Column 160 — Reviews Roundup…

Category: Blog — @ 1:23 pm February 14, 2008

A reminder about the my simple rating system: “Yes” means yes, “No” means no. As Brian McNamee said in the Clemens trial yesterday, it is what it is.

Column 160: Winter Reviews Round-up
So what have you been listening to?
The most common question I hear at the bar: So what have you been listening to? When dropped from the sky, I always come up blank and wonder, “Hmmm….what have I been listening to?” and then refer to my iPhone for the list, making a mental note to delete the albums that suck. Below is what I’ve been listening to (along with what I’ve deleted).

Times New Viking, Rip It Off (Matador) — Call it hi-fi low-fi or arty low-fi or loud low-fi or technically perfect low-fi, but straight-up low-fi it ain’t. And for me, that’s a plus. Cut through the sizzle static buzzsaw and you’ll find plenty of tunes. Songs, too. This generation’s Slanted-era Pavement? If so, it’s apt that they’re on Matador. And it’s only a matter of time (and releases) until the static fades, replaced by perfect sound forever. Rating: Yes

Flowers Forever, self-titled (Team Love) — Derek Pressnall may be the grooviest guy in Nebr-indie music, from his role in Tilly and the Wall to his role in Goo, but that doesn’t mean he has anything relevant to say. Or maybe he does. Depends on whether or not you buy his “Change better come / We’re not fucking around no more” millennial reach-around — an approach whose sincerity is believable when it comes from the tap dancing band. When it comes from Vincent Gallo fronting a heavier version of Bright Eyes, it sounds less like a rallying cry than a threat that no one could possibly take seriously. Rating: No

Head of Femur, Great Plains (Greyday) — I was too quick to discard this as more bland indie pabulum on first listen (maybe I was in a bad mood?), but further listens revealed a soul cast in King Crimson and golden light, especially once you find centerpiece “Covered Wagons” with its lush strings and very real piano and more sincerity than you’ll likely hear anywhere else in indie land. The Femurs have become true balladeers since those Ringodom or Proctor days, which is another way of saying they’ve all growed up. Rating: Yes

Darla Farmer, Rewiring the Electric Forest (Paper Garden) — They need to come up with a name for this style of multi-instrumental (as in there’s brass) back-beat indie calliope that was so popular a few years ago. Clown car music? Spazz baroque? Indie cabaret? Good for theatrics and a crowded stage (and angry sound guys) but not so much for listening to in your car, where the guy who sounds like a girl (or a muppet) gets lost in the cacophony and the road noise. Rating: No

Peasant, On the Ground (Paper Garden) — The only way it’ll work is if you can get past Damien DeRose’ obvious love (or mimicry?) of Elliot Smith, to which his melodies (if not his voice) is just shy of dead ringer. Get beyond it, and you’ll discover sweet coffee shop acoustic folk that would fit right in on the latest indie movie soundtrack. More likely, though, it’ll make you stumble through your bookcase looking for your copy of XO. Rating: Yes

Lightspeed Champion, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge (Domino) — What happens when you uproot a Brit and plant him in Omaha’s ARC studios with Mike Mogis behind the board surrounded by all the local talent that Saddle Creek can throw at him. The result is a smarter, older, more tuneful version of Tilly and the Wall (sans tap dancing) meets mild-swing Morrissey and Nate Walcott-arranged strings. Pleasant and fun (if you don’t take it too seriously). Rating: Yes.

Neva Dinova, You May Already Be Dreaming (Saddle Creek) — Lyrically, Jake Bellows is Omaha’s version of Paul Westerberg. Clever, maybe too clever for his own good (but not for ours). Those clever words of love and loss and the joys of Tryptophan are apt to shimmer somewhere in a dream fog of a melody (fueled by Bellows’ bright croon) rather than a country backbeat (“She’s a Ghost”) or an electric rumble (“Cloud”). When they do rock (the skittery “What You Want”) it’s more of a fluke than a trend, short-lived until you can return to the usual slow and drowsy and buttery stuff. Those who can keep from nodding off will be grandly rewarded. Rating: Yes

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Real Emotional Trash (Matador) — Former Pavement frontman swerves dangerously close to jam-band territory, or does he? You might think so after the 10-plus minute head trip (the title track, his first ever) or the blues jam noodler “Hopscotch Willie,” but really, it’s the same old Malkmus, that songster with the adolescent Peter Brady meets Lou Reed mew, the king of indie-slacker melodicism, the last man standing from the ’90s that still makes good music. Compared to the more tuneful Face the Truth it’s almost a toss-off, but still worth your time. Rating: Yes

Dead Meadows, Old Growth (Matador) — Since when does Matador sell stoner rock? More like stoner rock lite. These hippy fuzz-blues songs are saved by their brevity (and guitar work). Rating: Yes
Devastations, Yes, U (Beggars Banquet) – A moody uptick of Roxy Music with kinda, sorta Nick Drake darkness thrown into the mix. As deep and lush as it is, it suffers from a case of the samies. Rating: No

Panther, 14Kt God (Kill Rock Stars) — After the genius of bottle-tapping single “How Well Can You Swim” I so wanted this to be great. And it comes close on the Byrne-meets-Fripp “Beautiful Condo” and stuttering funk of “Pueto Rican Jukebox.” But that’s about it. Buy the singles. Rating: No

Sons & Daughters, This Gift (Domino) — A kinder gentler version of Metric? Probably just frontwoman Adele Bethel’s vocals, which are loose and groovy on music that’s trying to be harder than it should (could) be. Rating: Yes

More reviews to come as I revamp and update the Reviews Matrix for 2008. I’ll let you know when that’s completed (probably over the weekend).

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