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

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hauschka - Salon des Amateurs: B+

It’s not a very fair comparison to make, but I cannot listen to Haushka’s newest album, Salon des Amateurs, without equating the German-born pianist to the Colin Stetson of ivory tickling. The man has been known in the seven years or so that he’s been making music as the guy who fusses with the piano and perverts its sound in ways that yield odd results. He then records the best of these contortions and, in this case, accompanies them with electronic instruments and brass. With all this in mind, listening to Salon des Amateurs gives me the impression that I am listening to a tame version of Colin Stetson’s apocalyptic bass saxophone farts; a little strange but rarely warranting of a double take.

However, with all this talk of distorting the piano, the sounds emitted from Hauschka’s, for the most part, sound pretty much like that of a piano. Sometimes it’s a little funky, sometimes a little muted, but there’s nothing particularly breathtaking about Salon des Amateurs in regard to Hauschka’s use of his instrument. In fact, what the album sounds most like is the iconic music that would go over B-roll of white-collar workers bustling through the streets of New York City in the Roaring 20’s. Salon des Amateurs is an excellent album to listen to on the drive to your job at a hedge fund or while you’re waiting in the lobby of a time machine transporting you to The Harlem Renaissance. In this regard, Salon des Amateurs invariably works best as background music, but it is fantastic background music at that. The album could make you a little lighter on your feet as it soundtracks your day, hardly the experimental hodgepodge that has characterized Hauscka’s earlier work.

So while Colin Stetson definitely has the upper hand in the ambition department, Hauschka is much better at crafting songs, writing pieces that come off as undoubtedly cohesive if a little boring as Salon des Amateurs comes to a close. Still, it’s fun to hear an artist be nostalgic for the post-retro. Salon des Amateurs may be unobtrusive by its nature, but it is a testament to Haushcka’s reliance on consistency over experimentation to make an album that does its job very, very well.


White Denim - D: B+

From the onset of their newest album, D, it is clear that Austin’s White Denim will always have to contend with the fact that they sound a lot like The Black Keys. Now, I would argue that D is actually better than The Black Keys’ most recent offering Brothers, but, for as long as lead singer James Patralli has an almost identical tone to that of Dan Auerbach, the two will always be compared to each other. And, because The Black Keys came first, they will probably always win creative supremacy.

But of course just because an artist came first does not mean that they are automatically better than similar bands that form down the road. The reason why I find D more enjoyable than Brothers is because, where the latter was more focused on fleshing out basic templates into well-executed song modules, the former features a great knack for instrumentation, which allows White Denim to expand musically into a more diverse pallet of sound. It cannot be understated how excellent of musicians White Denim are. While throughout D you will hear dexterous percussion and nimble bass, when the group opts for no vocals at all, comparisons to The Black Keys are rendered moot as the band comes into their own through the masterful pushes and pulls of some of the greatest jam bands of all time. It should be no surprise then that D’s best track is the instrumental, “At the Farm”, in which the rhythm section of bassist Steve Terebecki and drummer Joshua Block pull no punches, Block even embellishing with the rare drum solo that feels juuuuuuuuust right.

It may be more beneficial for the group to be solely instrumental. Although Patralli’s voice is competent, it is very difficult to overcome that daunting creativity shadow that looms over the group whenever he opens his mouth. Also, Patralli’s lyrics can be distracting at times, as on the annoying “Drugs”, which brings D down with its insipid take on its subject matter. Despite all this, the album is worth listening to for the group’s genuine talent at putting together a song. Its Achilles heel may be very exposed for criticism, but its quality gives me confidence that, with time, White Denim will be able to overcome it.