Following singer Wayne Petti's tender solo album earlier this year, Cuff The Duke return with a third record that rests somewhere between the earnest straight-and-narrow of Blue Rodeo and Wilco's detours. If these references aren't exactly original, the songs are of strong quality--minus a couple slight lyrical missteps, this record is full of solid tunes and Petti's voice delivers them perfectly. "Remember The Good Times" should by all rights be a hit radio single (if those things existed anymore) and the band plays with a trained ear for loving detail.
Ween has built a fanatical reputation on industrious absurdity. Whether it's their unpredictable three-hour shows, writing songs that use "spinal meningitis got me down" as the main hook, or being able to conjure up Nashville country, euro-techno or cheesy metal with equal aplomb, Dean and Gene are pretty much unlike any other act in music. In other words, either you get (and love it) or you don't, and La Cucaracha ain't about to change that fact. Another platter of genre-hopping madness.
A Montreal live fixture for years, the first on Secret City for P&A takes the form of a surprisingly substantial four-song, 25-minute EP. With/Avec is the kind of release that could achieve what bands always hope for with an EP--an appetite whetter that never fully satisfies, bringing anticipation to fever pitch for their 2008 full-length. The ingredients are certainly there: Plants and Animals play highly malleable music, a tender blend of whispered-folk and high melancholic drama. A closing cover of Nina Simone showstopper "Sinnerman" is a bit of a tougher sell for three white guys, but hey, they almost pull it off.
After an onslaught of buzz for this group's debut, You Can't Break The Strings In Our Olympic Hearts, The Diableros were one of 2006's happier breakouts; so unflinchingly exuberant was that record that it seemed to register through sheer force of will. Aren't Ready For The Country reaffirms all there was to love about the band. Pete Carmichael's vocals are charismatically unschooled, relying on passion and honest conviction to read from his bursting heart. Under a dense muck of reverbed guitars, organ and drums, lays the band's simple secret: in the Diableros' world, guts win out over finesse every time.
Gold is the kind of bursting-at-the-seams pop record that bandleader Luca Maoloni was born to write. Far less indebted to The Beach Boys' classic pop than their debut, Gold also benefits from greater focus and even better tunes than in the past. Sonic omnivores, the Old Soul use every tone available; this record is punch drunk with gurgling synths, flowing strings and tons of unexpected flourishes, not the least of which is the giddy steel drum hook on "Let's Neck". For all the chaos, Maoloni's spirited vocals keep your ears on the song; the man's got melodies like your high school janitor had keys.
McCombs has all of the gifts to be a major indie star: an effortless way with melody, a lack of shyness with hooks, and a soaring, rich voice. The only thing barring his ascendency--and you get the sense he likes it this way--are the left-of-centre ticks that he nestles into his tunes. Slightly off-kilter lyrics, stabs of basement production, and somtimes over-reaching vocals constantly keep these otherwise immediate pop songs straining to keep their balance. It's a great reminder that a love of pop tunes and an ear for abstraction need not be mutually exclusive things; often, they're what keep each other honest.
The long-awaited second volume in Kent's Artistry In Soul series is finally here! Considering the first volume, Eddie & Ernie's Lost Friends was one of the greatest soul compilations ever, expectations are high. The Larry Banks' Soul Family Album exceeds them all with its mix of deep soul (Kenny Carter's "I Can't Stop Laughing") and uptempo scorchers (Geminis' "Come On Act Right"). This release stakes a strong claim for Larry Banks, who wrote 23 of the 24 songs on this comp, as one of the most unsung composers of his genre.
The debt that Band Of Horses owe to Built To Spill and My Morning Jacket is clear. But credit this group with the good sense to take the most immediate moments of each--their brisk pop tunes and searching, yearning ballads--and remove all the jammy indulgence. This distillation leaves behind pure indie rock delight, which is exactly what these trusted steeds deliver for a second time with Cease To Begin. Ben Bridwell's voice is perfectly suited to these songs; always on the right side of breaking, it's an arrow straight to the heart. A lovely record that pleasingly aspires to be nothing more than just that.
Wyatt's ability to walk a very thin line between timeless pop and artful divergence is a masterful gift; one made more spectacular by his unassuming way with that gift. This music shrugs its shoulders and finds the quiet corner in the room. It takes a certain amount of initiative to even get a conversation going, and once you begin talking, things don't come easily either. As its title suggests, Comicopera balances in close proximity images of humour and touching commitment with plainly brutal isolation. You can't often truly call an album brave and beautiful, but that's a distinction this record earns.
The sheer amount of ideas in "The Philadelphia Grand Jury" alone, the opener from Widow City, would be enough to keep most bands healthy for an entire album. That this seven-minute epic is only the first of sixteen songs on The Fiery Furnaces' sixth release is a telling sign. Anyone hoping for this brother-sister duo to settle down and write tunes as focused and catchy as EP's "Tropical-Iceland" are outta luck. Melodies, hooks, riffs, segues, and left turns rush out of this disc like a busted fire hydrant; it's up to you to either run from the flood or roll up your pants and dance in the spray. Inspired insanity.
The thing that I love about PJ Harvey is the specificity with which she makes records. With every new album, she challenges herself, and her audience, to abandon familiar comforts and adapt to new approaches. The piano-driven White Chalk is possibly the most challenging record she has presented since Is This Desire? or even her sophomore milestone Rid Of Me. To interpret it as a callous and self indulgent attempt to alienate listeners is to have never known what made Harvey tick in the first place. Austere and distant on first meeting, it quivers with new feelings upon every listen.
Soft vocals and moody songs surrounded by creative arrangements that sometimes feel like they are on the verge of collapse. Stretched out and contracted rhythms with simple but often obscure sounding harmonies highlight "Stair Keeper". The song "Friend of Mine" shares an uncomfortable but playful bass melody with a subtle and acutely ranged vocal line. A nice touch over its distant and reluctant piano waltz. Also, listen in the album for effective accompanying roles for an extremely exhausted organ and a creaking floor.
As Polmo Polpo, Perri was the voiceless creator of beautifully submerged, amorphous music. So it's somewhat shocking to see just how nuanced a singer and songwriter he actually is. Hints of the great potential for Tiny Mirrors have been littered across CD-R releases and 2006's strong Sandro Perri Plays Polmo Polpo, not to mention his always excellent supporting cast of players. But that voice! Bringing to mind such singers as Arthur Russell and Talk Talk's Mark Hollis, Perri's voice is simply a revelation and Tiny Mirrors marks its strongest step into the world yet. Makes you wonder what other tricks he's hiding.
Harvey's latest won't please those pining for a return to 2000's commercial breakthrough, Stories from The City, Stories From The Sea. For the smaller group of people waiting for a proper follow-up to 1998's haunted Is This Desire?, however, White Chalk fits the bill. This is Harvey at her most sparse and desolate, thanks in large part to her decision to forgoe her trusted guitar in favour of the piano. It's introspective music of specific intent, and whether it's a success or not hinges more on your desires than her performance. Know this though: under White Chalk's skeletal veneer is a work full of subtle rewards.
Sonic Youth would never have become the icons that they are if they hadn't discovered early on how to sweeten their dissonant, toxic experiments with great pop hooks. Thurston Moore's second song-oriented solo release continues SY's recently revitalized love of melody. Rather than a dramatic departure from his group's MO, Trees is just a slight adjustment of a well-loved formula. Drummer Steve Shelley is here, along with Dino Jr. shredder J. Mascis, but the focus remains on Moore. Propelled by his catatonic cool and a bunch of warm acoustic guitar, this album is a whole lotta hazy beauty.
While the Boss' recent rejuvination hasn't exactly been a revelation on par with, say, the last three Dylan records, the experience of making The Rising clearly awakened something within the New Jersey icon. Since then, his work has been both more relevant (Devils and Dust) and more fun (The Seeger Sessions) than in a long while. You won't confuse Magic with either Born album, but he and his E Street cohorts remain full of the working man's spirit and cohesion on which their rep has been built. And when Magic hits the mark, the album's lofty title is indeed justified.
Film director Wes Anderson is almost as loved for his meticulously curated soundtracks as his idiosyncratic movies. From the mod explosion of Rushmore to the Portugeuse revisions of Bowie classics on The Life Aquatic, the man has some seriously eclectic, well-honed tastes. The Darjeeling Limited keeps his streak alive, matching cuts from Anderson faves The Kinks and Rolling Stones with theme music from a slew of Bollywood classics. The midsection is dominated by Indian themes, then bookended by Western music (both rock and classical), making things a touch segregated, but still fascinating and fun.
Now that much of the skepticism/hype surrounding the notion of a teenager from New Mexico making gypsy music has subsided, the real test begins for Zach Condon. No longer a naive youth, he sets about growing up and fast. The Flying Club Cup continues in the manner of January's Lon Gisland EP, wisely showcasing Beirut as a full band to lovely effect. Where Condon could still learn a thing or two is in his songwriting and arranging; his melodies and horn arrangements tread the same path a little too often. That said, it remains a very welcome detour, well away from the safety of paths most traveled in indie rock.