Monday, April 30, 2007

...What You Been Listening To? #4

Short post this time, here's what I'm geeking on lately...

- Hailing from Denmark's Faroe Islands, singer, songwriter; imagine rainy days, the North Sea, cups of tea by the fireplace, acoustic guitars- this is the world of Teitur Lassen. Emotive without being annoying, heartfelt without making you uncomfortable, he'll slowly seep into your mind and is damn-near impossible to shake. Please check him out!

Cassette tapes - Berkeley, CA is the unquestioned king of junk sales. Yard sales, garage sales, "tag" sales, whatever... And there's an over-abundance of cassettes, and my car just happens to have a cassette player. Sweet! So when I'm sitting in horriffic Bay Area traffic, I just pop in Fugazi's Margin Walker or The Cure's Boys Don't Cry and am immediately taken back to my childhood of the 1980s...

Stars Of Track & Field, Centuries Before Love And War - this is the band that Coldplay should've become, instead of that "band" they're pretending to be now.

(Side note on Coldplay: when I first heard Parachutes back in 2001, that became one of my go-to albums, probably my biggest album of that year. I fell in love to that album, had my heart broken to that album, and picked up the pieces of aforementioned shattered heart to that album. Then A Rush Of Blood To The Head came out and I started to back away. The Live DVD was okay, but by the third time I listened to X&Y in its entirety, I knew this band was done. I hate you Chris Martin...)

But anyway, Portland, Oregon's Stars Of Track & Field, named after the Belle & Sebastian song, have all the elements that make a band huge- except for some reason they're not. They've got the right tone and tenor, the ability to shape mood, and the focus and scope to grow into an awesome band. And they're on Wind-Up Records, a subsidiary of Sony/BMG, so they should be enjoying near-major label status and success. So what gives?

Six Organs Of Admittance - I've been having a deepening and heartfelt connection since January to Devendra Banhart and his music. Call it freak-folk, psych-folk, acid-folk,
New Weird America, whatever- I call it good music. So as I pour myself into his music, I'm also finding a connection to Vetiver, Joanna Newsom, Jana Hunter, Espers, Brightblack Morning Light, along with a deepening appreciation for other associated and more established acts like Will Oldham and Iron & Wine. But recently I watched an interview on YouTube with Devendra, and he said that Ben Chasny and Six Organs of Admittance was at the fore-front of whatever you'd like to call this experimental-folk music coming up from the bowels of the American independent music scene. So I checked out his music and was not disappointed. Their album Dark Noontide is full of ambient and creepy atmospheres, abound with hurdy-gurdys and earth-colored textures, and School Of The Flower, possibly Six Organs' masterpiece, a mysterious and beautifully executed series of airy, yet mysterious vocal and instrumental songs. You don't need drugs when you have psychedelic music like this- the music itself is your drug. I'm tripping so hard, man...

This week's reviews:
Dntel, Dumb Luck
Charlotte Gainsbourg, 5 55
Feist, The Reminder

...also, I'm in the middle of moving into a new apartment, so don't hold me to any of these until at least Thursday-slash-Friday.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Laura Veirs' Saltbreakers

I can't believe it's almost May. I miss east coast springs. It's been spring since January here in the Bay Area, and it pretty much stays spring year round. Not that I'm complaining, I miss complaining about the weather. It's just one thing to take out of the equation- oh yeah, today it was 80 degrees and sunny. I spent the day at Stinson Beach getting a tan...

Laura Veirs- Saltbreakers, (Nonesuch Records, released 4-10)
So I'm listening to this album's opening track, Pink Light, which starts off with the line: "Sorry I was cruel, I was protecting myself..." signaling the cathartic, if not classic, "everyone's got to write one" patented break-up record. Coming back with a much more focused and mature sound here, Miss Veirs takes on producer-extraordinaire-slash-sought after session drummer Tucker Martine, as Martine is fresh off of producing The Decemberists' The Crane Wife, my 2006 Album of the Year. Being blessed with a full-on band for the first time, Miss Veirs takes much more time in her wonderful lyric writing and focuses less on music, leaving it up to the boys to hash out her ideas this time. And the formula clicks beautifully (and at times a bit awkwardly, but that's her plan now, isn't it?) Her stark and sometimes sterile approach, presaged by that opening line and the eventual denouement solved by the closing line, "...we can do some wrecking here and find something to love in this broken place."

Saltbreakers, the term for big, foamy waves, has stocked Veirs' memory of a lost love, and this album is chock full of the imagery of the mighty Pacific; of ocean waves pummeling the shores at night, the flight of lost seabirds and the blue blues of water and what may lie beneath it. It's also the title track, falling in the middle of the album, serving to split it up nicely- the first half is the good-bye to the last life, the second half is the "hello" to the new one. The first half of the album is rife with imagery of water, the second half, a depature to land. Not that Miss Veirs doesn't revisit the ocean in the second half of the record (her ode to the mer-man who caught her heart in Cast A Hook is quite the opposite of a "land" song, but Phantom Mountain seems to recall something far inland, "I could not tell the truth from the mirage..." she beckons.)

With song titles like Cast A Hook, Ocean Night Song and Drink Deep, the ocean is well represented here. Portland, Oregon is quite a sea-shanty little town- just search through the lyric sheets of bands like The Decemberists' and The Shins' latest effort and you can see exactly what kind of effect the greatest ocean has on the collective psyche of the Pacific Northwest's greatest songwriters. To The Country, with a lovely little backing chorus, may be the most beautifully done song, the most "Veirs-like" of all the tracks. Just a violin, guitar and piano to guide Laura into the middle section of the song, then hand claps and a softly plucked bass become faintly and unobtrusively emergent.

Year Of Meteors, Veirs' last album, was a beautiful little collection of songs, each standing alone as strong examples of accomplished songwriting, but coalescing together to make it the most cohesive album in Laura's catalog. On Saltbreakers, the standout tracks are Pink Light and Don't Lose Yourself, which don't necessarily fit into the theme of water, and, sadly the newer batch of songs only mildly disappoints. The second half of the album also features less and less of The Saltbreakers, waning finally into a guitar and double-tracked vocal arrangement to end the album with Wrecking. The string quartet backing also ends all too abruptly, but that just may be Veirs' point; that relationships, love, friends, and even life itself- all end much too quickly, most of the time with out warning.
Overall rating: 81

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Arctic Monkeys' Favourite Worst Nightmare

Arctic Monkeys- Favourite Worst Nightmare (Domino Records, released 4-24)

Before I get started here, let me get all these cliches associated with this album out in the open and expand upon them briefly: highly anticipated (debut album sells more in its first week than both Oasis and the Beatles, so obviously, yes; highly anticipated), sophomore jinx (this is the term that writers apply to a band's second album, hoping they fail miserably so they can be the first to say "I told you so...", like these assholes), they sold out (every fucking venue in every fucking city they play) and et cetera and so on. You can insert your favorite (American spelling) cliche here: ________________________________.

Arctic Monkeys conventional wisdom cliche: English guitar rock that's danceable.

Yes, and this is the follow-up that Bloc Party should've made this year, but alas; Arctic Monkeys is the band with big enough balls to actually expand on their sound and take it a bit further, not go into unchartered territory and get all "accessible" on me. The songs on Favourite Worst Nightmare fit that same vibe: the downtrodden young Brit, soiled apron, walking home in the rain: here's to you, keep your head up, never let those bastards get you down!

The thing I love about Arctic Monkeys is their unabashed love for (and what I see as an unwavering devotion to) the plight of the English working class- more specifically, the 18-to-24 set that didn't go off to university, the kids who stayed at home to work a shitty grocery-bagging job and live in mum's flat in Lancashire- the "new" working class. Maybe that's why they have gone absolutely ape-shit for the Monkeys across the pond; like hip-hop here in the states, they've become the voice of their respective generation. Nothing like starting off life knowing that you're fucked for all eternity, the Monkeys are the soundtrack to that ennui, that "spend your whole week's cheque at the pub on a Saturday, maybe mosh a bit, maybe meet a lovely little Emma, take her home, blacked-out, and do it all over again next week", the bleak view afforded to too many youngsters whether it be here or in jolly old England.

Sociological ramifications aside, the songs here are relatively cohesive, as in: now that we're more popular than the prime minister, what do we do with all this (perceived) power? Put it into our music, as the grinding and churning opener Brianstorm presents. It's a bit different stylistically, a bit grungier and grimier, but there's a bit of raw power here, and suffice it to say it does the lads well. That's right, it's Brian-storm, as the song follows this twit named Brian through a series of his trials, being such an awesome guy that he is, such a righteous innovator, what with his t-shirts and ties combo. Then there's Teddy Picker, Brit-slang for a whore? I don't know, so have a look at the lyrics and you decide: "...and it's the thousandth time that it's even bolder / don't be surprised when you get bent over / they told ya / but you were gagging for it / Let's have a game on the teddy picker / not quick enough can I have it quicker? / already thick, can you get in quicker?" All that Cockney and slang aside, it's pretty much exactly what I'd expect, nay- what I would want to hear from the Monkeys.

D Is For Dangerous, Balaclava and Fluorescent Adolescent all contend for the best track on the album, and it's that last track that'll probably be the one that turns the most heads. Done in the ska stylings of Mardy Bum, the debut album's most accessible track, I can see this taking over Indie rock playlists for the months of May and June. Only One Who Knows, lead singer Alex Turner's vocals are run through a roto-leslie effect, giving it a mild but effective "other-worldly" feel, as if he's the only one who really knows. Do Me A Favour (Anglo-centric spelling here, love it!) has a nice little faux-surf guitar riff in it and a stacatto-laden bridge worthy of a pub-stomping. This House Is A Circus, a Police-esque tune that meets a Pixies-type rocker, where drummer Matt Helders' work is impressive, but not worthy of a Stewart Copeland comparison just yet. If You Were There, Beware is a certified banger, and chills itself into a megaphone & circus organ bridge, which both showcases the band's musical ability and serves to further creep me out.

The Bad Thing, the one "throw-away" track on here, confuses me as to why it would work here- maybe it would've been better towards the front of the tracklist. But it's here, and sometimes these questions are best left to the album's producer. Old Yellow Bricks, possibly an ode to dead English towns- "She said I want to sleep in the city that never wakes up / and revel in nostalgia". Another reason I love the English; it's that melancholy feeling that's directly tied into the failings of imperialism. Imagine sitting in a classroom, somewhere in Great Britain, learning that at one time "the sun never sets on the Queen's empire", and then to keep reading your history book to find that now, it's America who "owns" the world.

505, the album's closer, is my favorite track on the album, as was A Certain Romance, the last track on Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. I used to hate when bands did this, especially before CDs; we had these things called "cassettes" that played music, maybe you've seen pictures or heard stories of them? If a band had their beast song at the end of Side 2, you either had to sit through the whole thing or fast-forward to get to it. Not anymore. But when you listen to Favourite Worst Nightmare, you can hear the best song first, which is technically last, wait, err, are you confused? I'm confusing myself, but one thing I'm not confused with is the fact that this is a pretty decent album. Above average to say the least...
Overall rating: 87

Next up: Laura Veirs' Saltbreakers...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Truant, They'll All Say!

Since I always seem to include an apology for either my a) ignorant and thoughtless previous stances towards a band's body of work (Bright Eyes & Modest Mouse, again: I'm sorry!) or my b) lack of professionalism by not doing reviews in a timely manner (this album is six weeks old), I must say this: this album came out at the same week as both my beloved Arcade Fire and Explosions In The Sky, also Air's Pocket Symphony and a week before LCD Soundsystem. I'm really sorry !!! got squeezed out. Next year, I'll review them before anyone else. Unless they put an album out the same week as Radiohead or Moz, then I reneg this promise.

!!!- Myth Takes (Warp Records, released 3/6)

Dance-punk's finest outfit come back with one of the most supreme offerings of the year, blistering listeners' eardrums with popping basslines and some of the most heavily dance-able grooves since Sly got his family Stoned. Okay now- don't flame me because I'm close to 6 weeks late with this review, actually, most of it was finished shortly after its intended due date. But I got caught up in the michigoss of apartment hunting and a brief lapse into the nether regions of the soul (the details of which are pretty inconsequential, I'll just say that California has highly potent and very available cheap weed. Hell- it's practically legal out here...) that I kept putting it off until I got sick this week and couldn't venture much outside the confines of my bedroom. So I'm finishing this intro to the review, which is how I usually work it. Backwards, ass backwards.

The album starts with the title track, and in actuality it starts out like it's already halfway through the song, slinking its way along to a snarky little bassline, working its way up and down the spine of the song. Nic Offer's vocals likewise bob along on top of the track, mimicking the tune's creepiness. All My Heroes Are Weirdos is something more comfortable to !!!'s regualr modus operandi, those call-and-response dance hall jams with a tempo that forces you to dance dance dance at 120 bpm. Likewise Must Be The Moon, the "I'm too cool for this party" jam, reminiscent of a late-70's George Clinton P-Funk banger.

Digression from review: !!! is pronounced Chk Chk Chk, but I'm sure you knew that at least, right? Anyway, that name is a total misnomer- I saw these guys last year, and there weren't a whole lot of chick chick chick at all, they should call them selves dude dude dude. For real. Okay, back to the article...

A New Name recalls all those synth-funk disco tracks from Time-Life's Sounds Of The 70s collections relentlessly hawked on late-night infomercials. That's not necessarily a dis- it's riff heavy, both vocally and musically- think Nile Rodgers and Chic, and at the same time smooth, like Earth, Wind & Fire. Heart Of Hearts goes back to the same-old, tried and true formula !!! has relied on for both Louden Up Now and their eponymous debut in 2001, except making itself uber-updated and dance friendly by adding female vocals, courtesy of Shannon Funchess- and those lovely little stop-start jams only !!! can pull off- it's really something to see these guys live: stopping on the drop of a dime, freezing, waiting a beat and then- BAM! all coming back in together, right where they left off.

A rock song? Sweet Life is the closest I've ever heard chk chk chk coming to an actual guitar-driven rock song, and it suits the band well to break the album in half- maybe signaling a turn in stylistic musing for these self-made party-monsters? The winds of change blow us into Yadnus, with its rah-rah-sis-boom-bah drum pattern and squonky synth-driven lead, sort of like what I imagine the texture of Gumby to be. Would Gumby even have a texture? (He's claymation for Christ's sake!) Anyway, it's nice to see !!! focus on structure here, a lot of their older stuff focus on 10 minute-plus ecstasy-excursions, and there's only one song over 8 minutes, the album's best jam, Bend Over Beethoven. In fact, if Beethoven were alive to see what !!! was doing with funk grooves like this, he'd shit in his hat and eat it for lunch. When I say hot damn, believe you me that Bend Over Beethoven just plain brings it.

Which brings me to: my first nomination for Song Of The Year, 2007. Come midway point of the year, sometime in June, I'll throw my top-ten songs out into the fray and we can jump all over them, but pound for pound, Bend Over is my jam of the year, so far*, and here's why: at 8:06, not one second is even remotely boring. Every instrument is doing double duty, all harmonizing into a frenzy of funk, an unstoppable F5 tornado of groove that eventually resolves itself back to the chorus and a perfect segue into Break In Case Of Anything, where the horn section is finally showcased for what it is: awesome. I love when bands "bottom-load" their albums, putting the best tracks towards the end. It's basically a "here's what we go out on, you fucking know you want some more of this..." and I, the respective listener, am eating out of the palm of their hand. All sycophantism aside, this may be the best dance album ever made. I couldn't imagine going to a club/party and not hearing at least one of these tracks.

The album ends on melancholy, piano tinged Infinifold, which forces me to reiterate that !!! must be taken seriously from now on- they're not simply that "let's take a bunch of E and dance our asses off, all night long!" band, much like Oingo Boingo was in perennial 80s-favorite movie Back To School. This is a much more forward thinking album than what I expected from !!!, and I hope they release either a live album or another set of remixes very shortly, this album can only whet my appetite for so long.
Overall rating: 93
* - I wrote this part of the review back on March 9th.

Do Make Say Think- You, You're A History In Rust (Constellation Records, released 2/27)
If post-rock is considered an "official" genre, then Toronto's Do Make Say Think is at or near the top of their game. Be forewarned that I'm an unabashed cheerleader for Explosions In The Sky, and if they're the pinnacle of excellence in said genre, than DMST is their milder, easy going little brother. I have a bunch of "sleep" records, you know, albums that you fall asleep to, and their 2002 offering, &Yet&Yet, is one of them. Unfamiliar with Do Make Say Think's body of work? They're somewhere between classic rock and modern jazz, balancing themselves between light melodies while capturing a dark and brooding moodiness.

This being said, let's get on with an actual review, shall we?

Bound To Be That Way, the album's introductory track, starts with a lo-fi and jazzy drum beat which fades back into a piano-woodwind-brass-guitar section, which sounds a lot like an orchestra quieting itself down while waiting for the maestro's cue. But then, at a little over two minutes, the song begins; all instruments in perfect harmony- engaging simultaneously in a beautiful melody, structured around a ferocious but refined arrangement. So okay, I've complained in the past that "it's pretty hard to review an instrumental album", which is really a cop-out that needs to be addressed, mainly for the following reasons- One: instrumental music conveys just as much emotion as music that contains lyrics; and reason Two: there are lyrics on this album- so there's always a first time for everything. Except the band doesn't lend their own vocal stylings to the album's second track, A With Living- apparently it's freaksters Akron/Family singing here. Nevertheless, it was definitely weird to hear singing on a DMST album, so I apologize for ever saying that it's tough to review an instrumental album, which this isn't. Not completely.

Then there's The Universe!, a bonafide stomper that leans more towards an actual rock song, eschewing the post-rock formula of using the guitar as a background instrument and just laying down chunky riff after riff, over a rolling drum with synth atmospherics. And speaking of atmosphere, A Tender History In Rust, the album's piece de resistance, is full of ambient texures at the outset but leads itself into a beautiful arrangement of acoustic guitar, strings, whistling and "barely there" vocals.

As melodies abound all throughout the album, there's also those lightly vocalized oohs and ahhs, recorded sound clips of children at a playground, embellished pleas of softened aggression, all the while awash in reverb and delay. Herstory Of Glory attacks the ears with a thorough and purely rhythmic driven sensibility- again, relying on a rock-and-roll approach. You, You're Awesome is almost a counterpoint to Herstory, placed after that driving and relentless track to confound the listener and to showcase that no style is off limits for DMST. Almost a funeral march, Awesome delivers more emotion in its three-and-a-half minutes than some albums can do in 45 minutes. And there's not a single word in this song.

While DMST's main influences may lie rooted in free-form jazz and classic rock, what sets them apart from the more popular (or accessible) acts is that they are largely experimental. Bands like Tortoise and Sea And Cake use tried-and-true formulas, giving them a much broader fan base. Do Make goes way out on a limb by eschewing any association to the "mainstream" by placing a different focus on sound, for example: sound as color, a concept frequently discussed by Caleb Gattegno. Executioner Blues relies more on a loping or circular brush stroke here, getting the canvas all mussed-up but conveying the message without the use of words, settling back into a very similar death march recounted in You, You're Awesome, but much more morose and brooding. The album's closer, In Mind, with its hi-hat, guitar and banjo interplay takes your mind off the subject and almost causes you to miss the trumpet snaking its way into the mix, eventually giving way to a train-like snare and more vocals, distorted to an almost undecipherability and melting away in a wash of static, leaving only the banjo at the end.

All in all, an excellent album- only to be listened to from start to finish, each song in context to the next. And as an album, each song stands alone as nothing; but together, as eight- an excellent album.
Overall rating: 88

Andrew Bird- Armchair Apocrypha (Fat Possum Records, released 3-20-07)

You may know Andrew Bird as the violinist extraordinaire who has honed his chops while on tour with the likes of Ani DiFranco and as a session man for swing-revivalists Squirrel Nut Zippers (remember them?), but as a soloist, Bird has been hard to peg. Perhaps he has created his own genre as much as he's left an imprint on whatever category he's been tagged with at each album's release. Seven albums, all different in their own right, all exploring avenues that most others (except obvious comparisons to Sufjan) would rightfully ignore.

The Mysterious Production Of Eggs, Bird's 2005 offering, was one of my favorites of the last few years, frequently trying to catch a sunset here or there as it plays in the background or ushering me home in serene comfort, when out much too late at night. Which comes to mind when seeing the title of his newest album- pertaining to the Apocrypha, one of the disputed books of the Old Testament and the adjective apocryphal; of doubtful authorship or authenticity. Is this Bird's "is there a god?" album? His Dark Side Of The Moon for the post-9/11 indie set? Oh, Mr. Bird... I feel now that I must psychoanalyze you now, for you are repressed somehow and God must be the one who feels your wrath, but alas, he never answers...

So, here goes my line of questioning, song-by-song:

Fiery Crash- a premonition of a plane crash in Bird's future? Does future fame entail more rides in jets for this singer-songwriter, raising his odds for impending doom? Or will he be the only one spared, a la Jeff Bridges in that movie Fearless?

Imitosis- strings and Playskool glockenspiels at play here; and Bird's neurosis extends all the way down intoa cellular level. Is he beckoning the sorrow of a self-fulfilling prophecy, "we are all basically alone, despite what all of your studies have shown.." relating his mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation to the plight of modern man?

Heretics- a very similar string line as Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left. "Did I hear you say 'Thank god it's fatal'? That may be the most disturbing (or refreshing) line on the album...

Dark Matter- a familiar whistling intro, of which Mr. Bird has both a talent and fondness for; and crying out into the night "where's the dark matter?" over and over. Exercise demons or run them in a marathon, shall we?

Plasticities- strings and theremins "you're gonna grow old, you're gonna grow cold..." Ah, the innocence of youth.

Armchairs- starts with an orchestral mess leading into a plaintive guitar riff, which heads into a darker territory. Lyrically, it's a dark and stark mood here, please don't try to stop Andrew Bird. He's on a downward spiral, you shant relate to his pain now. And more crying out into the night: "Time's a crooked bow...", just as he settles himself, no, sturdies himself to exclaim (as the music crescendos to an explosive peak now), " didn't write, you didn't call, it didn't cross your mind at all."

Simple X- a new direction for the Bird-man; hip hoppy break beats under that spooky theremin, which is getting a lot of use on this album. He stretches his voice to mimic the ancient Russian electromagnetic instrument, somewhere between Tiny Tim and Antony (of the Johnsons...)

The Supine- just a short break here, instrumental, possibly setting the tone for...

Cataracts- this sounds like Mr. Bird has accepted his fate, he's leading headlong into harm, and he can't stop now if he tried. Like a man walking to the gallows, he's neither repentant or fazed, he's going to die and that's that. It's actually the most beautiful song on the album.

Scythian Empire- Macedonian kings and something something...

Spare-Ohs- "Finches and sparrows build nests and watch o'er me, what remains of small flightless birds you failed to protect..." Oh, now I see- the album cover should've tipped me off. You're talking about birds, Bird! It's like it all makes sense as I hear you sing this line now.

Yawny At The Apocalypse- Blah blah blah blah, and yes- I'm tired, too.

Basically, a half-assed review of a half-assed attempt at an album. I'm very disappointed in you Andrew- you were supposed to make an awesome album to follow up a previously awesome effort. The best thing that can be said is the one thing you can do so well is these moments of ephemera that are absolutely sublime, but you fail to sustain it over the length of the record. I'm trying to be nice here with this rating, but I took into account too much the grandiosity and near-perfection of The Mysterious Production Of Eggs. If it's any consolation to you, everyone else loved your album, even Entertainment Weekly!
Overall rating: 69

Next post: Laura Veirs' Saltbreakers, Dntel's Dumb Luck, Charlotte Gainsbourg's 555, and Arctic Monkey's Favourite Worst Nightmare. Not all at once, slowly- over the course of the week. I suppose...

Friday, April 13, 2007

What You Been Listening To? #3

Dear Reader,
Okay, here's another post from the slack one. Yes, it contains excerpts of half-assed reviews, current faves and as always it's chock full of glib interpretations of other people's musical abilities and what not.

But you will read it and like it. So here's a short list of what I'm geeking on these last few weeks...

Digital Underground- Sex Packets
Remember these guys? Holy shit, I do. I had slept on these guys until I recently got into a conversation about 2Pac's importance. Rather, my assertion was his un-importance to hip-hop, which is a huge malfeasance in this here Bay Area. I underestimated that Pac's followers are large and vocal here in Berkeley, especially to the under-21 crowd. He's something of a god 'round here. Whatev. Anyway, someone not directly involved in the argument had brought up his early work, and I said, "Yeah, he was a member of Digital Underground before his career lifted off and he was important enough to do movies and such..." Then I remembered being in 9th grade and wearing out my cassette tape of DU's Sex Packets, one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. You may remember The Humpty Dance and Doowutchyalike, the two monster jams from that jawn. But what this album really was, besides an homage to Parliament and Funkadelic, (not to mention mining riffs from Jimi Hendrix, Sly & The Family Stone, Herbie Hancock, Prince and The Meters) it was a hip-hopera about these "sex packets", which caused the user to hallucinate that they were having a sexual encounter, sort of like a virtual-reality sexcapade. It's witty, inventive and groundbreaking- all for a debut album. It seems that DU blew their collective load at the beginning of their career, however, because they only had one or two more hits after that and fell away into relative obscurity by the end of the 90s. But Sex Packets sits up there with Ice-T's The Iceberg and most Public Enemy albums as examples of old-school hip-hop concept albums. It seems every "underground" act nowadays (Aesop Rock, MF Doom, Jedi Mind Tricks, Subtle, etc.) uses this formula almost exclusively on their albums.

The Seaworthies
Just a little pop band from a little town up in Washington. Think twee, not unlike Mates Of State, Rilo Kiley, Mirah and Belle & Sebastian. Are they brother and sister or husband and wife? I don't know anymore- you can thank Jack and Meg White for blurring that line...

Bright Eyes- Cassadaga
(Apology preceding review:) Yes, I know I've often maligned Conor Oberst, most of the time undeservedly. Yes, I'm familiar with all of his work. I kvetched at his Fevers And Mirrors, wondered if it was healthy for someone to be such a whiny little bitch, but he was only 20 when he did that album. (I'm making excuses for him now?) And there's a few tracks from Lifted... that I kinda like, and the same for I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. But overall, too much yelping and crying over folky/faux-country tunes for me to really like him as a serious artist. Maybe he's too serious for me to take him serious. But Cassadaga, the latest from Bright Eyes, has me eating my words- rather, redefining my stance. I'm not going to concede that those earlier records are great or awesome, but I can say that Cassadaga may just be the best of his career, and one of the best albums of the year. Excellent production values, lushly orchestrated string sections, more adult themes here- the growing up album that everyone in music has to make eventually. Maybe all that hanging with Bruce Springsteen and Michael Stipe forced Oberst to grow up quicker. Anyway, three tracks have grabbed my by my throat and forced me to pay attention- namely: Four Winds, Soul Singer In A Session Band and Coat Check Dream Song. Whoever told Conor to drop his "whine" and actually sing songs in man's voice gets mad props from me. Look for this to be near the top of my year-end list.
Overall rating: 91

Bishop Allen- Charm School

Think really hummable, stripped-down, basic pop music from Brooklyn's hipster set. It seems as if Brooklyn is the east coast's Portland, battling for bragging rights to which city is America's indie rock proving grounds. I'm thinking I'll do an expose soon on Portland bands vs. Brooklyn bands. But Bishop Allen brings it- check these guys out.

The pop music scene in Sweden is approaching levels of Canadian intensity. Some name dropping here: Peter Bjorn and John, Jens Lekman, The Knife, Jose Gonzalez, I'm From Barcelona, Loney, Dear, and whoever's coming up next week. A rich pop history with its roots firmly grounded in soil of ABBA, and late 80s one-hit wonders Roxette, 90s crap-pop stalwarts Ace Of Base, cutesy-poppers The Cardigans, and other recent almost-goods Soundtrack To Our Lives, The Hives, and The Sounds. It's not just death metal in Scandanavia anymore.

Laura Veirs- Saltbreakers
Introducing the new Laura Veirs and her new band, The Saltbreakers. On her last two albums, she did almost everything herself, as she does live with the help of state-of-the-art looping equipment, she recalls a lo-fi, indie-folk-pop version of Keller Williams (without all the stinky hippies). Showcasing her excellent lyrics (to hide her, er, "weird" voice? Maybe weird is too harsh a word, it's just, uh, "unconventional". Yeah...), excellent production and a real live, full on band to help her work out these nice little guitar ditties. Being featured as the female lead voice on The Decemberists' Yankee Bayonet leaves her in good company and probably helped catapult her to headline her own tour this spring. It'll be interesting to see her on stage with real people behind her this time. I'm excited. As for the album, Saltbreakers is a term for ocean waves, but I also think (upon listening to the heartfelt emotive good-byes on here) that it's a classic break-up album. Pain = creativity. Hmmm, nice formula, Miss Veirs.
Overall rating: 87

Modest Mouse- We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
Again, a band that I can say I don't really like all that much. But I like this album very, very much only after a few listens. Maybe it's the new guitar player, a Johnny-something from some band that was big a few years back. Actually, Mr. Marr is one of my guitar heroes and when I saw all the hoopla surrounding his addition to MM, I guffawed it to high heaven. But upon my first listen, I was like, "Whoa- do I have to say I like this now? Because I really don't want to like this, but..." Again, for the second time this week, I have to apologize about my preconceptions regarding a band's music- but in my defense, really: I must be excused- adding Johnny Freaking Marr to your band a) changes your band into a completely different band and b) it's Johnny Freaking Marr- he wrote the music to EVERY SMITHS SONG. That alone should make me just shut up and like Modest Mouse's new album, but I'm Irish and I'm a drunk. So that means: I have a great deal of contempt for things prior to investigating all the major points and facts. If jumping to conclusions was a sport, I'd medal every Olympics. Making a coherent concept album, which seems to be MM's modus operandi, is a tough task. But they tackle competently the ills and woes of modern living, from war to global warming to checkered pasts- we Americans love our heroes to have checkered pasts. So what if lead singer Isaac Brock has an annoying voice? He writes great (if not obtuse) lyrics, and his checkered past also makes for a great side story. And Johnny Freaking Marr is in your band! I wonder what Moz says about Marr's new endeavor? Maybe I'll ask him when I see him (at Oakland's Paramount Theater on May 1st...)
Overall rating: 89

So, that's it for this week. Be sure to check back next week for so real reviews- unless you like the capsule-sized reviews. Let me know what you think...

Possible forthcoming reviews:
Andrew Bird, !!! and Do Make Say Think (yeah, right...)