CD Impressions: August 8, 2009

We busy writers don’t always have time to bring you in-depth reviews of the music we listen to, what with regular jobs and personal lives and all, but we work hard to bring you all the need-to-know info that you, well, you get it. The new feature CD Impressions will give you more easily-digested bites of recent albums that we just plum couldn’t find time to write more about. Better to share a little than nothing at all, yes? This time, capsule reviews for recent releases from Spoon, Suicide City, RH+, the Dead Weather and Our Lady Peace.

Artist: The Dead Weather
Label: Third Man
Release Date: 14/07/09
6 out of 10

As Rolling Stone’s Anthony DeCurtis once said on The Colbert Report, “Normally, in any kind of rock contest, as a rock critic, I just pick the band that has Jack White in it.” But as Mr. White trends toward mediocrity of late, I can’t help but wonder if he’s spreading himself too thin. With the White Stripes’ continuous expansion of sound and dynamic, were the Raconteurs really that necessary? I think he just likes getting together with different folks to record music, which gets no dismissal from this side. But for all of Horehound’s mountainous fuzz bass effects, industrial-size guitar licks, fearless organ grind and tap-to-bang balance on the drumkit, there’s not a whole lot here that really grabs you. With a sinuous pulse, these dark and eerie blues numbers are more about atmosphere than confrontation; it’s not as repetitive as stagnant blues rock can be, but for a tracklist comprised almost entirely of sub-four-minute rockers, they can become quite sluggish if left to wither under the morass of their misplaced ingenuity (ironic, then, that the long ones, “60 Feet Tall” and “Will There Be Enough Water?”, are both among the three or four best bets). It doesn’t say too much for the songwriting effort when the proudest moment lands on a grungy, sun baked Bob Dylan cover (“New Pony”); it says more about the Kills, though, when Alison Mosshart is more commanding in this texture than on her home turf. She traces through the typical fem-howl mythology across these eleven tracks (has PJ Harvey become one of the most influential figures in modern music now?), but the words are standard issue, making the mystery slightly less intangible and enticing. We can be grateful that White brought heavy blues back into the vogue, but this isn’t a particularly compelling showcase for his passion. (Matt Medlock)

Artist: Suicide City
Label: The End
Release Date: 04/08/09
5 out of 10

Sure you’ve heard bands that sound a lot like Suicide City, but I doubt you’ve heard very many with quite the same tongue in cheek approach as these guys (and gal). Combining punk rock with other less appealing elements (doses of hair metal and modern post-grunge are evident), the band’s first full length, Frenzy, is a sometimes enjoyable yet other times downright unbearable affair. Lyrically, the band tells us outright what they’ll be talking about through the duration of the disc; the fourth song on the album is called “The Only Track Not About Sex or Dying.” But despite the predictable and gloomy subject matter, Suicide City seems to approach the 15 songs featured here more tactfully than one would imagine. The more interesting songs, such as the fast paced “Cutter” and the slowed down drum machine aided “Spanish Fly,” don’t do enough to outweigh the mundane tracks that litter the album, but it does show that this band has more talent and promise than many of their peers. The album is a mixed bag in every sense of the word: when they strive to be creative they seem to sound their best, but when they drag themselves into paths that have already been tread things start to go awry. At least they have their sense of humor. (Tyler Barlass)

gotnuffinGot Nuffin EP
Artist: Spoon
Label: Merge
Release Date: 30/06/09
6 out of 10

Of all the bands out there today that inspire the sort of passion where even an EP is salivated over, Spoon is one of the best. But make no mistake about it; this EP is basically a single with filler. You got the A-side (the title track) and surprisingly strong B-side (“Stroke Their Brains”), and then there’s the uninspiring, lo-fi instrumental experiment “Tweakers” and the novelty vagary that is its “remix” pulling up the rear (which hardly sounds different anyway).  You don’t need to spend too much time in the company of the tweakers (as in real life), but the other two are par for the band’s typically strong output. Britt Daniel becomes more aloofly poetic than usual on the former (“And I got nothing to lose but darkness and shadows/Got nothing to lose but bitterness and patterns”) while the beat pleasantly thumps (and chimes) out of the well-worn band playbook. The latter, meanwhile, continues with the trippy tradition of “Tweakers” and dribbles out psychedelic tricks over different areas to keep you slightly off-balance (notably wavering vocals). Such a small offering might not herd in the curious, but for an economical purchase (3 or 4 bucks), no criticism/appraisal is necessary besides a simple announcement: New Spoon! (Matt Medlock)

burnburnBurn Burn
Artist: Our Lady Peace
Label: Coalition Entertainment
Release Date: 21/07/09
3 out of 10

Remember when Raine Maida sounded like just about no one else on radio? Whether you loved it or hated it, you didn’t forget the vocals of his band’s “Superman’s Dead” breakthrough. Now he sounds generic, like any watered-down byproduct of the head-scratching popularity of the Three Doors Downs and Lifehouses of the world. So, too, trends the compositions, which are low on bite, big on ballads. If that sounds like a day in the sun to you, have at it. I’m still wondering what happened to the band after Spiritual Machines.

Naming this a superior product to the risible “Our Lady Creed” effort on Gravity is about the faintest praise imaginable, but at least that stuff was memorably bad; the songs on Burn Burn disappear from the mind quicker than flame from a paper match. At least you could understand the sort of blank personalities that would lap up that OLC soup, but “Never Got Over You” (soaring syrup cousin to Gravity’s “Somewhere out There”) never, ahem, gets off the ground. Even when they amp the volume and toss us the requisite hard rocker (“White Flag,” “All You Did Was Save My Life”), the results are feckless and rote. Inoffensive should never be the proper descriptor for a rock album, but there it is. You didn’t need to be the Amazing Kreskin to see this coming after Maida was recruited to co-write songs for David Cook (an American Idol grad, if you, like I, didn’t know). And let’s knock off the false advertising in album names, please—there’s no fire in this record whatsoever. (Matt Medlock)

quintanarooQuintana Roo
Artist: RH+
Label: Nacional Records
Release Date: 03/02/09
9 out of 10

With Stereolab calling it quits, it’s nice to know there’s another band around to fill the electronica/dream pop/indie rock fusion vacuum. Or you could imagine a slightly more sedate version of Broken Social Scene (or just picture them without the occasion for fast, cacophonous drums). They’re also from Chile instead of England/Canada, so they’re not likely to become overexposed in indie rock circles. And they’re just as eclectic as either, too, so if you happen upon something you don’t like (which should be very rare), they’ll do something different in another minute or two. Or just buy the damn thing and be done with it (I’ll vote for that one).

As an LP, Quintana Roo is kind of a mess, but since it plays like a best-of collection, you won’t mind. This is the sound of a band exorcising some pent-up need to offer their own spin on everything they grew up on: cyclical cadences, exotic mélanges, sound splices and all. Seventy-four minutes is a long haul, but with so many surprises, you’ll never get bored. As you cruise through electro-fied shoegaze (“Perry Frankie Miller Gajardo”), creepy trip hop (“El Elena”), synth pop with club-friendly beats (“Curb”), flattering disco rock (“Rockinsol”), techno-funk (“Sleepin Tongue”), acid-dosed free jazz (“Hell Is Not a Safe Place”) and disembodied world beat (“Sambacanuta”), you begin to lose sense of everything but the restless rhythm, which either pounds you towards the dancefloor or gently nudges you under the covers. Like another of this year’s great albums—SFA’s Dark Days/Light Years—it’s the reach for abstract sounds and textures that marvels you, but the consistently sublime returns that keep you coming back. I strongly urge you to check this one out. (Matt Medlock)

Matt Medlock


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