May 20, 2008

CD Reviews for 5-21

Songs From Sammy LouisShake Anderson(TSM)Shake Anderson’s comforting, rootsy mix of soul, R&B and blues is somewhat reminiscent of John Hiatt’s most accessible and recognized work. Anderson makes the kind of music that, whether you fall in love with it or not, is simply impossible to hate. The mix of the warm instrumentation and the uplifting, affirming lyrics create a security blanket of song, and once you’re inside, it’s hard to find any reason to leave.This is the kind of music that your dad listens to, and, when you’re not around your hip friends, you admit you have something of a soft spot for it, too. His time touring and recording with industry greats like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder has served him well. Anderson’s Stories From Sammy Louis contains a smooth blend of R&B and gospel that makes a comfort stew that the whole family can enjoy. —Anthony BowmanEl ReyThe Wedding Present(VIBRANT)Long one of the most underappreciated bands of the post-punk and indie rock eras, The Wedding Present continues to give us delightfully good records full of wonderful songs, and most of you unfortunate friends and neighbors will never get to hear them. I wish I could make mix CDs for all of you, really, I do, but I just can’t. Can you please just listen to me this one time? I promise they’re not weird or anything. They’re just English and, at this point, middle-aged.Essentially, though, this is pop music, played with guitars and a bass and drums. OK, the guy singing (David Gedge) isn’t the “best” singer, in the Nat King Cole sense of the word ... man, do we have to go through this every time?His lyrics are very clever and interesting little stories, like a modern day Ray Davies of the Kinks. For you younger hipsters, I hate to play the Albini card, but he recorded this disc, as he has recorded other WP discs before — he’s a fan, as was Cobain. The music pops and rocks, like the Buzzcocks, but with more texture and maturity.They just never got enough promotion — here’s a little bit. —Peter BerkowitzTwelve Angry MonthsLocal H(SHOUT! FACTORY)Featuring the jackhammer power of drummer Brian St. Clair and the clever, concise riffing of plankspanker Scott Lucas, the band is a model of efficiency. Lucas plays guitar and bass simultaneously via modified guitars while St. Clair beats the shit out of his kit. Obviously, there are thousands of acts that can make a healthy racket; what elevates Local H is their keen melodic sense — the riffs are gnarly and the vocals are gruff, but there are always well-crafted tunes underneath.Chronicling the messy demise of a long-term relationship, Local H’s latest effort can be vitriolic and downright spiteful in places, but ultimately it is an uplifting, cathartic listening experience. Remember, the opposite of love is not hate; it's indifference. The disc begins with “The One With ‘Kid,’” a “Give me my records back, you bitch,” mission statement before slamming into the sugar rush of “Michelle (Again),” the Cheap Trick-channeling “BMW Man,” the darkly hostile “White Belt Boys” and so on. So yeah, lots of anger here, but it’s leavened with plenty of grimly sardonic humor, and when Lucas drops his guard in tracks like “Simple Pleas” and “Hand to Mouth,” the naked emotion on display is damn near poignant.Too bad Lucas’ girlfriend split and all, but he got a great album out of it. —Jay DitzerRe-Arrange UsMates of State(BARSUK)The sounds of Kori Gardner’s voice in lead track “Get Better” instantly conjure memories of ABBA, but don’t let genre identification cease there. It wouldn’t be fair. To you or to them. And the absence of any instruments other than an organ and drums isn’t even noticed as an absence unless forcibly noted. To say the duo fills the room would be a gross understatement. “Now” begins with Gardner claiming she’s been waiting for a sign to tell her where she belongs. She must be teasing. She knows exactly. Title-ish track “The Re-Arranger” is obvious everyday tales of life with Jason Hammel, her music and life partner and the intertwined existence. “Blue and Gold Print” takes the album’s turn in its energy but retains consistency regarding honest communication of themselves, their lives and their love. Overall, the theme of the album is bright and alive, bouncy, poppy and quirky. Whichever direction each song may take, the symmetry, harmony, balance and proportion overall stream as one. And it appears to maintain consistency of albums past in that they share with the listener current stories and conditions of their world that, wisely chosen, are best expressed through music. Good stuff. —Michelle MankerAnywhere I Lay My HeadScarlett Johansson(ATCO/RHINO)Oh, Scarlett. Anyone covering a bunch of Tom Waits songs is asking to be mocked — wait, I haven't mocked yet — but darlin’, you’re not even a singer! And I don’t even mean that it’s not your day job ... I mean that if you weren’t famous and generally respected already, you wouldn’t be asked to sing unless it was part of a “Happy Birthday” sing-a-long! (OK, now I’m mocking).The good news is, the band is beyond fine. TV on the Radio multi-tasker Dave Sitek has assembled a core band of Hipsterberg types, members of Celebration, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and his band, who easily shuffle between Louisiana fog and New Order nightclub, often in the same song. Only one, “Green Grass,” falls into the trap of sounding too Waits-ian. Johansson’s voice isn’t awful and has a pleasant, young Linda Thompson affect to it. Her lack of maturity helps her bring something old man Tom can no longer bring to “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” — a literalness that the song never had before. —Peter BerkowitzThe SlipNine Inch Nails (SELF-RELEASED)    Trent Reznor has crafted an, at times, hard-hitting yet deftly melodic effort in his fourth full-length Nine Inch Nails record in three years.     What’s probably most newsworthy about this album is that it’s A) being released as a DRM-free download via their website, and B) like Year Zero and Ghosts I-IV, the multi-track files are available for people who want to create their own remixes.    Using noted studio drummer Josh Freese along with Robin Finck and keyboardist Alessandro Cortini (all are listed as co-performers), The Slip mixes hypnotic tracks like “The Four of Us are Dying,” with heavier disjointed fare (“Letting You”). There are also some popish offerings (“Discipline”) as well as the sweetly soft “Lights in the Sky.” Reznor’s knack for sequencing takes us on a full-fledged emotional journey.    It’s always interesting to see artists like Nine Inch Nails, who along with bands like The Cure, have captured their genres and made them their own. Times and trends may change, yet somehow they manage to keep their sounds fresh while retaining a signature feeling that’s almost ... comforting. —L. Park