Thursday, May 25, 2006

"You think you're radical, but you're not so radical": new albums from The Flaming Lips, Paul Simon, Tool, The Raconteurs, The Fray, etc.

Paul Simon: "Surprise," a collaboration with Brian Eno. No longer doing world music, it now seems he's using "found sounds," odd coaxings from instruments and objects, backing up Simon's trademark ability to use his smooth voice to pass off anything as a melody, something random you'll find yourself humming an hour later, wondering why it doesn't sound as good as the original. This isn't an immediately attractive album, like "Graceland," "Rhythm," or "You're the One," but I think it'll grow on me.

The Walkmen: "A Hundred Miles Off" continues their strange mixture of circus music and screaming, with emptied-out grating guitars with the reverb pedal set to 11. I love these guys: saw them live once at the 930 club in DC, and I thought the lead singer was going to burst a vein or explode the front row's eardrums. "Hundred" doesn't seem as loud as "Bows and Arrows." We'll see.

The Flaming Lips: with every album they sound more---maybe that's just me---like Yes. And late Yes. "You think you're radical, but you're not so radical." Anyway, "At War With the Mystics" is pretty good, and not obnoxious usually. But what's up with releasing a cd explaining your cd? How cocky do you have to be to believe that anyone will actually listen to Mystics Explained? Explain the goddamn pink robots to me. I'm still waiting for that.

Phoenix: French popsters. Hugely infectious tunes. They get my butt bouncing in my seat. An Iberian New Pornographers. "It's Never Been Like That."

Angels and Airwaves: new project of ex-blink-182 member. "We Don't Need to Whisper." Like Vangelis but harder hitting. Stadium rock even the Promise Keepers would love. Very odd.

The Wreckers: why not either go back to some real twang, and listen to some old Hank Williams (Sr.), or go all the way, and drop the conventions of New Country? If you stick with the format, you'd better have some stunning melodies, like Garth Brooks, or be able to discuss the limitations from within, like Dwight Yoakam. I'm not hearing it here.

The Subways: straight-ahead Brit-Punk. Good. Describing "Young for Eternity," the lead singer noted, "We really wanted to create an emotional journey with this record." This scares me a little.

As Fast As: "Open Letter to the Damned." These are instant classics. Each one is a rock radio hit, and they certainly exceed a mere assembly of influences.

Keane: new single, "Is It Any Wonder?" No longer avoiding guitars, they go a bit overboard here. The wa-wa guitar sound is hard to work in with the lead singer's plaintive boyish requests for love, which is why the two never occur at the same time, leading to a pretty disjointed song. Go back to piano.

The Fray: good, solid, adult alternative. Good piano. Nice. Just enough character to avoid getting a frowney-face from me. "How to Save a Life."

The Raconteurs: Yay! Slightly more organized and filled-out White Stripes--complete with Jack White. "Broken Toy Soldier" is a good shift from pure garage rock. There's a tiny bit of power pop: "Together" is a great track, and could be from Cheap Trick.

Janita: Finnish soul singer. Anything I didn't mention? Oh: a cover of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence." Really cool. Reminds me of Jill Scott of The Roots fame, both in her voice and how oddly hot she is. "Seasons of Life."

Pearl Jam: after a long gap, they're back with a new, higher energy album with some of the rawness of "Ten" and "Vs." But what's up with self-titling late albums, as some sort of "wow, we really understand ourselves now" or "time for a new beginning!" move? Was Blur's "Blur" really more blurry than previous Blur? Are they claiming the hallowed mantle of campy self-ignorant self-awareness, worn by Cheap Trick, Duran Duran, Toto and blink-182? Are they a band that actually will succeed in renovating itself with a later eponymous album, like Supergrass or Broken Social Scene? Are they a band hoping to be taken seriously again with a final gasp, like The Cure? Shouldn't they have gone for a funny, biting self-titled title like REM's "eponymous" or Grandaddy's "The Sophtware Slump"? Come on, Pearl Jam. Call it "11" or something. Oh, sorry: the music is great. Especially "Parachutes" and "Come Back."

Snow Patrol: "Eyes Open" too slow. Sorry. :(

the twilight singers: "Powder Burns." From Greg Dulli of the Afghan Wigs. I don't know the Wigs much; but this album controls the horizontal, and it controls the vertical. Heavy hitting melodies set in deep oceans of atmosphere. Occasional entrance of transylvanian strings and midnight-in-the-garden-of-good-and-evil piano. His voice slides a bit much for me, and is a bit nasal; but, hey, my favorite singer is Geddy Lee, so I can get used to anything. This album is like Iron & Wine, but plugged in, and with a backbone. (Not really, but kind of.)

Slaid Cleaves: why do I dislike Jack Johnson so much but like Slaid? I guess JJ seems like pure adult alternative, with nothing but a miserable singer-songwriter existence, characterless and without context, no history to keep him from writing the Curious George soundtrack. Slaid Cleaves, with more albums to his name ("Unsung" is his new one) has an alt-country legitimacy, a slight lilt in his voice, a hint of roughness, and some strange ability to flesh out his guitar and piano foundation with just the right hints of slide guitar and synths. A bit like Ryan Adams on prescription medication.

Figurines
: Norwegian crazy people. "Skeleton" is their debut, I believe. Indie rock. Piano and squeaky voice, then punk strums and grunting. Unique. Almost enjoyable. Could be brilliant; not sure. DNA tests will prove The Figurines are Radiohead and Interpol and Sigur Ros's three-way lovechild.

Saint Etienne:
The Streets:
The Constantines:
Sunset Rubdown: reviews to come!

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