Music Reveiws: July 2008

Directions to See a Ghost (Light in the Attic)
Austin’s heirs apparent to Roky Erickson’s Thirteenth Floor Elevators as lords of South Texas sun-dazed psychedelia continue to kick out the drone on their epic follow-up to 2006’s Passover. As before, singer Alex Maas steers the course of this lengthy trip-out with his forlorn wail, which is ever-drenched in massive amounts of reverb and sounds as though it’s struggling to be heard over the slow, pounding drums, the battery of fuzzed-out guitars, the layers of sitars, etc. Long buildups to extended sonic freakouts abound, and the band never wavers in its determined pursuit of creating a soundtrack to the results of ingesting the brown acid at Woodstock.

Mountain Battles (4AD)
When you get in to the full swing of your annual summer fitness reawakening, you always have a transcendent moment of gestalt where you wonder where all the winter fat came from. And you always end up running like hell from the largess of your former self. I’m here to tell you that the Breeders are prey to the same earthly psychosis we all share. But, more importantly, Kim Deal keeps running from her former self – and that’s a good thing. Cruising around now for nearly 20 years, the Breeders toy around with hip sounds with the kind of moxie that may very well scare the pants off her former band

Here We Stand (Island)
The bouncy Glaswegian neo-Brit-pop trio punches it up a tad on their sophomore full-length, adding some rockabilly piano to the mix and throwing a touch of menace into their usually upbeat sensibilities. Case in point is the first single, “Mistress Mabel,” a paean to a mentally unstable older lover that rocks harder than anything on their previous album while still retaining their trademark pop songwriting. Several musical references to seventies rock icons such as Elton John and T-Rex appear throughout the album, and the pop-rock classicist feel of the debut remains intact here.

There is Loud Laughter Everywhere (Mush)
After creating a significant buzz with the minimalist electronica and seventies home movie samples of their 2006 debut, Random Portraits of the Home Movie, Seattle’s Head Like a Kite return with a new album that expands upon the ideas of the previous release. This time Dave Einmo and live drummer Trent Moorman are joined by several guests from the Seattle music scene; Smoosh’s Asya provides vocals for the beautiful indie-pop of “Daydream Vacation” and elsewhere members of the Long Winters, Radio 4 and others lend their talents to the project.

Hard Candy (Warner Bros.)
For her new album, Madonna decided to let superstar pop producers the Neptunes and Timbaland take on the difficult task of keeping her contemporary, and the results are a mixed bag at best. As hard as the producers try to earn their hefty payouts by utilizing up-to-the-minute pop sounds, Madge just can’t help coming across as a middle-aged woman trying to be cool. That said, there are plenty of tracks on this record that will satisfy devotees of the kind of beats turned out by the production team, and vocal assists from Justin Timberlake don’t hurt matters.

Watershed (Roadrunner)
As is the case with most bands, their “watershed” moment is usually around album three, and then everything else is an exercise in the wheels coming off on painful downhill slide. But Opeth is not your typical Metal band, and their “watershed” coincides with album number eight. Yup. Eight. A confounding smattering of Death Metal (read: Morbid Angel, meets Yes, meets, Cannibal Corpse, meets King Crimson) Opeth brings something new and shinier to the Death Metal table. Dare I say it, they make progressive music cool.

Accelerate (Warner Bros.)
After three albums of studio bound indie-pop released in the wake of the departure of longtime drummer Bill Berry, R.E.M. have decided to rock again on Accelerate. Apparently a calculated move, possibly carried out because they’ve been facing diminishing returns with each new release, the change actually suits them well and might be generously construed as a welcome return to form. They certainly sound more than re-energized on concise, hooky rockers like “Living Well is the Best Revenge” and “Supernatural Superserious.” Anyone who’s written R.E.M. off as washed up might be shocked to hear them sounding this vital so many years into their legendary career.

Chicken or Beef? (Monktail)
Warning: Even though this Seattle ensemble has a cute letter-pressed CD cover they won’t be delivering any relax-with-a-mochachino-style jazz. This record is complex energetic and unpredictable. (Two of the tracks here, one rock and one ska, aren’t even jazz.) But if bold, brassy, contemporary jazz is your thing it’s going to be hard not enjoy this album. It captures all kinetic, experimental, electricity you’ll find in their live shows and some brooding moodiness that you won’t. The CD proclaims “New Squakaphonic High Fidelity.” I won’t dispute that, but a couple tracks (“Swanni” in particular) have beautiful melodies that kept me humming for days.

Mingle (Light in the Attic)
In their first major bid to become synonymous with the term “party rap” (or maybe just “party”), Seattle’s TSK sound determined to pull out all the stops to ensure that the good times never end. Enlisting the aid of a diverse group of music luminaries—including Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (who double as Amy Winehouse’s backing band), Kim Thayil of Soundgarden and Nirvana producer Jack Endino—the Knights take their intoxicating admixture of old school hip hop, classic rock, funk, country, etc. to a new level. Throughout the LP, veteran MCs Tilson and Barfly (he’s the one who swears) trade tongue-in-cheek verses that address any number of subjects, from keeping it real at the dog park to professing a taste for English pop divas.

O (Team Love)
Omaha’s happiest export just gets better and better. Since inception, these smiley-faced kiddos on Conor Oberst’s Team Love label have been turning out some of the danciest tunes to (possibly) emerge from the Midwest ever. O starts a little mellower, resurrecting a long-forgotten band track “Tall Tall Grass” (gorgeous), which quickly turns into one of the band’s most energetic tracks yet, “Pot Kettle Black” (AMAZING), before heading into recent single “Cacophony,” (where Jamie’s tap-tap-tappin’ takes center stage). Tilly’s always been attention-worthy for Jamie’s tap dancing rhythm section, but O should help establish them further as just attention-worthy, period.

Weezer (Geffen)
Rivers Cuomo and company stretch out a bit on their sixth (and third eponymous) album, in the process creating some of their strongest work in years. Cuomo has no problem displaying his always-dependable pop songwriting chops on tracks like the blue album throwback “Pork and Beans” and the gorgeous ballad “Heart Songs,” but he also devotes a large chunk of the album to two long pop suites that in some ways recall the ambitious work of Brian Wilson on the abortive Smile sessions. Guitarist Brian Bell and drummer Pat Wilson each turn in songs for the first time, and although their material is probably the weakest on the record, it’s a welcome addition of variety to a band that’s needed fresh ideas.

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