Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Cuts - 2 Over Ten - 2003


The Cuts' second album sounds a little like a late-1970s New York or Boston new wave effort that managed to escape the radar (though the group are in fact from Oakland, CA, and 2 Over Ten was done 25 years or so after the late 1970s). Andy Jordan's clipped, faintly hysterical lead vocals will spark unavoidable comparisons to Tom Verlaine, and less so to David Byrne and Jonathan Richman. The band, too, have their similarities to vintage Television in particular, with the watery keyboard sound also dragging in the Talking Heads and the Modern Lovers as reference points (though the group's far more in the Television camp than the Talking Heads one). There's a modest, affable looseness that leaves the impression that they might have come off as more gentle souls than they intended. Non-new wave influences are felt strongly at times: in some late-'60s-styled harmony, and guitars both power popping and jangly, as well as some of the boozy blues-rock-pop feel of early-'70s (vintage) Rolling Stones in tracks like "Electric Rite." The rub is that with all these hallowed acts serving as reference points, the group sound kind of derivative, but at least they're derivative of less-cliched sources than many other early 21st century bands indebted to retro heroes. -AMG




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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers - 2006


It's hard to call the Raconteurs a genuine supergroup since there's only one true rock star in the quartet: the White Stripes' eccentric mastermind Jack White. Sometime between the recording of the Stripes' 2003 breakthrough Elephant and its willfully difficult 2005 follow-up, Get Behind Me Satan, White teamed up with fellow Detroit singer/songwriter Brendan Benson to write some tunes, eventually drafting the rhythm section of Cincinnati garage rockers the Greenhornes as support. Lasting just ten tracks, their debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, doesn't feel hasty, but it doesn't exactly feel carefully considered, either. It sounds exactly as what it is: a busman's holiday for two prodigiously gifted pop songwriters where they get to indulge in temptations that their regular gig doesn't afford. For Benson, he gets to rock harder than he does on his meticulously crafted solo albums; for White, he gets to shed the self-imposed restrictions of the White Stripes and delve into the psychedelic art pop he's hinted at on Elephant and Satan. Both Benson and White are indebted to '60s guitar pop, particularly the pop experiments of the mid-'60s -- in its deliberately dark blues-rock, Elephant resembled a modern-day variation of the Stones' Aftermath, while Benson has drawn deeply from Rubber Soul and Revolver, not to mention the Kinks or any number of other '60s pop acts -- so they make good, even natural, collaborators, with Brendan's classicist tendencies nicely balancing Jack's gleeful freak-outs. Appropriately, Broken Boy Soldiers does sound like the work of a band, with traded lead vocals and layers of harmonies, and no deliberate emphasis on one singer over the other. Even if there's a seemingly conscious effort to give Brendan Benson and Jack White equal space on this brief album, White can't help but overshadow his partner: as good as Benson is, White's a far more dynamic, innovative, and compelling presence -- there's a reason why he's a star. But he does willingly embrace the teamwork of a band here, dressing up Benson's songs with weird flourishes, and playing some great guitar along the way. If the Raconteurs don't rock nearly as hard as the White Stripes -- there's a reckless freedom in Jack's careening performances when he's supported only by Meg White -- they do have some subtle sonic textures that the Stripes lack, and a tougher backbone than Benson's albums, which makes them their own distinctive entity. And they're a band that has their own identity -- it may be somewhat stuck in the '60s, but they're not monochromatic, showcasing instead a variety of sounds, ranging from sparely ominous single "Steady, as She Goes" and the propulsive pop of "Hands" to the churning Eastern psychedelia of "Intimate Secretary" and the grandiose menace of the title track to the slow blues burn of "Blue Veins." These songs, and the five other cuts on this album, prove that the Raconteurs are nothing less than a first-rate power pop band -- but they're nothing more, either. They may not rewrite the rules of pop on Broken Boy Soldiers, but they don't try to: they simply lie back and deliver ten good, colorful pop songs, so classic in style and concise in form that the album itself is barely over in 30 minutes. It's brief and even a little slight, but it's almost as much fun to listen to as it must have been to make. -AMG



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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Burning Motels - Novels LP Drops Today!


Forged under the inspiration of post-punk and angular melodies, the Burning Hotels cut through modern rock with driving sounds and propulsive rhythms. The band made their recording debut with a self-released EP titled Eighty Five Mirrors, licensed by Razor & Tie. This EP won the Fort Worth Weekly’s Album of the Year and 3 of the Top 10 Songs of the Decade. Today, the Burning Hotels will release their debut full-length LP, Novels, mixed by Mark Needham (The Killers, Bloc Party).

The Burning Hotels was a mutual project of Chance Morgan (vocals, guitar), Matt Mooty (vocals, guitar) and Wyatt Adams (drums), as the three began forming their ideas in the attic of a garage on a desolate farm. Following the addition of Marley Whistler (bass), the Burning Hotels were finally christened as a working band. The group has all of the pieces for indie-rock stardom in place. Described by the FW Weekly as “One of town’s coolest bands period,” they create a driving sound, strongly founded on dark thoughts, dynamic rhythms, youth and, of course, the hipster look that’s all together.

The Burning Motels - To Whom It May Concern


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The Whigs - Give 'Em All A Big Fat Lip - 2005


This 2005 indie release was scooped up and reissued by ATO a year later after Rolling Stone named the Athens, GA trio one of the "Ten Artists to Watch" in April of 2006. It's usually a good sign when a band creates a buzz without major-label money or influence, and that's the case with the Whigs (not to be confused with the Afghan Whigs). With a classy sound somewhere between catchy '60s pop, Gomez-styled bluesy indie rock, and a Southern sensibility, the Whigs' songs are snappy, tight, and free of excess fat. Their secret weapon is the interplay between keyboards and guitar; it's organic and far from slick. A bit of Elvis Costello circa "Pump It Up" drives "OK, Alright," and the raw, unsweetened quality of the music harkens back to punk's early days. Lead singer Parker Gispert's talk/sung vocals, with their natural rasp, are nonchalantly distinctive and grow more engaging as the project unwinds. Despite the rather aggressive title and cover art, there are more midtempo ballads than rockers, and the tone of the disc falls on the melancholy side. The sound is full without being slick. The Whigs prove that they are excellent producers of their own music and have a strong sense of dynamics as instruments enter and exit, staying just long enough for emphasis. Dueling vocals also weave around themselves on the lovely "Say Hello," and even though the lyrics seem to be stream of consciousness, they work well with the often unpredictable music that twists in unexpected but not unnatural directions. "Half a World Away" is a highlight as it features a lurching guitar solo set against a funeral organ and gently throbbing drums. The closing "All My Banks" is an artsy yet unpretentious minor-key piece which, at nearly seven minutes, is also the album's longest track. The horns that augment it expand the sound into new and fascinating directions that the group will hopefully explore more fully with a larger budget on their sophomore release.-AMG



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Friday, April 23, 2010

The Disappointments - Midwest Coast - 2000


This is rock 'n' roll that is fun and carefree, bright melodies, happy tunes (even when they try to be sad), bouncing and bopping around with a sound that is equal parts 80's power-pop and 90's post-punk rock. The songs put a smile on your face and the beats get you moving. Not the tightest or the most original, The Disappointments know what they do and do it well, well enough to keep you listening and enjoying every moment. -Alex Steininger



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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Embarrassment - God Help Us - 1990


A reunion album from the Embarrassment doubtless wasn't even on fans' lists of things bound to happen, but such indeed turned out to be the case. With all four members in place as before, the band whipped up a combination of new songs, re-recordings of older ones, and even a cover, namely a fun romp through the late Elvis hit "Burning Love." With Lou Giordano providing fine co-production with the quartet, the air of God Help Us is a solid combination of earlier nervy power and perhaps a touch more ease than before, though not enough to obscure the band's true talents. Nichols remains in fine voice, perhaps mixed once or twice more into the background than before but still a perfect frontman, while Goffrier's guitar work never lets listeners up, shuddering and powerful when it needs to be, gently hooky elsewhere. The Klaus/Giessmann rhythm section sounds like they've been doing it nonstop since the breakup, in perfect sync and never lazy or sloppy. Three songs from the band's first existence resurface here; two, "After the Disco" and "Lifespan," originally appeared on compilations, here getting reasonable enough revivals. The third makes for an interesting choice: the band's debut single, "Sex Drive," given a shorter read through here than on the original recording. It's not quite the equal of said original, perhaps a touch more conventionally rocking along as opposed to completely wigging out, but Nichols still sings it well. As for the newer songs, some, like "Train of Thought," which also appears later as a reprise, and "Podmen" show that the group's knack for quick, just frazzled enough tunes hadn't left. Meanwhile, "Beautiful Day" and "Horror of the Fire" show another side, calmer but still with just enough herky-jerky fun.-AMG



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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Model Rockets - Snatch It Back and Hold It - 1996


While the Model Rockets' main influence is classic power pop, they occasionally kick some songs into punk overdrive, making it difficult to pigeonhole the band as being of one style or another. That's true of Snatch It Back and Hold It, the group's second album, which successfully integrates new guitarist and sometime songwriter Scott Sutherland. The Model Rockets have a playful sense of humor that sometimes recalls another Seattle pop outfit, the Young Fresh Fellows, as on tracks like "She's on the Cover" and the pro-gay "Flame On. -AMG



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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ken Stringfellow - This Sounds Like Goodbye - 1997


Ken Stringfellow, one half of Seattle's Posies, recorded his first solo album in the first half of 1997 in his own home. One of the first things you notice about This Sounds Like Goodbye is the roughness of it; it is a definite departure from the highly polished, layered sound of the Posies. This Sounds Like Goodbye is Stringfellow experimenting with different instruments and synthesizers and playing outside the confines of the power pop genre of the Posies. The opening track, "Here's to the Future," sounds almost like it's being played back on a scratchy record player instead of a CD. The more experimental songs, like "Unfortunate Threnody," are an interesting change from Stringfellow's usual style. Upon first listen, the synthesizers and looping in these songs come unexpectedly and seem to last too long ("Trans-Potato" goes on for four minutes). Songs like "Take Care," "Your Love Won't Be Denied," and "Too True" are devastatingly beautiful with bittersweet lyrics, and make This Sounds Like Goodbye well worth its cost.-AMG



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Monday, April 19, 2010

Broadfield Marchers - When the Lifted Connive - 2006


Taking inspiration from the power pop bands of yesteryear, Broadfield Marchers create short, guitar-fueled nuggets in the style of Big Star and Guided by Voices. The Kentucky-based trio is comprised of drummer Justin Carter, singer/guitarist Dustin Zdobylak, and bassist/singer Mark Zdobylak. After forming in 2000 and honing a nostalgic, poppy approach to songwriting, the bandmates attracted attention from the independent label Secretly Canadian. A two-year partnership resulted, with the band releasing its debut effort, When the Lifted Connive, on Secretly Canadian's tab in 2006.-AMG

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Friday, April 16, 2010

The Apples in Stereo - The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone - 2000


The Apples in Stereo's third full-length album is a return to their early-'60s Beatlesque sound -- as opposed to the experimental, late-'60s Beatles trip on Her Wallpaper Reverie. This doesn't mean that The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone is a letdown full of derivative, overdone material -- the Apples have further fine-tuned their sunny sound and remain defiantly jubilant on songs like "I Can't Believe," "The Rainbow," "All Right/Not Quite," "20 Cases Suggestive Of...," and "Go." The band relies on more backup vocals -- as well as horns, beefed-up guitar, squiggly keyboards, and handclaps -- which only add to the album's depth. Drummer Hilarie Sidney's stratospheric "20 Cases Suggestive Of...," a rollicking, melodic number that is equal parts melancholy and exuberance, is one of the best tracks on the album. Simplistic lyrics like "She don't like the way you look so she treats you like a crook" (from "Go") are contrasted with more poignant lines like "Once I cut my hand but the wound was not part of me/Now I'm a man there's a wound at the heart of me" (from "Stream Running Over") -- and show that the band is turning toward more introspective ideas than they have on previous efforts. Not every song on The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone is an uptempo number: "Submarine Dream," "What Happened Then," "Stay Gold," and "The Afternoon" are somewhat cerebral and subdued tracks, and are well done even if they're not as immediately accessible as the other songs. Robert Schneider's lyrics are more emotional and personal here than on earlier releases, and the added intimacy, as well as the musical layers, make The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone an intricate, poignant lunar trip.-AMG



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