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June 3, 2008

Music Reviews for June 4

Lie Down in the Light

Bonnie “Prince” Billy

(DRAG CITY)

<dirty genius>

If Billy had been around when he sounds like he was around — the late ’60s and early ’70s — today he would be even more rich, famous and legendary than Bob Dylan or Neil Young. He is even more prolific but more consistent. While he might not hit the highs of either of those grandfathers, the warmth and depth of his songs and his voice ensure that he will last many lifetimes. If he only had the promotional budget of a 3 Doors Down or a One Republic, he could probably be even more popular than Mariah Carey naked in Times Square just by singing us a song.

Clever is the man who hides odes to naughty sex under gentle, folksy melodies, but the man who once sang about “Your finger in my behind” has very 2 Live Crew-esque ideas embedded in “So Everyone.” Mostly, the man has many notions about family and friends, life and death, love and love, and I continue to be mystified by the non-bathing Bonnaroo-jammers who waste their time on Michael Franti or Jack Johnson when they could be enjoying some true beauty. —Peter Berkowitz


Weezer

Weezer

(DGC/INTERSCOPE)

<red alert>

After a series of less than stellar releases, Weezer returns to their own Pinkerton and “Blue Album” roots with yet another self-titled release. Once again Rick Rubin, who produced half the album, plays savior to an established artist whose past few efforts have been creatively scant.  

As always, with Rivers Cuomo, you have to be prepared for a little sarcasm and a little earnest; both used with expertise, as every song feels like a lighthearted scoff at the rock ’n’ roll cliché. I don’t want to be the guy who overanalyzes a band like Weezer, but that does seem to be a running theme throughout the record.

On Weezer, the band returns to what they do best: indifferent pop songs that reek gloriously of garage rock — and, honestly, every track is first-rate (ne’er a “Beverly Hills” to be found). “Heart Songs” might be Cuomo’s most heartfelt lyrics to date, as he writes about the songs that changed his life. His recollection of hearing Nirvana’s Nevermind adds perspective to the musical revolution that was the ’90s.

Thankfully, this feels like the witty, youthful Weezer of yore — the Weezer that those of us still nursing an alt-rock hangover remember so fondly. —Brent Owen


The Grand Hooded Phantom

Your Highness Electric

(LONGHAIR ILLUMINATI)

<sharp angles>

“Is nothing sacred here?” Yeah, leave it to Brandon Bondehagen to make the most of that in a lyric. A rhetorical anti-exaltation is, for him, the perfect opportunity to make a song chop both ways. Still recording with his buds Brad Magers and Bob Scott, the rechristened Christiansen finally issues its debut full-length.

L.A. is the home to their new label and, though they’ve not gone all SoCal-slick, their sound is less about cross-pollinating ideas than when they considered themselves a full-fledged Louisville band. Your Highness Electric’s narrower focus means that musical surprises will be smaller-scaled, but the songs in this set retain an excellent blend of smarts and snarkiness. Think post-Rush, toned-down Primus and, sometimes, Jack White — without the country-blues borrowed wardrobe.

Whether relatively straightforward (“Le Titout”) or bejeweled with surreal and shredded folkloric and spiritual references, the high-watt charges and sharp-veering riffs point to a modest adjustment to the trio’s previous, compelling sound. Bondehagen may shout, “My screaming is a primal cheer” as a reductive feint, but his band continues to be cheer-worthy. —T.E. Lyons


@#%&*! Smilers

Aimee Mann

(SUPEREGO)

<clever?>

Being the most clever person in the room is rarely fun.

As a music critic, it’s usually a fringe benefit, sure, but when you work with people who actually follow the news, like at LEO, you’re never the cleverest person in that room — and they never have any fun! Our current president has 99 problems, and being clever isn’t even one of them. Pity poor Aimee Mann, then, who always has to be the cleverest person in the room.

In the ’80s, she was too clever to be the enjoyable Cyndi Lauper or the wretched Edie Brickell. In the ’90s, she was too clever to be fun like Liz Phair or morbid like Lisa Germano. She had a pair of lively records in the ’90s, helped in no small part by collaborator Jon Brion, but Mann has run out of steam in the Bush era. Even the carnival-esque keyboard flourishes that help raise her music above that of Sarah MacLachlan’s can’t do enough to elevate her whines about the housewives of Orange County and other old-people problems. She’s turned into Margaret Dumont let loose in a West Hollywood recording studio.

If you’re still interested in the by-now all-too-predictable Aimee, go back to her ’90s records and relive her slightly more enjoyable peak. —Peter Berkowitz


S/T

Fleet Foxes

(SUB POP)

<folky poppy>

After releasing the Sun Giant EP and wowing critics at SXSW earlier this spring, Fleet Foxes are serving up more of their “baroque harmonic pop jams,” drawing comparisons to My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses.

But the band is a lot less pop than folk, and in an industry where many consider indie-folk past its peak, the sound that Fleet Foxes brings to the table is quite distinct and exciting. Though they hail from Seattle, after hearing their music, FF sounds more Deep South than Northwest. The opener, “Sun Rises,” puts their knack for intricate vocal harmonies at the forefront, while tracks like “Quiet Houses” exhibit their catchy folk melodies.

All in all, Fleet Foxes have cultivated a strong, unique sound with their first LP, and they’ve already found a place in the hearts of indie-rock and folk fans alike. —Aaron Frank


Sleep More, Take More Drugs, Do Whatever We Want

Half Light

(SELF-RELEASED) 

<downbeat>

These are down-tempo, electric lullabies for adults who don’t necessarily want to sleep. Besides, dreaming is a much, much more likely side effect of the debut from Seattle’s shoegazing six-piece. Trippy also comes to mind. 

The songs specialize in spaciousness. Singer Dayna Loeffler’s candy-coated vocals move over, under and through mounds of distortion, strolling rhythms, twinkling guitars and expansive, moody soundscapes that appear, disappear and reappear throughout. If this sounds like a sonic cousin to Mazzy Star, it is. But it’s a distant cousin. Whereas Mazzy was dark and lethargic, Half Light has more hope, more electronics and definitely more propulsion under the hood, not to mention psychedelics, beginning in the sticky tune “Affected.”

But it’s not all pensive ruminations. Take “Feel,” for instance: This pop-leaning confection sheds the prevailing dark winds for two minutes of carefree sunshine, underlined by a buoyant bass line and a full-bodied chorus that repeats “You want to feel.” Whether that is a question or a command remains to be seen, but at eight minutes into the album, whoever is listening is certainly feeling something. —Shawn Telford