I really resent the seasons when new music releases start to bottleneck. It makes me hate all my music, makes my music consumption feel like just that--consumption. I'm sucking up album after album, not really liking anything, even when it's stuff by artists I happen to be fond of or admire. My eyes and ears glaze over, and I just keep reflexively hitting "shuffle" on my iPod because I can't bear to make the effort to try to emotionally or intellectually connect with another new album qua album. It usually happens in the late summer, but through whatever trick of scheduling fate, it's hitting me now. So, if you're in the mood for some (mostly) crabby, dismissive, unfair, and kneejerk reviews, read on.
TV on the Radio, Dear Science
Is there anyone on earth who can convince me that this album is actually as good as it (and everyone else) thinks it is? My relationship with TV on the Radio's music is kind of all over the place. I got into them through Cookie Mountain, and I dig the hell out of that album. But then earlier this year, as some of you may remember, I went backward and started listening to Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes a lot, almost accidentally. And it's just so dark and twisted and sexy, esp. in the way that it almost dares you to dismiss it as ugly with its harsh electronic skeletons jutting out all over the place and its slowly maddening water torture beats. Great stuff. And now, though, Dear Science? I was put off by it the first few listens, then felt myself start to relent a little bit, but now I'm back to being hugely skeptical. You know what always snaps me out of my momentary lapses of generosity? When I think to myself: what if Bjork had released this album? A not so small part of me would have died inside. Everyone would have trashed it for being so, so horrible. But because it's TV on the Radio, it seems like we're all trying to will them into being a Big, Important Band through the collective force of our praise. I mean, they're pretty great, but I don't think they're anywhere near to maxing out, or even meeting, their potential yet. (I loved this interview, esp. the bit when the interviewer says, "I demand perfection from this band. I truly believe that they are capable of becoming a great band. Their combinations of genres and influences, their sonics and vocals. They could become like Radiohead." I really kind of agree at this point.) The unfortunate "We Didn't Start the Fire" (nevermind "It's the End of the World As We Know It") chant in "Dancing Choose" just makes me so embarrassed for them. "Family Tree" is just about as un-pretty and uninteresting as a supposedly pretty/meaningful song can get. The fact that they not only built a song around the phrase "shout me out" but also use it as the song's title? Unforgivable. (It just makes me think of that awful MySpace-era phrase that always curdles my blood a bit: the bon mot "hit me up!" Gag.) I give them credit for what they're trying to do with "Lover's Day," but really it just seems like an inferior rewrite of the much more arousing and affecting Desperate Youth album-closer "Wear You Out." "Red Dress" does have some pretty genuinely nice funk to it, and parts of "Halfway Home" (esp. the chorus) are exciting. Mostly, though, this album reminds me a lot of the Decemberists' Picaresque: it sounds exactly like what you'd expect it to sound like, with some high points here and there, while still managing to be deeply boring on the whole. Hopefully they'll give us their equivalent to The Crane Wife the next go round.
AND SPEAKING of the Decemberists, does anybody actually understand what's going on with their new "singles series"? I'm pretty savvy about downloads and the like, but all this multiple version, multiple release date crap just makes me feel old and crabby because I'm finding it impossible to remember what comes out when and when I can gain access to it.
Bound Stems, The Family Afloat
I really like the Bound Stems, and I really like to be able to support a hometown band, and there's nothing...wrong with this album, so I don't know why I'm not loving it more. Maybe I just need to give it time. They've trimmed the stray threads off all the patchwork pieces they cobble together to create their songs, which gives it a bit of a slicker, poppier sheen, belying its complexity. I love all the big, multiple voice singalong parts, and hearing Janie Porche repeatedly coo the title phrase in the context of the relentlessly building "Sugar City Magic" is a really great suckerpunch that left me breathless with emotion on the first listen.
Cold War Kids, Loyalty to Loyalty
I've been an unapologetic Cold War Kids fangirl from the beginning and am pleased as punch on their behalf to see that their upcoming show in Chicago sold out almost instantly (even before I could manage to get a ticket; I haven't been able to see them live since the Hideout in October '06 for this very reason). The songs sound great, though there are no immediate standouts on a par with "Hospital Beds," "We Used to Vacation," or "Hang Me Out to Dry." But, again, it's hard for me to bring myself to put this album on. I'll be scrolling through my iPod, and I'll see it sitting there, just waiting for me, but there's nothing really pushing me over the edge to dig into it. Maybe if it had come out earlier in the summer, in isolation, away from all these other albums clamoring for my attention, I would've been able to get more excited about it.
Kings of Leon, Only by the Night
I know it's deeply uncool to like Kings of Leon, but I just love how barfy they are. I'm willing to be patient with this one a little while longer because it took me quite some time to really hear what Because of the Times was doing. At the outset, though, I'm enjoying it on a shallow level. "Manhattan" is proving to be a standout.
King Sparrow, Derailer EP
Here's another Chicago band, this one pretty new on the scene. I haven't had a chance to hear them live yet, but based on their wonderfully crunchy forthcoming five-song EP, I've already put their November 15 show at the Double Door on my calendar. (Full disclosure: singer/guitarist Eric Georgevich is a pal.) It's refreshing to hear a young band come out of the gate with such a full, confident spectrum of sound--subway rumble bass lines hurtling past scuzzy dump truck drums, gritty guitars playing cat and mouse with splashy, insistent cymbal crashes, while the sweetly melodic tenor vocals curve and twist above it all, like a brightly colored flag planted on top of this whole hill of noise. The songs are pretty immediately ingratiating, with the taut and chugging "Sightseers" (my personal fave so far) opening it all with a bang. Keep your eyes and ears open for these kids!
Thieves of the Night
And, one last one for the Chicagoans. There's no music here, just a must-see promo video that's not even two minutes long. You really should imagine double penetration.