Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Record Roundup

The last thing TANBR needs is another running column that we won't keep up, but look, I get E-Mails all-day-every-day by impassioned TANBRines pleading with me, "Tank, I need your expertise. I was thinking of buying this album that was released last month, but I don't have your definitive opinion of it. What am I supposed to do?" I'll tell you what you're supposed to do: read Record Roundup, where I concisely give my opinion on all the major first quarter releases. Oh, and high-and-mighty Pitchfork rates things on a ten-point scale, so I'm breaking out a hundred-point scale. Pace.

!!!- Myth Takes

!!! is constantly trying to somehow class up their dancepunk roots. They did it on Louden Up Now with confrontational political lyrics, and they do it on Myth Takes by creating more structure. Unfortunately, all along the thing I liked most was when they just pushed off into five minutes of rebellious noise. I still love this band's persistent energy and sass, but something here sounds calculating. Listening to Myth Takes is far less fun than any of !!!'s other offerings.

Amy Winehouse- Back to Black

I think this is the only outlet on the blogosphere that hasn't yet mentioned Amy Winehouse. I guess she just hasn't come up, because this is really accomplished work. Buoyed by the flawless '60s soul soundscape Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi conjure, Back to Black is instantly appealing and wisely short. With someone whose persona is so inextricable from their art--Winehouse is kind of like a Bukowski with regular airplay on VH1--it's hard to tell if they will last or burn out, but the girl can really sing.
Amy Winehouse- "Rehab" (mp3)

The Arcade Fire- Neon Bible

I already wrote about this in a TANBR Recommends. My expectations were high, and the Arcade Fire delivered on every count. Epic, powerful stuff.

Bloc Party- A Weekend in the City

Again, my expectations come into play here, since Silent Alarm and The College Dropout are probably the two best debuts of the aughts. The album is good, sweeping and mercurial, but the sequencing seems off. I wish "The Prayer" or "Where Is Home" had gotten the album rolling earlier, rather than being pushed to the end. There are definitely some growing pains here; for instance, Keke Olereke's lyrics seem more amateurish, and usually that's the thing that improves the most on a sophomore effort. Still, these can be some pretty anthemic choruses, and Olereke delivers them with his alternating lilting and staccato rhythms.

Deerhoof- Friend Opportunity

I've given Deerhoof a lot of chances, but they always come off as pretentious to me. They're billed as an experimental band but are actually pretty insistent on the atonality and cloying female vocals that make up their aesthetic. "Cast Off Crown" is probably the only song I'll keep on my iPod. Better than their last record though.

Devin the Dude- Waitin' to Inhale

The only topics Devin the Dude really tries to address are smoking weed and trying to have sex with you, but that works for him in his own honest, funny, and grimy way. He's occasionally soulful and occasionally absurd ("Girl, this dick is so clean/This dick is so clean that you can boil it in some collared greens"), but he's very comfortable with his own limitations--he doesn't even sing as much as he used to. His production has a refreshingly homemade feeling, and this is clearly a guy who knows what he's good at--I don't want to hear Devin the Dude's take on the president or anything. While a few of the weed-related songs are obvious bricks, "What a Job," featuring a spry Andre 3000 and a tolerable Snoop, is an instant classic. If Rap-a-Lot has any idea what they're doing, they'll position it as a summer single.
Devin the Dude feat. Snoop Dogg and Andre 3000- "What a Job" (mp3)

El-P- I'll Sleep When You're Dead

Anything El Producto does from now on has to be compared to his masterpiece Fantastic Damage. If that's Illmatic though, this is at least It Was Written. By now you either like the Def Jux sound, with its soft, almost white-noise bass drums and its claustrophobic snares, or you're dumb. With any El-P work, you'll get stuck with some kind of oddball song about a post-apocalyptic love story aboard a prison spaceship, but it's worth it to hear zingers like, "I might have been born yesterday, sir/But I stayed up all night."
El-P- "Drive" (mp3)

LCD Soundsystem- Sound of Silver

Two signs that you're getting old: acts that, in your own mind, are new or emerging have actually been around for half a decade, and you "like the old stuff a lot more" anyway. I'm guilty of both counts with James Murphy's crew. Sound of Silver sounds safer and less cutting, less sassy than his earlier work. It also sounds more collaborative, which might be a key to understanding those developments. I actually hear quite a Go! Team influence here too. Some of these songs connect and some don't, but it's distressing to me that Murphy seems to be seeking some kind of austere legitimacy here (the embarrassing "New York I Love You" comes to mind). In so doing, he's becoming one of the people he used to lampoon.

Menomena- Friend and Foe

These songs soar with deliberate grace. Because Menomena is a trio of guys who share all the instrument and vocal duties and often chop up their indie-funk lines with computer software they programmed themselves, ("My My's" piano-knuckling showcases this the best.) lyrics may not be the first thing most people are drawn to. And they aren't to me either--not on a this-is-what-he's-saying, I-wonder-what-this-means basis. No, it's interesting how, even though this is obviously a virtuosic band that trades in all kinds of genres, these simple vocals and harmonies get equal billing. I love the ways these words are stabbed into the countless textures surrounding them, darting in and out of these canals of experiment. Points off for the chorus on "Air Aid" reminding me of that Fastball song though. Not a good look, fellas.
Menomena- "Muscle 'N Flo" (mp3)

Mims- Music Is My Savior

I expected to hate this, but I'm kind of feeling what Mims is going for here. He could have followed the Yung Joc formula--float independent single, get signed, rush out a CD with ten other tracks of bullshit to capitalize on the unexpected hit--but he obviously took the time to make an album. This thing has atmosphere and point of view and, wow!, different tempos and sounds. He isn't the most quotable lyricist, but I'm glad that Mims is bringing professionalism back to New York hip-hop.

Modest Mouse- We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

The biggest headline associated with We Were Dead Blah Blah We Like Long Titles is that Johnny Marr played on the record and has become a full-time member of the band. If Marr's and Isaac Brock's styles don't compliment each other, they at least accomodate and enable each other enough to sound progressive without taking too much away from the Modest Mouse sound that has already been established. (That alone should be proof that Marr isn't responsible for the smiths' break-up, that he can just join a major band without changing their style much. Can you imagine if Morrissey joined, say, The Strokes?) "Missed the Boat" in particular shows how well their playing co-exists. Other wrinkles, such as the horns on "Dashboard" or the recruitment of The Shins' James Mercer to sing back-up on "Florida," prove that platinum sales haven't sapped the group's ambition and risk-taking. The album feels driven and consistent, more so than even Good News for People Who Love Bad News ("Dancehall"?); Brock's voice retains its raucous screech, but it has a new focus. Even so, I'm not hearing any singles, and I was hoping they could contribute a few more classics. Speaking of...
Modest Mouse- "3rd Planet" (mp3)
(I didn't know where else to put this, but the main riff of "Fire It Up" sounds kind of like "This Is Why I'm Hot" being played backwards. Chili dog.)

Of Montreal- Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Listening to Of Montreal's twelfth proper album in ten years goes by quickly. The ebullient grooves of their multi-part songs transition into one another seamlessly, and the bouncy, accessible melodies play against what are Kevin Barnes' most confessional lyrics yet. It all sounds a bit hollow and lacking in confidence to me though. It's catchy enough to be on a commercial for The CW in six months, but maybe not memorable enough for me to be able to place it. I guess that's my fault.

Panda Bear- Person Pitch

You know when a song doesn't really have a logical way of ending, so it gradually fades out as a refrain is repeating over and over and all the music is turning in on itself? All seven of the dense, luminous tracks on Person Pitch sound like that for their entirety. Fully-formed, as if they were always there without a beginning or an ending. It's the epitome of a bedroom symphony. Listen to it with headphones.
Panda Bear- "Bros" (mp3)

Paul Wall- Get Money Stay True

Paul Wall had some potential there for a while. Apparently, he was an underground superstar in Houston first, (I could fake as if I know all about that, but I didn't give a shit about Paul Wall until everyone else did.) and he had perfect guest spots on "Grillz" and "Drive Slow." But there are only so many similes to explain how much lean you drink, how candy-painted your car is, the degree to which you're posted up, and how bright your artificial teeth are. This is fucking garbage. Sometimes he's clever, but most of the time he's trying so hard that it's awkward. E.g., "Spend some time with Mister Slaton/Take her home and put on the Gary Payton." (That might not be an exact quotation, but I'm not listening to the thing again.) Gary Payton's nickname was The Glove, a euphemism for a condom is a glove, Paul Wall is kind of a tool. The most interesting thing is the lack of punctuation of the title.

Prodigy- Return of the Mac

The reviews have been stronger than I expected for this, and I imagine it's because of east coast favoritism, because I don't see what's so special about it otherwise. Alchemist produced all the tracks, and he brings a soulful thematic consistency that is much needed. Other than that, I don't see why this version of Prodigy's cold street narratives are being especially embraced. I'm kind of tired of hearing about how much different it is being a thug from City X as opposed to City Y. No, chances are your lives are very similar, podnuh. You still do drugs and threaten to kill people, no matter what kind of clothes you wear. Perhaps I'm desensitized to the gangster-as-existential pawn construct, but I wasn't especially moved or intimidated or inspired by anything here. My favorite moment of this album is this throwaway sample at the end of "Stuck on You" when a female voice says, in reference to P, "That stingy motherfucka with an asshole full of money?" Exactly how much is an asshole full? Even in hundreds, I'm guessing you can only fit about five bills. Maybe Prodigy has a cashier's check up there?

Redman- Red Gone Wild: Thee Album

On the first track, "Fire," Redman references Lil' Penny, AOL, John McClane, Rosie Perez, and "The Fall Guy." In one verse. Whether you will like this album or not can be gauged by your reaction to that decidedly '90s list. Redman hasn't grown much over the years, but he has remained casually funny and confident. The guest spots though, mostly people in the Gilla Squad that you haven't heard of, are aggressively lame. You can tell that Doc owed his boy Saukrates for some cheap weed. At least he doesn't take himself too seriously. Should that be enough to recommend a hip-hop album? No, but sadly, right now it is. Brick city, stand up!

Rich Boy- Rich Boy

Yes, Polow da Don is a magnificent, emerging super-producer, piling on exciting sounds that morph as the track evolves, rather than looping into the Scott Storchiverse. Yes, "Throw Some D's" is a monster. Yes, it sounds as if Rich Boy is trying to rap with a lollipop in his mouth. I'm having trouble remembering any one specific line of Mr. Boy's, but if an instrumental version of this album is released, I'm all over that. Strangely, one of the best tracks is the goofy hidden song, "In Love with the Balla Life," so make sure the version you download has that.

The Shins- Wincing the Night Away

The Shins don't mess with their formula too much here. James Mercer's voice is damn-near angelic, and songs like "Turn on Me" keep the propulsive melodies they're known for. They do slow things down a bit at times, whereas my favorite signifier for Chutes Too Narrow was "rollicking." I'm worried that album closer "A Comet Appears," sounds like a more funereal "New Slang"; that is, that they already seem to be repeating themselves. In the end though, this is solid work, and I expect it to grow on me.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists- Living with the Living

Living with the Living is pleasant. I can't find much wrong with it. But Ted Leo's albums have been interchangeable for a while. For me, you could shuffle the songs from this, Shake the Sheets, and even the universally praised Hearts of Oak, and I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. This guy hasn't taken a chance in a while, and this album cover is terrabull. I'll probably listen to this once for every hundred times I listen to his Kelly Clarkson cover:
Ted Leo- "Since U Been Gone" (mp3)

Timbaland- Timbaland Presents...Shock Value

Timbo set out to meld all kinds of music and unify different styles with his own aesthetic. I guess that means front-loading the album with hip-hop stars and Justin Timberlake, then tacking on filler, then shitting the rock songs onto the end where people won't have to listen to them. And by "filler," I mean multiple tracks featuring Sebastian. And if you're not familiar with Sebastian or his abilities, this is all you have to know: he's a rapper who happens to be Timbaland's brother, and you don't know who he is. From about seven through eleven, the songs are interchangeable. "2-Man Show," the song with Elton John, feels like that turn-my-headphones-up skit from "Chappelle's Show" actually carried out, lots of promise that never really goes anywhere. And it's kind of a metaphor for the entire project. More than anything, Shock Value shows where Tim's work ends and the artist guiding the substance of the song begins. "Bounce" is a banger though, and the rest of the first five tracks are meaningless fun.
Timbaland feat. Justin Timberlake, Dr. Dre, and Missy Elliot- "Bounce" (mp3)

Young Buck- Buck the World

I was a big fan of Buck's solo debut Straight Out of Ca$hville, but listening to this makes me want to revisit that album and find out if I was wrong about it. He has an unforgettable voice, but its gravelly splendor is wasted on generic threats and a glaring lack of hooks. However, just as with the Lil' Jon efforts on his first album, Buck seems to rise to the occasion when he's working with a quality producer (definitely the case on Polow da Don's standout single from this album), so hopefully he can get the right people to guide him in the future.

That's the new stuff I've listened to in the past month or two. If you have a recommendation of your own, or if you want to stand up for poor Mr. Wall, feel free to put it in the comments.

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