As seen in issue 54 of Closer Magazine, published on 2008-10-19 in the "CDReviews" section.
Singer-songwriter Conor Oberst lightens up the mood and strips down the sound on his latest, eponymous LP. He’s ditched his trembling, troubled vocals but kept his poetic conviction. The massive, orchestral sounds of his previous releases have been replaced with simple acoustic guitars. Along the lines of 2005’s I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, these 12 tracks are chiefly dedicated to hand-clapping folk tunes and alt-country shuffles. Living up to his young Bob Dylan rep, Oberst has plenty of image-heavy, poignant lyrical moments. Whether delivering Elliot Smith-like sentimental pondering or a Jack Johnson surfer mantra, Oberst sounds like he’s actually having fun–without losing purpose.
– Monica Cady
Trading new-wave electronic raunchiness for polished alt-rock, CSS’ sophomore release resonates like Blondie and Karen O fronting The Sounds. Lead lady Lovefoxxx gives up raw, staccato-style vocals for pretty, sassy melodies, but don’t be fooled—though rowdy love letters to music and catty comments are missing, a fair amount of fury lies beneath pop-rock hooks. “The Rat Is Dead (Rage)” features gleeful choruses about murdering an abusive lover. On “Left Behind” Lovefoxxx sings: “I’m gonna jump onto the table and dance my ass off ’til I die.” It’s precisely the kind of behavior that Donkey inspires.
Danny Tenaglia has been a personal favorite for almost four decades, a master of the mix and inventor of the marathon DJ set, spinning up to 14 hours at a time, sometimes more. His music is for open-minded dance floor specialists, as you’ll often hear house, techno, tribal, even disco throughout an extended set. Futurism is a glimpse into one of these marathons, and it sounds like Danny will be around for a few more decades.
– Tuesday Gilliam
Canadian singer-songwriters Jim Guthrie and Nick
Thorburn explore variations of bright folk tunes, ’50s doo wop and ’60s Americana on their debut. At times the duo is a modern Simon and Garfunkel, particularly on the airy ballad “My Beach” and the happily rhythmic “The Sound.” Obvious nods to the harmonies of the Everly Brothers and the Traveling Wilburys make this album extremely derivative, but Human Highway have enough unique introspection and infectious hooks to stand on their own. They effortlessly achieve the reupholstered-retro vibe for which super-group the Raconteurs strive, without sounding boring or excessive.
Take Me to the Sea
Johnny Whitney’s maniacal, Alvin-the-Chipmunk-on-a-meth-binge vocals dominate Jaguar Love’s debut LP. Fans of the post hard-core group Blood Brothers will already be familiar with his androgynous scowl–as heard on opener “Highways of Gold”—as guitarist Whitney and bassist Cody Votolato were part of that defunct group. The full throttle snare fervor on “Jaguar Pirates” is discharged by another punk rock veteran—J. Clark, formerly of Pretty Girls Makes Graves. Together, the trio yield a brand of art damaged proto-punk that’s ear wrenching and infectious.
– Alex Rendon
Without hullabaloo, seminal Post-Smiths UK act James have returned with their first album in seven years, and unlike most reunified 80s-90s cult bands, the group’s second coming never feels contrived. Stellar tracks like the instantly infectious “Waterfall” and the crisp “Oh My Heart” pick up where the group left off on their ‘93 pinnacle, Laid. Tim Booth’s luxuriant delivery doesn’t allow dowdy protest lyrics like the title track’s “Hey ma, the boy's in body bags/Coming home in pieces” detract from this effort–an unequivocal return to sweet jangle pop form for these Manchester lads.
Some might catalog the avant-garde electro folk of Juana Molina’s fifth album as a Latino Animal Collective. But the haunting chirps of “Los Hongos De Marosa” and the syrupy delivery of “Quien (Suite)” suggest an Argentine love child of Sigur Ros and Julieta Venegas. Molina, always willing to experiment with rhythms and harmonies, holds nothing back on this collection of eight ethereal endeavors. Not bi-lingual? Don’t despair; most of Molina’s vocals, like her tribal chanting on “El Vistado,” are equally as unintelligible to any che in Buenos Aires. This one is worth a visit to the World Music aisle.
Brooklyn-based indie alt-rockers Oxford Collapse are as reckless and absurd as they are captivating and fun. Their dueling male vocal leads are endearingly raw; with songs about senseless topics like displaced shrubbery and bathroom reading, lyrical philosophy isn’t really their point. Motivated by careless punk ‘tude, the trio keep their choruses moving at break-neck speed. With a knack for rowdy, ’90s-ish garage rock, they reveal a softer side with “A Wedding,” an off-kilter, pretty, cello-and-vocals-only track. Bits is like the soundtrack to the college parties you missed—not because you weren’t invited, but because you blacked out.
The Dark Romantics
Living up to their ninetieth century literary moniker, Lakeland, Florida’s Dark
Romantics dish out brooding tales of lovelorn gloom on their second long player, Heartbreaker–thirteen sweepingly dramatic songs with titles like “Never Been Loved” and “The Death of You” that would make Mr. Mope himself, Morrissey, proud. Don’t pick up those razors yet, though. The haunting croons of Eric Collins, which can reach excruciatingly high octaves, as on “This In Young Love,” and guitarist Dean Paul’s (formerly of the John Ralston Band) textured riffs –check out “Hush Your Mouth”–will lift the spirits of any distraught listener.
Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill
Uneven, but an essential introduction to the 20th century master of world-weary modernist pop. A leading light in the worlds of music and theater in Weimar Berlin,
composer Weill is best known for his collaboration with poet/lyricist Bertolt Brecht on the timeless, bottomlessly cynical Threepenny Opera. The resonances with punk, post-punk and avant-garde jazz stand bleak and true on cuts from, among others, Lou Reed, Marianne Faithfull, John Zorn and Tom Waits. “What keeps mankind alive?” Waits sings, and answers: “Food is the first thing. Morals follow on.”
– Steve Ellman