Capsule Reviews 11/11/09

Tegan and Sara "Sainthood"

Sire Records

Tegan and Sara—Sainthood

Tegan and Sara have always seemed somewhat convoluted, more of a producer’s concoction than legit songwriters. Still, they are undeniably charming, and some of their songs are undeniably catchy. With each of their albums, good ideas are presented, but the box is very small—especially with their last album, The Con, which seemed to take two chord progressions and spread them out over fourteen tracks. Still, that album has some of the duo’s better moments, and definitely plenty worth listening to. Sainthood is a similar story. The songs are still power pop-esque ditties about relationships that, at their best, boast killer vocal hooks, quirky lyrics, and unique rhythmic patterns. At their worst, they feel like an oil spot in a puddle, just sort of floating there. Critics have talked about how they are “Getting in touch with their inner Madonnas” and how it sounds dance-y like everything else, and it does. It’s not annoying, however. For instance, the dance-y factor T&S go for is pretty dialed down compared to what the Yeah Yeah Yeahs did on this year’s It’s Blitz!, and that record was pretty good. One perplexing aspect is Sainthood’s sequencing—the fact that the three best songs (“The Ocean”, “Sentimental Tune”, “Someday”) ended up buried at the end of the record is troubling. Aside from that, some moments just feel completely uninspired. It’s pretty lazy to steal the “Just Like Heaven” chord progression, invert it, and make a song out of it; and it certainly doesn’t excuse one from chiding if they happen to call the song “The Cure”.

Yo La Tengo "Popular Songs"

Matador Records

Yo La Tengo—Popular Songs

This album is a rare treat—a truly cohesive, thoughtfully assembled work that represents all the highlights of Yo La Tengo’s storied indie career. And no, it’s not a greatest hits package. The band’s 12th album is titled Popular Songs, however, perhaps to suggest this possibility. The 14 original songs on the record each seem to represent some era in Yo La Tengo’s musical evolution—the early, more energetic material in “Nothing To Hide”, the Inside-Out string hazes of “Here To Fall”, the psych Heart Beating grooves of “Periodically Double or Triple”, and the Summer Sun quietness of “I’m On My Way”. Also, seemingly to thumb their noses at anyone who has ever complained about their insistence to include sprawling epic closing tracks on all of their albums, Yo La Tengo closes Popular Songs with three of them. (Two of them, “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven” and “The Fireside”, rank way above most closing epics from past YLT albums.) But even with all of this variety, the focus is never lost. All the songs feel at home with each other, and the overall vibe is one of a nervous calm. The pale blue-green color of the album cover is the perfect hue to help visualize the effect of it—hints of happiness, sadness, softness, and the ability to shine and fade simultaneously.

KISS "Sonic Boom"

KISS Records

KISS—Sonic Boom

Why even bother reviewing this? Why would anyone put themselves through the ringer by listening to a band like KISS, who are pushing sixty? Believe it or not, it’s not all that bad. In fact, for a band that has released some of the worst albums in history (Hot In The Shade, Revenge, Carnival of Souls, AHHHHHH!), KISS sound damn near revitalized on Sonic Boom. Don’t get too excited, though—there are really only about four good songs here. The best come from Gene Simmons, who gives us an early highlight with “Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect)”. “Nobody’s perfect / Well, maybe I come awfully close” Simmons sings. It’s good to know he hasn’t lost that cocksure mentality even in his saggy, aging, bloated-on-a-toilet phase; it is, after all, what got him here in the first place. Paul Stanley’s songs are decent—both the album’s single, “Modern Day Delilah”, and the wordplay-happy “Danger Us” evoke a timid sense of rock and roll joy, though his songs for the most part are pretty derivative. That’s saying a lot compared to the contributions from drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer, however. For an example of how bad KISS can really be, look no further than the tepid, wanna-be anthems “All For The Glory” and “When Lightning Strikes”, songs that effortlessly and disturbingly summon imagery of thousands of bearded, unwashed bikers relentlessly pumping their fists in the air. But believe it or not, it does get worse—since KISS is selling Sonic Boom through Wal-Mart exclusively, the chain of course forced them to package in tons of bonus material. One little nugget that is included is something that should never have been produced for any discernable reason—a near double album’s worth of Kiss Klassiks, re-recorded by the new band. Why? Seriously, KISS—why would you want to re-record classics like “Deuce”, “Detroit Rock City”, or “Strutter” with a soulless, piece of shit drummer like Eric Singer? Sure, Peter Criss was a piece of shit drummer too, but at least he had soul. And whiskers.

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