s music to chill to, and I can see that. Both synth-y and beat-heavy, the shimmer is dreamy, the vocals breathy and echoing, the melodies intentionally loungy (a la Stereolab); it’s all very pretty and easy to listen to, and even easier to ignore.
The Dirtbombs, Party Store (In the Red) — Don’t know anything about the Detroit techno scene that this album supposedly honors? Doesn’t matter. I didn’t, either, and I still don’t. Take the record for what it is — a dirty, filthy, garage-punk dance album that recreates the beats and action of electronic acid house with guitars, bass, drums and Mick Collins’ brazen yowl. As for the 21:22 rehash of “Bug in the Bassbin” that stops the album dead in its tracks at the halfway point, well, that’s what the delete key is for (but only after you’ve endured it a couple times). Coolest album so far this year.
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Homer’s head honcho Mike Fratt reports that Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key came in at No. 40 on the Billboard charts last week with sales of 11,314. Normally that would have landed Conor and Co. higher on the chart, but it was “another BIG week at soundscan,” he said, “sales are on a roll. Adele did over 350k.” Yikes. Despite the launch of the Bright Eyes global domination tour, you should see that number slowly decline until the band’s next network appearance. I’ve been told that once a band does Letterman or any other competing late-night show, that they’re blackballed form appearing on Saturday Night Live, which is a shame because BE could do real damage with an SNL appearance, and deserves the spot. But you take what you can get, I suppose, and Letterman has been a faithful supporter of Conor for years. Oberst certainly knows who has been there since the beginning. Let’s hope he remembers when it comes time to do local interviews surrounding the June Westfair date…
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The Bonacci Brothers’ new band The Benningtons plays tonight at Slowdown Jr. They recently finished recording a new CD, which I’ve listening to while on the road (more details about that later). You should go to this show tonight. With Sun Settings and Sour Babies, it’s only $7.
Also tonight, Dim Light plays at The Barley Street Tavern with Damon Moon & the Whispering Drifters and South of Lincoln. $5, 9 p.m.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.