January 22, 2008

CD Reviews for 1-23-08

Moment of ForeverWillie Nelson(LOST HIGHWAY)A journalist once made the observation that, over the years, Willie Nelson has had four wives but only one drummer. Truly, it is to Nelson’s credit as a bandleader that the core of his performing “family” has changed little over the last several decades. And accordingly, there is a certain consistency to Nelson’s artistic output.    The Red-Headed Stranger seldom strays from his primary palette of country, blues, jazz and Western swing. So, the difference between a good Nelson record and a bad one often has more to do with production and song selection (and maybe level of marijuana intake) than with actual musicianship.    While this collection may not be as gut-wrenching as Spirit (1996), or as inspired as Songbird (2006), Moment of Forever definitely has its moments of greatness. Here Nelson tastefully interprets the likes of Kristofferson, Dylan and Dave (Matthews) and even throws in a few quirky tunes of his own for good measure.    Much like Nelson himself, this is, overall, a warm and enjoyable disc. —Kevin M. WilsonIn the FutureBlack Mountain(JAGJAGUWAR)In the future, according to Black Mountain, apparently we live in a dirgey world filled with witches, warlocks, angels and demons. This is a world I wouldn’t mind visiting.The band’s story is an interesting one. Evolving from a now defunct artists’ collective called the Black Mountain Army, four of the group’s five members work for an organization called Insite that helps the homeless, drug-addicted and mentally ill in downtown Vancouver.Calling on obvious influences like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin (with some Rick Wakeman and Bauhaus thrown in), it feels like Black Mountain’s daily working conditions influence their often dark, heavy music. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit I feel a touch of pretension emanating from the songs, but there are some charming tracks like “Stay Free” and “Wild Wind.”To date, Black Mountain’s biggest claim to fame is that someone in Coldplay loves them. I’m sure they can eclipse this feat with In the Future. This is one prog-inspired funeral you may want to attend. —L. ParkWomen As LoversXiu Xiu(KILL ROCK STARS)Hot pepper — I have no friends in my new city. Oh, yeah? Well, if you insist on behaving like a method actor under all possible circumstances, you might not be the easiest person to become friends with.Eight years in, Jamie Stewart and his band (How many members this time? Does it matter?) confidently follow a thread of cohesiveness to place the give-and-take of alienation and politics in a serviceable locale among the mesh of ambient noise and melodic snatches.“Oh Friend No!” might be too sketchy to use as a good example, but the keys, horns and percussion make for some perfect loose pop. If only there weren’t so many swings over to the obvious (e.g., covering “Under Pressure”). Listeners have to work to align themselves to this band’s odd sonic headspace. Shouldn’t their effort be rewarded with more than just retreats into repetitious attitude and vocal gestures?Fortunately, the instrumentation keeps this set near a sweet edge: Witness how “Gayle Lynn” works better as a closer than the not-dissimilar “Videotape” from Radiohead’s latest. —T.E. LyonsHey Venus!Super Furry Animals(ROUGH TRADE)Artists morph from ambitious to hyper-ambitious and suddenly talk of “concept albums.” We roll our eyes.Or, maybe not, when Cardiff’s Super Furry Animals is involved. They did manage to cut an LP entirely in Welsh and not embarrass themselves.Hey Venus! was conceptualized as being a narrative about a woman’s journey from small-town claustrophobia to big-city grandeur. While the idea was scrapped during gestation, the cohesive, thematic aspects of your standard concept album are still present: Hey Venus! has the Furries’ kneeling pie-eyed before the pristine pop of the ’50s and ’60s.“Run-Away” evokes Phil Spector, right down to its teen-centric title. The whispery, feel-good “Show Your Hand” finds the group channeling the Turtles, while “Battersea Odyssey,” complete with its fuzz-tinged guitar and overextending background vocals, sounds like Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles. And on the LP’s apogee, “Carbon Dating,” Cian Ciaran conflates bittersweet with the offbeat in an homage to doo-wop.Eight albums down, the Furries remain dedicated to their blueprint for first-class pop: tight harmonies and melodies loosened up with oddball instrumentation (electric saz, dulcimer). —Rich FoleyMission ControlThe Whigs(ATO)Are you half of a two-piece rock band?Possible answers are: a) Of course. b) No. I’m lame. c) No. I do many other interesting and/or necessary things with my life. For the latter, I say, buddy, relax. Have a rock record. It’s good, and your girl will like it. With focused marketing, you might even hear it on that radio station you like, the one with those loud, car-dealer commercials that you don’t mind listening to. Parker Gispert sings exactly like a rock band singer should — like he’s here to make girls want to make sex with him. Song titles include “Like a Vibration,” “Hot Bed,” “Already Young,” “I Got Ideas” and “Need You Need You.” Can’t you smell his leather pants already?No politics, no religion, just … “Hey, what are you doing after the show?”It’s all there in his voice. I even thought it was the other guy singing on two songs, “I Never Want to Go Home” and “1,000 Wives,” but it turns out that was just him faking sensitivity like the Foo Fighters to get even more tail. Right on! File under: Dude, just let me rock, OK? —Peter BerkowitzRip It OffTimes New Viking(MATADOR)1993: A triumphant time. Our authentic rock star was Layne Staley, not that poseur Jon Bon Jovi; our president was Clinton, not that asshole Bush. While the popular kids hated Shannon Doherty, music nerds argued passionately about Kurt and Eddie, licensing your song to a car commercial meant career suicide, and nothing was hipper than burying your pop songs under a mountain of hiss, as if the tapes had fallen into a toilet 30 years before and just been rediscovered.Rip It Off (a title which should’ve been reconsidered) is an enjoyable (if more challenging than necessary in 2008) pop record. It owes a debt to Superchunk primus inter pares (mostly considering the chipmunk quality of the vocals, which is not to everyone’s taste). Otherwise, they are a fine band who probably sound fun live.While they’re working on their rip-offs, they might consider following the path of Pavement, a band that began making lo-fi rumbles and evolved into a mature, beloved band that will, undoubtedly, reunite in about four years and make millions. —Peter Berkowitz