Monday, February 5, 2007

New Albums For February 6th...

So last week, only one album. "Huh, there's not a lot of content here" I bet you said. Or better yet, "pssshhht" or something like that- please go ahead and scoff, I give you full permission to. My whackness is only outshined by my lack of professionalism. Or the lack of any good albums released last week. Coupled with the crappy downloading services I use, I couldn't get a few records I wanted to review, and the only way to get stuff before it comes out is to actually pay for it...

...which I'm not about to do. Unless it's good, then I'll buy it. So, in classic fashion, here's me, telling you what to buy:

Bloc Party- A Weekend In The City (Vice Records, 2/6/07)

Oh man, what a let down. Probably the biggest disappointment, musically speaking, since everyone told
me to check out Bright Eyes. Listen, whoever thought I'd like that shit is a complete ass. What I mean is, err, I guess it's okay if you like it, I'm just not down at all. But Bloc Party? What happened? This is an entirely new direction for these lads, and I'm not 100% sure if I'm going to follow. Clinically speaking, where Silent Alarm spreads like an undetected lymphoma, A Weekend In The City is very much unlike that devastating form of cancer, it never fully metastasizes.

First, there's the mildness of Song For Clay (Disappear Here); the intensity is here, but not those chunky, distorted blasts of staccato-charged guitar pyrotechnics showcased on the debut. You have to wait for what should be the album's opener, Hunting For Witches at track 2. But no real,
solid bangers like all over Silent Alarm. I could cite this album for the excellent production value but this album legitimately could've been titled Bloc Party Lite. Same can, same great taste, waaaay less filling. These guys held back so much, went for a more commercial approach, and I would think that Bloc Party is a much more capable band than what is displayed on this album. So much more adept playing their instruments at such a really good level, what's really here is just a bunch of giant, over-fed stadium sized vocals. And a conversation with a robot on Uniform. And a promise to still "love you in the morning" on Sunday.

Is this trying to be their Dark Side Of The Moon, their "au revoir to youth" album, that youth we try to eschew much too quickly and then try to return ourselves back to that innocence? Knowing more about the world as we get older, it's pretty easy to be depressed all the time. And this brand of English depression sells well, just ask Radiohead or Morrissey- and that's why
we may see Bloc Party on their way to be that band who rises up from relative obscurity to be discovered and completely mainstreamed and therefore swallowed whole by the world of TRL.

Lyrically, there's still a good amount of venom in Kele Okereke's poisoned pen. That's him casting off his past towards the end of the album, which is his transformation to the ne
xt stage of life- the more "adult" phase realized in the late 20s, the eventual shift towards intimacy. Okereke has been known to be less than accomodating to the press as of late, and maybe this is his plea to be left alone. Just like Michael Jackson begged of us in 1989 to leave him alone, just like we left Syd Barrett alone to watch his Brit soaps on the telly and of course, Bobby Brown always had his prerogative (until Britney wanted it too!) making the world collectively throw our hands up and proclaim "WTF, man?"

In summation: mediocre, painstakingly so; or just quite average from beginning to end. Great live show, however...
overall rating: 66

Beirut- Lon Gisland EP (BaDaBing Records, 2/6/07)

Aww, everyone's littl
e darling made a follow-up EP to last year's critically-acclaimed Gulag Orkestar. Haven't heard of Beirut yet? Quick bio: Zach Condon, 20 years old, one-man band, native of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sounds like: an eastern European pop band influenced by Neutral Milk Hotel, or just think indie-folk gypsy-pop. Now that you're acquainted with Condon's Beirut, let's give it a listen.

Released digitally (Steve Job's powerhouse music empire got a hold of it first, back on December 12th of last year) I've had a chance to give it several in-depth listens. And it glistens as a 16-and-a-half-minute romp in the back of a caravan climbing through the western Carpathian mountains
of Transylvania. Beirut encompasses so much more than the traditional stylings of the Doina or Banat, and by including the indigenous folk music from this area of the world, Condon makes it his and in turn makes it accessible for all. Remember when you were a kid and you were messing around with your older cousin's Casio keyboard? And all the weird-named beats with high tempos that appeared once you pressed the "rhythm" key? They're all here!

The Lon Gisland Ep (pronounced lon guy-land, get it?) is being released as a stand alone EP from BaDaBing Records, but the recently reissued Gulag Orkestar has these songs tacked on as bonus tracks. I don't know why 4AD, Beirut's "proper" label, wouldn't distribute this, seeing how it ended up on nearly every year-end best-of list. But these songs...

Songs? There's only 5 here, a
nd at the outset you are greeted with the impulsive, ever-present and up-front Balkan brass, right at the top of the mix, shining through high and bright on Elephant Gun and the deft, quick jabs of piano work on My Family's Role In The World Revolution, best title of a song since The Smiths' There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. It's a Scenic World, so sit back and enjoy the journey, before too long we'll take a ride on the ferris wheel at the carnival with The Long Island Sound. Then you are taken for a ride on Carousels, from Coney Island to Bucharest and back again in less than 20 minutes.

I'm recommending you take this trip. Now!
Overall rating: 93

Apples In Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder (YepRoc Records, 2/6/07)

"Can you feel it? Turn up the stereo!"
lead singer Robert Schneider beckons you, right away on the album's opener Can You Feel It? Right you should turn that hi-fi
way up, if you like to have fun. Because Apples In Stereo sincerely wants you to have fun. Go ahead, it's okay! Have big fun, it's on us!

Another lovely bit of American twee-pop from that powerhouse Elephant 6 Collective. So, when your best friends are bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power, Beulah, how can you do any wrong? This album is one big commercial for fun, packed up in 24 songs clocking in at 52.3 minutes of speeded up, over-caffienated candy-coated goodness that will attack you at the sweet spot in your soul, and rob your teeth of precious enamel.

Encrusted between songs are these ten little gumdrops of hyper pop sugary treats- mmm mmm good- not a one lasting more than a minute and a half, serving to either coalesce or confound the listener, I haven't decided which yet. My only knock (and it's a big one) is this album doesn't stand up after repeated listens. It's initial "yeah, man, this is FUN!" vibe wanes after the second, third, and fourth listen. I usually like to listen to an album 5 or 6 times for a review, but Schneider and the Apples wouldn't let me. I ate too many gummy worms and I got sick...

...but, hey, don't let me tell you what to do, I mean if you like fun, you found it right here.
Overall rating: 73

Sondre Lerche- Phantom Punch (Astralwerks, due out 2/6/07)

"Cuz they say two thousand zero zero party over, Oops out of time- So tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999"
...wait a minute, who is this? Is Sondre Lerche channeling Prince on the album's title track here? I mean the cool Prince, not the name/symbol-changing Prince who does Super Bowl Halftime Shows. No, wait, I lied- he's changing it up and doing a little ska-punk (The Tape, sounding strangely like a Hot Hot Heat song...) and all these little bits of radio-friendly punk (Face The Blood) and acoustic melancholia (After All). Now, the acoustic melancholia, yes, Sondre does that, does that quite well, just listen to 2004's Two Way Monologue. But this, this is unchartered territory. He must've learned a bunch of minor ninths and major sevenths and all those assorted jazz chords and got his freak flag out. Which I must say, is not a bad thing at all...

So if last years jazz/swing album Duper Sessions taught him that, then take the ball and run- wait, he's Norwegian, so he'd be apt to, er, send a cross into the box and hope it gets sent on past the goalkeep, right? This album scores on so many levels- showing his versatility, his love for crafting a beautiful melody, soulful excursions into American rhythm & blues, you name it. Essentially European in scope, Lerche shares a label with the heavyweights of the scene across the pond: Air, Badly Drawn Boy, Basement Jaxx, The Chemical Brothers, DFA, Doves, Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim, Hot Chip, Neu!, Beth Orton, Primal Scream, Royksopp, Sparklehorse, VHS or Beta and XTC. Pretty good company to be in, might you say?

What Mr. Lerche does do so well (and I'm calling him Mr. Lerche out of respect, a respect well deserved, mind you) is crafting the aforementioned beautiful pop melodies. Not as twee as previous releases, he seems to be hitting his stride here, and it's all thanks to his backing band, The Faces Down. Does he allow them to let go a little, perhaps a wilder, less refined backing band makes for a great album? Think Bob Dylan and his backing band on The Basement Tapes. Yes, I just made the assertion that Sondre Lerche is the Norwegian Bob Dylan. I feel confident in making this concession, I mean, go ahead and challenge me. Name one other Norwegian musician and I'll undoubtedly prove it to you that they are in fact Swedish!

So that wistful melancholia is reigned in, but it leaks through in the form of Tragic Mirror, a tell-all self confessional. Or is it a portrait of the artist as a young man? She's Fantastic; a full-on party or an ode to "her"? All this delicious ambiguity, it's hard to stop listening to this album. Another early contender for my year end list, no doubt...
Overall rating: 90

Next Week: absolutely nothing! (psyche) No, some unreviewed albums from last year and one (or two) from this year that I missed...

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