CD Impressions: January 27, 2010


Welcome to another edition of CD Impressions, the bi-weekly feature at JPP that allows the music writers to offer brief opinions and critiques on recent albums. We’ve been absent for a while, but we’re back today to offer a look at some leftovers from 2009 that we’ve finally caught up to. Among them: jazz-pop singer/songwriter Norah Jones, the chillwave alias Memory Tapes, the debut full-length of the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, and Polish metal trio Grimlord.

phrazesfortheyoungPhrazes for the Young
Artist: Julian Casablancas
Label: Rough Trade/RCA
Release Date: 30/10/09
4 out of 10

There’s almost no sign of the Strokes in Julian Casblanca’s debut LP, which is probably the point—who wants rock band frontmen to embark on their own with the same old playbook? But it’s difficult to ignore the shadow cast against Phrazes for the Young by his group’s earlier records, and even tougher to forgive the fact that Casablancas just isn’t designed for this kind of showcase. I acknowledge that it works on paper: since his vacant drawl always sounded of heated indifference, why not apply it to a style frequently (and not always unfairly) labeled as being the artificial brand of pop music’s sweetener product? That might have worked if the arrangements followed his bleary glaze, but these songs demand hearts not just on the sleeves but in the throats—they should soar, not gargle. “Left & Right in the Dark” finds the moments of exuberance competing jarringly with the marble-mouthed slur verses so he sounds pharmaceutically reckless instead of tactfully provoked. The languid, drawn-out R&B-lite composition of “4 Chords of the Apocalypse” barely contains the limp, miserable sentiment. “River of Brakelights” just sounds like a leftover from First Impressions of Earth, and when he tries to make his voice ascend, he just sounds like he’s trying to imitate Matthew Bellamy. The non-descript lyrics attempt a summation of downers without ever connecting the gripes to anything substantial; the music strives for eclecticism but simply sounds scattered and confused, and while aping the 70s and 80s, does a great disservice to the groups that got it right. Remember when Fastball tried out this watery retro sound? Oh, you don’t? Well, you’ll forget Phrazes just as quick. (Matt Medlock)

thefallThe Fall
Artist: Norah Jones
Label: Blue Note
Release Date: 17/11/09
6 out of 10

It seems as if Norah Jones has been fighting to get out of the shadow of her diamond selling, best selling jazz album of all-time, 2002 debut for a few years now. Her previous full length, 2007's Not Too Late, was her first big step away from the classic jazz sound of her early work and the first release that contained nothing but Jones' penned tunes. The Fall follows in the footsteps of Not Too Late; though it's more polished and far less quirky than her last album. The Fall showcases Jones' desire to be more of a full fledged singer/songwriter than just a pretty voice singing jazz standards and, just like her last release, the results are less than stellar. Jones spends less time behind the piano this time around, taking on instrumental duties that range from the acoustic guitar to the glockenspiel. It's sad to see the ambiance of the piano, the thumping of the stand-up bass, and the soft, unassuming splash of the drums replaced with tired guitars and an overused Wurlitzer. Rather than the cool sounds of jazz that seemed to fit her voice so perfectly, Norah Jones' new sound fits the label of "Adult Alternative" more than it ever has before. That's not to say there aren't some quality tunes on the disc that highlight what I love about Jones. The slowed down "You've Ruined Me" allows Jones to soak her voice into an actual worthwhile lyric. And the album highlight, "Back To Manhattan," is case in point why everyone's favorite Norah Jones adjective, sultry, is used so often. Too much of the The Fall is unmemorable and down right bland though. Even one of the most recognized and original voices of the past decade can't save The Fall from falling into mediocrity. (Tyler Barlass)

dolcevitaDolce Vita Sath-an As
Artist: Grimlord
Label: Trident Harmony
Release Date: 10/10/09
5 out of 10

If prowess and technique are what impress you most, there are far worse acts out there than Grimlord for you—provided, of course, that you have an affinity for black metal (diluted somewhat by elements of speed, death and thrash). Taken on pure instrumental skill, Dolce Vita Sath-an As is a top-notch release, with speedy riffs raining over more deliberate and thunderous rhythms, elongated by enough changeups to impress the most epic and prog-happy metal maestros out there. But if you’re looking for great (and memorable) tunes, it might take a while to find that here. When they’re hammering down, Grimlord strides with bombastic confidence, but efforts to alleviate all of the doom with synthesizers for atmosphere, dynamic and just plain showing off come across as feckless—if they’re not sounding like a bad goth band (several intros, especially the title track) then they’re just summoning up (fond or foul?) memories of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra—seriously. Though they only show up on the first three tracks, Barth La Picard’s vocals are more curious than engaging—bless him for not growling like a monster, but if he was attempting a Mike Patton impression, best leave that trick at home next time out. And while their interplay emphasizes that the group has been playing together for some time (nearly a decade), there are only a few snatches that will be remembered (the second half of “Ground Zero,” power metal hooks on “Dolce Vita Sath-an Ass,” the bells of “Lamentation Sword”). The rest sounds too much like pale Iron Maiden with keyboards. Grimlord certainly has the technical chops to produce something worthwhile, but I doubt many would describe this vita as being “sweet.” (Matt Medlock)


Seek Magic
Artist: Memory Tapes
Label: Something in Construction
Release Date: 09/11/09
8 out of 10

The glo-fi thing that seems to have run its course awful quickly should still get a few good last hurrahs, and one of the finest comes from a man at least partially involved with many of the scene’s smallest but most indelible winners. Dayve Hawk supplants the familiar tricks to a collective that seems to inhabit a parallel universe where “chill-axing” would have been all the rage instead of “getting the party started” as Pink, Black-Eyed Peas and countless others suggested with empty glee. There’s a party in Seek Magic but not where you expect. We begin drifting on a witchy, Fleetwood-esque harmony on the languorous “Swimming Field,” bounding into a rave on “Bicycle,” and seizing to synth-funk on “Green Knight.” But it’s not a polarizing cruise, not one flagrant in its admissions, laughing at the trends encouraging every dance wizard to be thrusting the hooks and popping the beats. The music seems to arise from a floor covered in three inches of briny water and all the walls are splattered by seafoam and turquoise (thanks, cover art, for emphasizing that sensory function). There’s dancing to be done, but you’ll probably be too hypnotized to shake more than a few inches. “Graphics” is effervescent enough to make you reconsider, but its ode to Kraftwerk keeps things on an even, dilated keel. Then, especially on the longer tracks that give you time to actually unpeel the cycles instead of just getting swept away by them, you find yourself involuntarily moving. The words serve functionally and don’t embarrass; they could have been blather and Seek Magic still would have been a worthy release. Maybe I was too hasty in my glo-fi prediction, or, more likely, Hawk (in whatever guise he chooses) is too formidable to let it pass unfinished. (Matt Medlock)

Matt Medlock


New Reviews