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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Strand of Oaks - Pope Killdragon: B+

Strand of Oaks is Timothy Showalter, who, on his second album, has written a series of mostly acoustic menageries with his frail and reedy voice being the only accompaniment. The occasional expansive percussion or amplified guitar appears and is almost wholly unexpected in every context of the album, but is, nevertheless, almost completely welcomed at its appearance.

The best of Pope Killdragon, ironically, is when Showalter's warm and intensely personal rambings are juxtaposed with a sound very mechanical and impersonal. Even if it's just a bleeding synth tone like in "Bonfire", the constant tension within Showalter's tunes is heightened to the point of transcendency from their minimalist cage. Pope Killdragon is still a great album filled with deep and memorable moments, but its use of disparate textures alludes to a style that would only aid Showalter if he utilized it more often.


Endless Boogie - Full House Head: B

Full House Head is the most convincing homage to late-sixties early-seventies meat-and-potatoes rock I have ever heard. With the only exception being the at times diffuse song lengths, someone listening to this album with no context might think it was a stopgap release from some inconsequential sixties or seventies band like Country Joe & The Fish or Three Dog Night. For however many points you are willing to afford Endless Boogie for their authenticity, the greatest detriment to Full House Head is that it imitates its indistinct predecessors so well, it's about as essential as anything in their discography. Nothing on Full House Head sounds particularly bad, but it is clear that the obvious gimmick of the group puts them on the definitively wrong side of nostalgia.


The White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights: A-

Under Great White Northern Lights, the film, is a fantastic visual representation of a relatively enigmatic band as they try to fulfill their goal of playing a show in every Canadian province. We all (or at least I) know that Jack White is one of the most consistently fantastic songwriters of this generation, but director Emmett Malloy shows off the man's adept sense of humor and passion for his art in a way that humanizes him in a fashion long overdue. The film also sheds some much-needed light on The Stripes' percussionist, Meg White, who we finally hear speak for an extended period of time, to find that... well she doesn't really have much to say.

Under Great White Northern Lights, the album, is a compilation of the band's performances that bridge the scenes of the film. It does not exhibit White's sense of humor. As the man explains in the film, he consciously moves instruments farther and farther away from each other so that he has to work harder and harder to play them and still maintain a cohesive performance. Even the keyboard introduced on the tour with the release of the band's latest, Icky Thump, is less an addition of texture but another weapon that White can assault his audience, and, more importantly, himself, with. The result of this setting finally committed to disc is the most ragged release The White Stripes career since their self-titled debut.

As a result, the best tracks performed on Under Great White Northern Lights are the ones that were made around that time in the band's career. The best on Under Great is the band's performance of the Citizen Kane-quoting "The Union Forever", from White Blood Cells, where White sounds somewhere between exasperated and malicious as he hollers "You can't be loved / For there is no true love". For the song's coda, White screams those words with only a devious keyboard supporting him, and it's the most convincingly insane White's ever been. Similar sonic compatriots "Black Math" from Elephant and "Jolene" from The White Stripes are exhilaratingly naked performances.

Conversely, Under Great White Northern Lights is weakest when the band plays tracks from the album they are supporting in that tour, 2007's Icky Thump. Icky Thump, in its own right, is a classic on par with the best The White Stripes have released, but, in this setting, the performances constantly sound like they're missing some form of depth. "Icky Thump" is relatively salvaged, but deep cuts like "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpoor Blues" and "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" don't fare as well, as their inherently layered style is not represented well with just Jack and Meg trying their best to maintain their oxygen intake.

If you're more partial to the band's ragtag early career in the vein of their self-titled and White Blood Cells, you will inevitably love the bulk of Under Great White Northern Lights. White Stripes fans in general should also greatly enjoy this, but if you are interested in The Stripes and see this as a way of introducing yourself to them, I would avoid this. For however excellent Under Great White Northern Lights is, it is a starkly singular representation of a band that has gone through a lot more changes in its decade-long career than people give it credit for.


Peter Wolf - Midnight Souvenirs: B+

The most notable anecdotal example I have of my experience with this album is that I distinctly remember really enjoying this album when it first came out, but then completely forgetting most of the album's tracks within a few months. This is a little strange, because Midnight Souvenirs is not an inherently forgettable album in that all its tracks are uninteresting. The former J. Geils Band leader exhibits an admirable ear for hooks on his newest album, most notably in first track, "Trajedy". The album's Achilles tendon is simply that, once that last track fades out, I almost immediately forget what was notable about the album. If I listened to Midnight Souvenirs in the morning and you asked me about it that night I wouldn't be able to tell you much, even if you showed me the tracklist (except for "Trajedy", of course). I don't know why the album has this effect on me, especially because, when I remind myself of the album with multiple listens, I really do enjoy it. My recommendation is that, if you like The Rolling Stones and don't mind some Rolling Stone worship, get Midnight Souvenirs, especially "Trajedy". If you can't somehow relate to the album like me, no worry. There are plenty of other releases to appreciate.


Delorean - Subiza: B+

When you call your newest album Subiza, especially at the tail end of the sun-bleached electronica movement that started in the summer of 2009, you better have the goods to deliver a truly euphoric listening experience. Not only does Delorean succeed with their newest, they craft one of the best longplayers in the genre. From first single, "Real Love" to the literally orgasmic "Stay Close", the Spanish outfit make a pretty damn good case to dance your ass off, or, if you're ensconced in the dissipating chill of mid March, it will make you fantasize about how good things will get in a couple months. Subiza may be low on depth, but it is one of the few glo-fi albums of recent that could be heard a year from now. Besides, depth can be some serious baggage, sometimes.


Negură Bunget - Vîrstele pămîntului: C+

For about the first thirty seconds of Vîrstele pămîntului's first track, the album sounds promising. I could go into how those thirty seconds sound interesting, but I'm not going to, because all you need to know is that, from those thirty seconds on, Vîrstele pămîntului is just as frustrating as any rudderless throat-shredding metal album you're bound to encounter this or any other year. Vîrstele pămîntului should be wholly avoided. But those first thirty seconds sure sounded decent, didn't they?