Music Reviews: December 2005

Antony and the Johnsons
(Secretly Canadian)

Cabaret crooner Antony and all his Johnsons created quite a stir when they snatched Britain’s Mercury Prize from acts like Coldplay and Bloc Party. But Antony’s magnificent voice is entirely controversy-proof, whether on I Am a Bird Now or on these EPs culled from that album. It could turn almost anything to aural gold, particularly these delicate dirges. Frequently used adjectives: androgynous, angelic, effortless, haunting, honeyed, hypnotic, golden, Simone-meets-Buckley, siren-like, tender, velvet, wounded. With all due respect to Chris Martin, he never stood a chance.
Beautiful New Born Children
Hey People!

I can’t control how much I love this band. First, there’s the story: four musicians get together under an adventurous (creepy, cult-like) name, get their songs to Domino Records sans contact information, and lead the label running about the internet to learn more. Second, there’s the continuing mystery: Domino claims ignorance as to the details of the band and neglects to mention any of the artists’ names in their press release. And then there’s the sound: capturing the largeness of The Arcade Fire, while maintaining the sensibilities and unrefined crackle of early Strokes. Too good to be true? Not this time.
Karl Blau
Beneath Waves

In the overpopulated world of the singer-songwriter, Blau looks to wind instruments for an evolutionary edge. Saxes and flutes hum and harmonize and add a hint of bigger things to his modest, shuffling pieces. At times sounding a little like Doug Martsch, Blau has plenty of tricks up his sleeve–tempo changes, vocal tics, elements of jazz. While all this attests to Blau’s fine and nuanced musical sensibilities, the jury is still out on whether Beneath Waves is anything more than “pleasant.”
Broken Spindles
(Saddle Creek)

One of Omaha’s resident music brains, Joel Petersen (The Faint, Beep Beep) proves with his third solo effort that, not only is he a pro with the new-wave side of life, he’s also quite proficient with the lyrical too. His contemplative mood and broken vocal delivery are the perfect accompaniment to Spindles’ mainstay, lo-fi electronica. I/A is the delightfully winning result of time on the road with his two other bands (last fall’s joint tour), and Petersen is a sure-fire bet if you’re looking for something a little less mainstream from the Saddle Creek catalogue.
Adam Gnade
Run Hide Retreat Surrender
(Loud and Clear)

Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the recording, perhaps it’s Gnade’s detached, yet personal, presence, perhaps it’s the words themselves–whatever it is, it works. By each of its pieces, Run can be too scarce for its own good, but Gnade’s sound revels in being captivatingly peculiar. Folk rock plays softly in the background as his words flow in the fore and the resulting disc is refreshingly honest, real and straightforward. If you can put your electro pop-flavored dance shoes aside for a beat or two, you’ll find Gnade a charming talent.
Head Wound City
Head Wound City
(Three One G)

“Super group” may be too ambitious a term for a band comprised of relative nobodys, but it is after experiencing Head Wound City’s musical make up that the words start to seem appropriate. Never before has a band comprised of other bands’ members made such a comprehensive mixture of their previous work. This has the ear-piercing but workable wail of The Blood Brothers (Cody Votolato and Jordan Blilie), the uneasy restlessness of The Locust (Gabe Serbian and Justin Pearson), and that frighteningly unrestrained complexity that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs pull off so well (Nick Zinner). This is music in full-on attack mode–and you just might like it.
La Cha-Cha
Sounds of from the Suburbs
(self-released) LOCAL

It was inevitable that something would bump Bright Eyes from its 8-week run in my discman, but I had no idea it would be some local yokel band from Spokane, WA who’d take its place. Sure enough though, this jazzy rock has somehow managed to conquer the Oberst! For those (like me) tired of hearing La Cha-Cha in loud, smoke-filled bars, Sounds will be a definite source of excitement. The best of the live show is here, paired with the delicacy of what you figured you couldn’t hear over the din of the crowd. Check out the shows, and be sure not to miss this debut.
The Long Winters

Just when it’s starting to feel like the world has gone to the dogs, a disc like The Long Winters’ new EP arrives in the mailbox and becomes one of the most welcome distractions in months. In its short running time the disc contains 6 tracks of sweet melodies that wrap you up like a warm blanket on a cold winter night. Singer John Roderick’s voice is a comfort through the sparse instrumentation and the two final tracks, both live, bring the whole experience just all the more closer to home. A full-length will arrive in early 2006, but in the meantime this stand-alone effort is plenty to keep you company.
Sliver: The Best of the Box

Perhaps “Milk It” would have been a more apt title for this release, as Geffen, Love and Co. seem to be still wringing the last marketable drops from the Nirvana sponge. Three “previously unreleased” tracks here are available in superior versions elsewhere. Many tracks have the sonic clarity of pea soup. Cobain’s solo outtakes form a sort of musical accompaniment to his Journals–a voyeuristic trip into personal material never meant to see the light of day. But there are also gems aplenty, a painful reminder of the scant studio material left us by Gen X’s best songwriter.
Sun Kil Moon
Tiny Cities
(Caldo Verde)

Tiny Cities is nominally an album of Modest Mouse covers, but the tracks are reworked until scarcely recognizable as such. Dramatic revisionings are eminently preferable to slavish rehashings, but Tiny Cities too often sounds like Modest Mouse lyrics being fed into a Sun Kil Moon song generator. Insert Mouse, watch generator spit out shuffling rhythms, finger-picked guitar and sleepy, double-tracked vocals. Pleasant, to be sure. But lost in the process is all the furious disgust and wild sonic textures that made the songs great in the first place.
Tarantula A.D.
Book of Sand

The vocal appearances of uber-talents Devendra Banhart and Sierra Casady (CocoRosie) are likely to be what draws listeners to this record, but it will guaranteed be Tarantula’s distinct ability to wield warrior-like stories with their instrumental prowess that keeps the attention on them. It’s an adventurous concept for an album, but the lads in Tarantula make the rise and the fall work wonders on the ears of their listeners. Who knew instrumental music could be this interesting?
Tender Forever
The Soft and the Hardcore

Melanie Valera–the one-woman virtuoso who is Tender Forever–left the south of France to create this record in an Olympia studio. She woos listeners in English, with unaffectedly direct lyrics and sparsely elegant arrangements. Her sonic terrain is bordered by the skittish beats and winsome melodies of the Postal Service on one side, the lilting tones and private visions of Bjork on the other. But she is a place unto herself, and fills her briefly-sketched soundscapes with quirks and catches that demand repeated surveying.

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