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May 29, 2007

CD Reviews

Favourite Worst Nightmare Arctic Monkeys (DOMINO)             Disappointment, thy name is second album. Elvis Costello once said that rock bands get 20 years to write their first album and six months to write their second, and boy, are the Arctic Monkeys the living embodiment of that theorem.             To call Favourite Worst Nightmare a letdown is a gross understatement. How can a band that made an album as electrifying as Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not turn around and grind out something this perfunctory and boring? For every halfway decent track like “Brainstorm” and “Teddy Picker,” there is, well, pretty much every other song on the CD. It’s amazing how quickly it runs out of steam. Better luck next time, boys. —Jay Ditzer   The Shredding Tears Bryan Scary (BLACK AND GREENE)             Bryan Scary was a remarkably ordinary man who worked at a remarkably ordinary job. During his down time, he used to doodle on the backs of files the way he did all through high school trigonometry.             On of these doodles depicted Andrew Bird, Queen and the Apples in Stereo teaming up to fight an improbably large octopus with machine guns in its tentacles and slanty eyebrows. The forces of good found themselves forced to combine their distinct, rich sounds in such a way that they lost the very things that made each of them great to begin with. Bird’s unconventional and often stark arrangements were drowned out by the Apples’ wall-of-sound approach to horns and percussion while Queen’s pianos and police-car-siren guitars made occasional, pointless appearances.             The combination of these myriad influences wasn’t necessarily bad, but it could not stop the Octopus of Mediocrity from consuming all three in the terminally unsatisfying final struggle. Scary titled his piece The Shredding Tears, but that doesn’t matter, because you should just buy The Mysterious Production of Eggs and Her Wallpaper Reverie, instead. —Justin Keenan   Silk Degrees Boz Scaggs (LEGACY)          Somewhere in the sweaty chest hair of the nadir of the ’70s, there was a most moist and sleazy sound where pop, disco and jazz met. My friend Savoir Faire used to call it “Jacuzzi Jazz.” I believe the kids today refer to it as “Yacht Rock.”          This movement provided a soundtrack for men and women who got together in hot tubs to drink wine coolers, inhale cocaine and have orgies.          Boz Scaggs hit his artistic peak — at which point, it must be noted, he still sucked — around 1976’s Silk Degrees, a flaccid mixture of Philly disco and Southern roadhouse rock.          A former member of the Steve Miller Band who’s presumably trying to sound like Otis Redding via Eddie Hinton, one can assume that this is a comedy record and not necessarily be wrong. It could’ve been worse — his name could’ve been Scoz Baggs. —Peter Berkowitz   Los Feliz Chuck Ragan (SIDEONEDUMMY)             This the first release for Chuck Ragan, formerly co-vocalist/guitarist of Hot Water Music, since leaving that band. Los Feliz is an indie take on blues- and bluegrass-influenced folk music, featuring Ragan’s wonderfully gruff voice, acoustic guitar, harmonica and fiddle. You get the sense that for Ragan this is, on a personal level, groundbreaking music, though perhaps not for the listener. So, it’s fitting that this is a live CD, because the songs it features, whether political or personal, are intimate and raw. Herein lies the problem: The songs often feel like something created by a newer hand at music than Ragan is. The layers that come with a full band, like HWM, and that might allow otherwise somewhat naïve or overly familiar lyrics to carry one away, instead stand out starkly here. You find yourself wanting the songs to be both catchier and more elegant, as well as more engaging in their ideas and imagery. But don’t be mistaken, Ragan is one worth keeping an eye on. —Adam Day   Beyond Dinosaur Jr. (FAT POSSUM)             A new Dinosaur Jr. record? Well, yes and no. Listening to their new release Beyond, you experience the band’s restoration rather than reinvention. No ground is broken on this album, and thank God for that. Dinosaur Jr. was fine the way it was — in all of its incarnations.             Having Lou and Murph on board again is a definite bonus, but Dinosaur’s appeal to most is the gritty voice and wailing guitar of J Mascis. Beyond gives you just that. The melodies make you feel like you could skip out on work and take off on that skateboard that used to drive your life: when Dinosaur Jr. was your soundtrack. Tracks like “Pick Me Up” and “We’re Not Alone” give you back that sense of confused beauty that was stolen by the numbing exhaustion of getting older. Once again, Dinosaur Jr. will remind you that you can feel bummed and still rock.             Beyond is the best Dinosaur record since Where You Been. Listen to it loud! —Dennis Sheridan