September 11, 2007

CD Reviews 9-12

One Cell in the SeaA Fine Frenzy(VIRGIN)The rat-a-tat piano and drum rolls of Alison Sudol’s debut album echo Coldplay’s pop progression but never wallow in any one languid space. The emotional content of her lyrics are interesting and powerful, like on the standout “Whisper”: I’m down to a whisper/in a daydream on a hill/shut down to a whisper.    Understated lyrics increase the poignancy of many of her up-tempo, piano-driven songs. Sometimes the productions are too sweet, but they maintain their substance.    At certain moments, Sudol refuses to let herself venture too far out of the box. “Liar Liar” begins with an accordion then inexplicably drifts back to stock pop phrasing. That’s not a bad thing, just not as diverse as it could be. To straddle the line between Tori Amos and Kelly Clarkson creates a challenge, but one that will be fascinating to see as Sudol’s career progresses. Inventiveness can be tough to embrace but is applauded and appreciated. —Patrick MulloyEmerald CityJohn Vanderslice(BARSUK)I was first exposed to the magic that is John Vanderslice in 2004 when I heard “Pale Horse,” a reworking of a Percy Shelley poem, on Cellar Door. His utter lack of direction in producing Cellar Door was impressive. He treated listeners to something different from one song to the next, a feat some might call weak or erratic. I think it demonstrates his ability to excel in areas outside his comfort zone. A varied album causes the listener to pay closer attention, because it prevents apathy and boredom. Since then, his innovation and creativity have impressed me.     Emerald City is beautiful, sensitive, complete and retains his commitment to variety. At many points, it’s reminiscent of late-era Elliott Smith recordings (“The Parade”), at others, listeners hear Colin Meloy-esque sounds (“White Dove”). By selecting different influences and giving them all equal time, Vanderslice makes Emerald City infinitely listenable, especially for those with musical attention deficit disorder. —Kirsten SchofieldThe Stage NamesOkkervil River(JAGJAGUWAR)On the surface, The Stage Names doesn’t sound like an Okkervil River album. The simple mandolin, guitar and drum arrangements that made their first two albums so haunting and personal are buried beneath layered keyboards, horns and electric guitars. The effect is akin to a killer hangover in a desolate hotel room, only you can’t hate it, because it’s glorious, and it’s happening to Will Sheff’s myriad poets, prostitutes and rock ’n’ rollers, even if they sound a lot like you.    Sheff’s consistently wild, vivid imagery feels strangely well suited to the band’s upbeat, almost soulful rhythms. “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe” and “Unless It Kicks” bounce like something from the Stones or the Faces, while “John Allyn Smith Sails” combines the suicidal poet’s autobiography with a pop classic that would be a sin to spoil. It’s wrong to say The Stage Names is the kind of achievement one should expect from Okkervil River, because it’s different, and that only makes it more impressive. —Justin KeenanGoing Way OutHeavy Trash(YEP ROC)Heavy Trash, featuring blues plutocrats Jon Spencer and Matt Verta-Ray, is no wet blanket. Clearly they have developed an operational time-travel device, although I checked, and there’s no patent pending. It may be a late-era Soviet model. Either way, they brought part of atomic-age Jerry Lee Louis, Iggy Pop and his back-up vocals, and the Black Monks into the present to perform on Going Way Out. It made me want to dance, even while driving in the rain on bald tires, which suggests the record doesn’t inspire good judgment; then again, what good record does? It doesn’t make you want to do the Electric Slide, or grind on any thigh-like surfaces. It makes you want to do the Twist, or the Mashed Potato. Going Way Out makes me realize that we need to start asking the retiring and expiring Baby Boomers how to dance, before they all have new hips and can’t demonstrate the sublimated sexuality of their moves. Heavy Trash performs at Headliners (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088) Saturday. —Danny “Chicken Water” SlatonKaboom!The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker(OUTTA SIGHT)The name Charles Walker should ring a few bells for a select few. He was a moderately successful R&B singer in the ’60s and ’70s. He recorded a few sides for Chess and Decca, but met little success. London’s Northern Soul scene latched on to those same early sides and gave him the audience that eluded him in the states.    After several successful years in Europe, he returned to the states, settling in Nashville sometime in the ’90s, where he hooked up with The Dynamites.    Kaboom! is the band’s debut album, and it throws all kinds of heat from the very beginning. The band, led by guitarist/songwriter Leo Black, is tight, gritty, funky and professional — it provides the perfect support for a singer of Walker’s pedigree. If this doesn’t encourage parts of you to oscillate, then you are inert. —Michael Steiger