Column 270: Second Quarter Report; Live Review: Matt Pond PA…

The promotional e-mail from The Reader says that the printed column only contains 20 of the 25 micro-reviews below, which means the editors had to cut for space. I have no idea which five didn’t “make the cut.” You and I will have to pick up a paper tomorrow to find out.

Second Quarter Report

25, from best to the rest…

by Tim McMahan

You can’t go wrong with any of these, but some are better than others. Hence, they appear below in order from best to the rest.

1. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, I Learned the Hard Way (Daptone) — Everything you’ve heard is true — as pure a throwback as you’re ever going to find — a modern-day Etta, Aretha, Gladys and Marva all rolled into one, backed by a band that James Brown would be proud to shimmy to.

2. Local Natives, Gorilla Manor (Frenchkiss) — What you expected from MGMT’s follow-up to Oracular instead of that unlistenable shitstorm that is Congratulations. Infectious, deep-rhythm indie pop.

3. Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Fat Cat) — They continue to hone their indie-rock anthems, cutting the melodies with just enough brogue to remind you they’re Scots who grew up listening to Arab Strap. This is the one that breaks them big.

4. Zeus, Say Us (Arts & Crafts) — Power pop nirvana by way of Canada that has more in common with Big Star than the Beatles. Goes from hick struttin’ (“River by the Garden”) to filthy, organ-fueled garage grunt (“You Gotta Teller”). What more do you want?

5. Titus Andronicus, The Monitor (XL) — Forget about that new Hold Steady album, which you (*yawn*) have heard before. If it’s gritty, anthemic (more like epic) punk you’re looking for, you’ll find no better.

6. Javelin, No Mas (Luaka Bop) — Electronic dance abstractions by a couple Brooklyn boys who are smarter than us (and funnier). Keyboards, beatbox, samples and a groove — Who needs LCD? “Let’s do the monkey foot” indeed.

7. Hot Chip, One Life Stand (EMI) — They want to be the new Depeche Mode or Pet Shop Boys, but have more in common with Erasure or Röyskopp (and is feyer than any of them). At their best (the title track, “Hand Me Down Your Love”) they’ll get your ass shaking like the pros they are.

8. Holy Fuck, Latin (Young Turks/XL) — Jittery instrumental electronic dance music propelled by bass and charisma. High BPM equates to a fine aerobic workout and leaner, meaner abs.

9. The Mynabirds, What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood (Saddle Creek) — A hodge-podge of styles made popular by some very familiar female artists (Mazzy Star, Bonnie Raitt, Jenny Lewis, Chan Marshall, Maria Taylor, Orenda Fink and so on). But I’m still not quite sure I know who Laura Burhenn really sounds like. Creek’s best release since Mama, I’m Swollen.

10. Sally Seltmann, Heart That’s Pounding (Arts & Crafts) — Gorgeous and catchy, it stands among the best female-led pop rock records since Sam Phillips was around. PS: She co-wrote Feist’s iPod commercial (“1234”) — Don’t hold it against her.

11. Serena-Maneesh, S-M 2: Abyss in B Minor (4AD) — Oslo shoegaze comes close to noise, but it’s too poppy for that. Is it any coincidence that I’ve been listening to a lot of My Bloody Valentine lately? I blame this record.

12. The New Pornographers, Together (Matador) — The first album by this band that I’ve actually liked, thanks to their willingness to break out of the Belle & Sebastian mold for something more inspiring (and funky. See opening track “Moves” for evidence).

13. A Weather, Everyday Balloons (Team Love) — Laidback, moody piano/guitar folk sung underneath blankets by breathy youth in love with Simon & Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac and Roxy Music. The best record from Conor’s label since Jenny Lewis.

14. The Whigs, In the Dark (ATO) — Heavy guitars, heavy hooks, heavy alt rock by a band that probably hangs out with The Killers or Franz Ferdinand (if they weren’t from Athens); something tells me they’ll be selling cars soon (on TV).

15. Teenage Fanclub, Shadows (Merge) — This quieter, gentler Fanclub lacks the punch of earlier, better albums, but still has all the hooks you want (and expect), though you’ll have to stay awake to hear them.

16. The Kissaway Trail, Sleep Mountain (Bella Union) — So close to Arcade Fire you’ll think you’re listening to outtakes from Funeral. So close to Arcade Fire, you’ll laugh bitterly at the vocals on “Don’t Wake Up” and the keyboard line on “Beat Your Heartbeat.” Still, it’s better than Neon Bible.

17. Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts) — A model in extremes: “Chase Scene” is the worst song they’ve ever recorded, while “Texico Bitches” may be their catchiest. Weed out half the tracks and you’ve got a winner instead of a whiner.

18. The National, High Violet (4AD) — The question is: How much does it differ than the last National album? The answer: Not much. If you liked that one, stand by for more of the same low-voiced drama that can’t seem to get to the point.

19. High Places, High Places Vs. Mankind (Thrill Jockey) — This is the moody electronic dance-floor album that Kate Bush never made but Blondie should have. Demoted for too many tracks that could be confused for trance.

20. Quasi, American Gong (Kill Rock Stars) — It lacks the playfulness of their earlier albums (i.e., Featuring “Birds,” which came out a staggering 12 years ago and remains their masterpiece) and as such, is too heavy handed to call fun.

21. Broken Bells, self-titled (Columbia) — Don’t know why I expected more from this A-list combo (Danger Mouse and The Shins), whose middle-of-the-road blend is blander than its individual parts.

22. Delorean, Subiza (True Panther Sounds) — Dance-floor indie dream pop built on a thump-thump-thump foundation borrowed from DM circa 1988. The thumping is present on every track, and like disco, quickly goes from cute to kitsch.

23. Owen Pallett, Heartland (Domino) — Pitchfork heart throbs, I, too, fell for the hype, and while there is some epic songcraft here, he’s no Sufjan Stevens.

24. She and Him, Volume Two (Merge) — Zooey and Matt continue to create modernized, soulless Sam Cooke-era balladry merged (get it?) with TV jingle melodies. No worse than Volume One, and no better.

25. Emanuel and The Fear, Listen (Paper Garden) — More Of Montreal than Sufjan and not as good as either despite the 11-piece “orchestra.” It’s ambitious, which is what we say when we respect the effort, and not much else.

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Matt Pond PA

Matt Pond PA at Slowdown Jr., May 11, 2010

About two songs into last night’s laid-back set by Matt Pond PA at Slowdown Jr., Mr. Pond said he was struggling with his between-song patter. His reticence to chat with the crowd likely had something to do with the fact that a couple stooges stole product from his merch table the night before in Milwaukee during one of his humorous monologues, which Pond said resulted in him giving chase followed by general mayhem. There was none of that last night as the (surprisingly large) crowd of around 120 soaked in every earthy note from Pond and his band (three guitars (including his) bass and drums). While Leslie Sisson provided some barely heard backing vocals/harmonies (turn it up, Leslie), Pond’s secret weapon was Chris Hansen, who I remember also being a standout at the SXSW performance. His guitar-work was subtle and amazing, never got in the way, but added necessary depth to the music. I can see why Pond has made him an integral part of his band and his sound. All that said, this was a more restrained band than I heard in Austin in March — they seemed a bit tired, though Pond was once again in amazing voice. You could argue (as one person did) that his music is too middle-of-the-road and somewhat samey-samey, but to me, it’s the tone and style that matter. Matt Pond’s music is easy on the ears, and some nights (like last night) that’s all I want.

Opener Bobby Long played a fine solo-acoustic set that broke out of the traditional singer/songwriter mold with its intensity and intricate guitar arrangements. He said from the stage that he’s got an album coming out on ATO, so I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot from this talented Brit in the near future.