Capsule Reviews 5/12/09

 

101 Distribution Records

101 Distribution Records

The Boy Least Likely To—The Law of the Playground

There is an instantly likeable quality to this record—the songs have a nursery-rhyme-style innocence to them that anyone who is still kind of a kid at heart could relate with. Unfortunately, there is also a formula to these songs that is so simple in nature it makes some of them indistinguishable from each other. And some of the lyrics, quite frankly, are bush league caliber. (“When Life Gives Me Lemons I Make Lemonade”? Hasn’t that officially become an overused cliché?) Still, when the songwriting and the great, bouncy melodies are on the same page, it can be a fun listen.

 

 

Bob Mould—Life and Times
This album has been marketed as “Bob Mould’s return to guitar rock”, and boy what a crock that is
Anti- Records

Anti- Records

—not for the reasons you would think, however. It’s not a crock because “Life and Times” does not contain guitar rock—it does. It’s a crock because the enigmatic ex-Husker Du guru has actually been making pretty decent guitar rock since his 2005 release, “Body of Song”. Granted, that album and 2008’s “District Line” were more like rock/techno hybrids, but they both had a few good songs. “Life and Times” contains no techno, but it has an abnormal amount of slower songs for an album marketed as it has been. In fact, the album’s best song (“I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand In My Light Any More”) seems like the lovechild of an 80’s power ballad and a hit single by the country rock group Lone Star. Overall, “Life and Times” does present some good Mould moments, but he doesn’t seem all that invested in what he is doing, as has been the case for the last decade or so. Actual magic is sparse.

 

Phoenix—Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Glass Note Records

Glass Note Records

In the past, it has been easy to make fun of Phoenix, thanks to their dance-y, synth-pop aesthetic…and it never really helped that they are French, either. But with their fourth full-length, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”, the band proves the joke is on us. From beginning to end on this glorious album, Phoenix unapologetically kicks out the jams their way. With the pummeling grooves of “Lasso”, the mesmerizing guitar patterns in “Rome”, and even the more experimental and mostly instrumental “Love Like A Sunset”, the album is a culmination of the best aspects of Phoenix’s past work, and the first real proof of their growth as artists.

 

Bill Callahan—Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle   

Drag City Records

Drag City Records

I have tried listening to Smog many times over the years but have never developed an interest, so I wasn’t expecting to like this album at all. Maybe that has something to do with why I like it so much—the fact that I went in with absolutely no expectations. Callahan sings in an extremely low baritone, which I have taken issue with in the past. But on these songs, his voice makes more sense to me than it ever has. Perhaps the lush arrangements of the songs and the overall dead-on melancholy feel that permeates the record work to compliment his brooding tone. Callahan’s output as Smog has been more to the lo-fi slant, while “Eagle” is warm and wonderfully produced—that could be why I dig it. I don’t know. I just know that when this record starts, it’s difficult to turn off. The songs for the most part are simple and slow, but become more meaningful to me with each listen—not just on a personal level, but a sonic, record-making level as well. There are so many subtleties in the recordings, so many things that don’t pop out until after many listens. When an album does that, I believe it is a clear product of the large amount of love that was put in. That’s the sort of thing I like to hear.
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