Monday, April 20, 2009

More Mini Music Reviews: April 2009

Still listening to a ton of new and newish music; still compelled to write about it. Here's what's been spinning lately...

The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
This album has been pretty polarizing among Decemberists fans (of which I am one) and critics in general. Even I'm of two minds about it. Listening to the album from start to finish--which one should certainly do, since it's a concept album/rock opera/what have you--has been a roller coaster ride for me. Sometimes I think it's brilliant and innovative, sometimes it feels like the most pretentious tripe Colin Meloy has pulled from his literary ass. It's certainly beautiful. Tucker Martine's production has never been better. Some of the songs are among The Decemberists' best; "The Rake's Song" is both disturbing and witty, hearkening all the way back to "A Cautionary Song" in its style and quality. Dunno...I'll have to give more time. I know it won't be among my favorite Decemberists albums, but you have to admire their effort, no matter what you think of the actual music. For now, a B.

The Thermals - Now We Can See

Wow, I liked this album waaaay more than I thought I would. I never even heard The Blood, The Body, The Machine, The Thermals' second album, because I was only so-so on their debut, More Parts Per Million. I'm glad I took a chance on this one. The themes are pretty grim for the most part, as one might expect from tracks titled "When I Died", "We Were Sick", "When I Was Afraid", and so on. But the album's still full of jangly tunes that demand some head shakin' and leg slappin'. The title track is definitely a stand-out, but the whole album is highly listenable. Hutch Harris has a voice that you either really dislike, or you tolerate. I can't imagine many people really like it, but that's a small price to pay for songs this catchy. Besides, how many male indie vocalists are really any good? I'm giving this one a B+, though it might even lean towards an A-.

Dan Deacon - Bromst
This was my first foray into the Deacon-zone, and from what I understand, this album is one of his most user-friendly. I have never really immersed myself into electronic music--I listen to some, but not a lot. Deacon takes electronic music well past a thumping beat into something much more complex, and ultimately for me, rewarding. It's hard to believe all this music was made by one dude. There's a lot of texture here, and the album is very versatile in that I can either concentrate on it when I listen and find new things every time, or it could be pleasant background music. Still not something I could listen to tons, but a good intro to this interesting artist. B

Madeleine Peyroux - Bare Bones
Peyroux has a voice I could listen to even if she sang the phone book. Its bluesy warmth wraps around you like a glass of red wine on a cold night. I honestly don't know what most of these songs are about. I just like to listen to her sing. Known for her covers, these songs are originals, many written or co-written by Peyroux herself. This is the type of album you put on during cocktail party to impress your friends and make them think you're cultured. Except for maybe "You Can't Do Me," which is a fun song, but sounds kind of silly when you actually listen to it. B+

Telekinesis - Telekinesis!
I posted about this band recently when I saw them live a few weeks ago. I bought their album at the show and I'm glad I did. Two of the songs in particular, "Coast of Carolina" and "Tokyo" (see video below), are ridiculously infectious. I have to be careful when I listen to the CD because I'm garaunteed to get one of these two songs stuck in my head for hours. Michael Benjamin Lerner knows how write a hook. Really hooky hooks. The whole album is solid, and this band is well on its way to being one of my favorite newcomers of the year. A-

Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles - The Stars Are Out
I enjoyed the first two albums by this group (one made my top 20 a few years ago), but I was a bit let down by this one. Borges and her band are definitely talented, but with the exception of a pretty cool Magnetic Fields cover (of "No One Will Ever Love You"), nothing really grabbed me by the lapels here. I don't know if the producer changed or what happened exactly, but when the best song on an album is a cover--even if it's a great cover--that's never a good sign. The band's previous albums tended to be more country than rock n' roll, but the opposite is true this time around, and that didn't do them any favors. A lot of bands tend to drop off a cliff at the third album, and though I wouldn't call this a cliff exactly, it's definitely a step down. C

Ida Maria - Fortress 'round My Heart
Holy crap. If you're reading this, go out and buy this album right now. I should probably give this album its own post, but I'm kinda lazy, and at least I'm saving the best for last. It's so rare for me to like an entire album upon the very first listen, but that's what happened here. The first track, "Oh My God", is bursting with energy and emotion, and Ida Maria Siversten manages to maintain that raw energy right to the last track, "In The End." The UK has apparently been all about Ida Maria for a while now, and I think it's only a matter of time before she starts hitting US charts. And I mean the real charts, not just indie and college radio. The album's first single, "I Like You So Much Better When Your Naked", is so ridiculously catchy that it'll make your head spin (see video here).

There's nothing hugely ground breaking here. The music is pretty simple. Well done, but simple. The lyrics are also relatively simple--lots of talk about booze, caffeine, cigarettes, and sex. You don't really expect any high falutin' literary shenanigans from a Norwegian anyway. I think the real draw for me is Siversten's voice. She lets it crack and stretch and howl in ways that you just don't hear that often from a female vocalist this day and age. My first thoughts upon hearing her sing were of Janis Joplin, and upon looking at some other reviews, I'm certainly not the first make the comparison. That rawness in her voice lends a sense of urgency and sincerity to all of the songs. And they're not all head bangers; "Stella", "Keep Me Warm", and the aforementioned closing track are all slower, but no less powerful.

Considering how much I've already been listening to it, I can already tell you that this'll end up somewhere in my top 10 for the year. A solid and enthusiastic A.


Evelyn Is Not Real said...

I have actually listened to Ida Maria, and to be honest either I'm a fool or it really absolutely does nothing for me. Go figure. First of all I generally have this thing against female lead singers (I know, let the sexist comments fly sue me, I like what I like). I've tried listening to it a bit. As I like to say when music doesn't appeal to me, "Maybe I'm just not ready for it yet." Shrug.

EJP said...

Fair enough. I'm actually the opposite right now...favoring female vocalists over male. Ida Maria hit my sweet spot for whatever reason, but who knows how I'll feel about the album in a few months.

Maybe you'd like Dan Deacon though, if haven't tried it yet. His stuff is really more your genre than mine.