Hold Steady Lite

The Hold Steady have been described as America’s the greatest bar band. With lead singer, Craig Finn’s, penchant for choruses Springsteen-esque both in their sweeping appeal, and Finn’s gruff intonation. With an amazingly consistent track record of creating excellent meat and potatoes rock it’s hard to argue against this distinction.

However, as surely as the King of Beers has it’s lite counter part, so too do The Hold Steady have a similarly flavored albeit watered down counterpart. Cheap Girls are Hold Steady Lite.

The similarities are striking. Crunchy guitar riffs and tales of drunken, possibly unrequited emotion delivered in a flat, but emotive midwestern dialect. Whereas The Hold Steady deal in pseudo concept albums and tell seemingly personal tales drawn from the experiences of following cool music, Cheap Girls spin cautiously optimistic yarns about dysfunctional relationships with a sardonic edge. Both bands know their way around a shout-along chorus, but you won’t burn any calories getting through a Cheap Girls song.

If you’re predisposed toward finding merit in every little guitar-band-that-could I reall recommend diving into the works of Cheap Girls. My personal favorite is 2012’s Giant Orange.

Second impressions of Earth

When The Strokes’ third full-length album, First Impressions of Earth was  released in 2006 it received mixed reviews and garnered international commercial indifference.

First Impressions of Earth was considered a step backward from The Strokes’ well-received sophomore effort, Room on Fire, and it was particularly brutalized anytime it was compared to the beloved Is This It.

The album was considered too long, too disjointed and the tales of the laborious recording sessions that produced it are well documented . Also, First Impressions did not sound like what an album by The Strokes was expected to sound like.

In an interview with Pitchfork Gordon Raphael, said he thinks the sound change was the result of a change in producers and a desire to monetize.

“I believe they saw all the bands that came in the door behind the first record that were selling three times more than them and were wondering if it was a production thing,” says Raphael. “At the time, they were getting married and having children and wondering how they could go higher than they did.”

The Strokes attempted a two producer approach, but David Kahne, who has produced albums for Tony Bennet, Sublime and Sugar Ray, would ultimately handle the brunt of the producing duties.

With Kahne’s production First Impressions of Earth sounds slicker and slightly heavier than any entry to The Strokes’ body of work so far.

First Impresions of Earth is by most of the band’s admission an overgrown jumble, but even a casual reveals at least a handful of good songs and a few excellent songs.

The opening four tracks of the album oscillate between some of the most joyous pop-rock The Strokes have made and the hardest rock The Strokes ever experimented with.

You Only Live Once, Juice Box, Heart in a Cage and Razorblade are all enjoyable listens.

It takes until First Impression of Earth‘s fifth track for the album to truly misfire.

The ska aping, midtempo number On the Other Side just does not have much juice. Casablancas’ drunken boredom becomes contagious, and it’s difficult to make it through the four-and-a-half-minute song.

Luckily, the album’s next song is a respite.

Vision of Division is a cleaned up take on the sound The Strokes had mined successfully in their previous two albums. The song coils, building tension and releases it expertly, and Albert Hammond Jr’s guitar sounds furious when its given free reign.

Unfortunately, there is another third of the album until the next truly worthwhile song, but it’s a doozy.

Ize of the World might just be the best song on First Impressions.

 Ize moves at a brisk pace, and is anomalous in feeling much shorter than its actual running time. The song is basically build around the lyrical conceit that verbs ending in “-ize”– an egg to fertilize, a pulse to stabilize, a body to deodorize, etc. It’s tongue-in cheek, musically interesting and features a bizarre, abrupt ending. Ize of the World is the most successful experiment on this album by far, and it would have served as an excellent closing song.

However, First Impressions still has two more inessential songs to go. Evening Sun and Red Light aren’t offensively bad, but they aren’t wonderful either. They’re symptomatic of the perplexing inclusion of entirely too much filler, which kept First Impressions from being the third unimpeachable entry into The Strokes cannon.

Despite the album’s flaws, it hits on almost half of the songs on the album, and it isn’t hard to see how if First Impressions of Earth would have been greatly improved if it had been pared down.

It is still absolutely worth a listen, but after the first run through it’s probably best to stick to the seven or so songs that you actually like.

 

 

If it Saint Baroque Don’t Fix It: Annie Clark’s latest complex pop offering rocks

Annie Clark, best known by her performing moniker St. Vincent, has always displayed impressive rock’n’roll chops for someone who primarily trades in dreamy, baroque pop, but the opening one-two punch on her new self-titled album ramps things up considerably.

Album opener “Rattle Snake” and  the proceeding track”Birth in Reverse” both vibrate with an electric energy entirely befitting Clark’s  recent switch to shock-white hair.

“St. Vincent” then moves on to spacier territory, which will be familiar and pleasant for fan’s of 2011’s superb “Strange Mercy”.

The strange, tuneful art-pop on this album will make her collaborator David Byrne proud.

Genre bending also abounds throughout “St. Vincent”. “Bring Me Your Loves” flirts with an industrial sound, “Digital Witness” is a brassy dance song with hints of Prince-like funk and closer “Severed Cross Fingers” is a fairly straightforward ballad.

The humor and genuine feeling present in this album provides warmth to the angular music on this album, and a pulsing energy gives this excellent album a sense of momentum, even if it never quite tops its opening rush.

JEFF the Brotherhood- “Hey Friend”

The opening track from Tennessee sludge-rockers JEFF the Brotherhood’s album “We Are the Champions”  opens with a stuttering air horn blast that would not be out of place kicking off a Drake single.

It is quickly followed by lurching muddy, guitar before shifting gears toward a much sparser sound.

The song is an interesting expression of lust and jealousy for the different members of a friend’s family.

Some examples include: “I’ve been thinking about your mom/ You can tell me if it’s really wrong”, “I’ve been thinking about your sister/You can tell me if I shouldn’t kiss her” and “I’ve been thinking about your dad/ You can tell me if it’s really bad.”

If you’re looking for a genuine laugh, some genre subversion and some great guitar work “Hey Friend” is a solid choice.

 

 

Spider Bags- “Quatzalcoatl Love Song”

Winged serpent gods typically do not get a lot of name checks in scuzzy garage rock love songs, but Spider Bags eschew the typical in an awesome fashion.

From the opening lyrics, “When I’m walking on the sidewalk, and I’m chewing lorazepam,” are accompanied by a slinky bass line this song’s charms are pretty evident.Eventually, everything builds to a soaring, accordion backed chorus, and it’s time to hit replay.

Dead Gaze- “Yuppies Are Flowers”

The first song off of Dead Gaze’s recent  and pretty good album “Brain Holiday”  previews all the best tricks in the band’s arsenal. The tight, tuneful song structure and decidedly outsider view point recall vintage Weezer in the best possible way.

A power pop song with lyrics that gleefully subvert yuppie culture might not be the most novel concept, but Dead Gaze execute it to perfection. An ear worm synthesizer hook is offset by crunchy guitars, completely sincere hand claps help keep time and the vocals have just the right amount of  whine. create a slice of guitar-driven pop heaven.

For fans of power pop this is a song that demands to be put on repeat.

A deep cut from Wilco

Before they were the American Radiohead or supposedly Dad Rock cliches Wilco were an alternative country band. Their debut album “A.M.” even allowed Wilco the opportunity to dip their toes into the waters of the Bluegrass swimmin’ hole.

The track is all frolicking strings and wistful lyrics. Although Jeff Tweedy never tries any high, lonesome pining, and instead opts for a modern take on the fatal maladies affecting a modern relationship “That’s Not the Issue” is an unmistakably Bluegrass-inspired song. 

It’s also one of the highlights of an important band’s first album.

Plastic Ono Band- “Well Well Well”

John Lennon is remembered by many as the peace-loving auteur of songs which championed love and social progress. Similar sentiments can be found in his solo-debut “John Lennon/ Plastic Ono Band,” released under the Plastic Ono Band monicker, but they are also accompanied by hard-charging, Rock’n’Roll. “Well Well Well” starts with a Spartan arrangement of swaggering guitar, booming kick drum and vocals that would not be out of place  in a White Stripes song. The song then saunters on to speedier guitar licks and the sort of throat-shredding screaming which provides all the proof necessary for the catharsis Lennon found in primal therapy before returning to the chords that opened the track.”Well Well Well” is an awesome albeit atypical John Lennon solo-track.

Surfer Blood- “Pythons”

Surfer Blood have finally released their sophomore full-length effort . The new album, “Pythons”, is the band’s first album released on a major label, and their first new material since 2011’s “Tarot Classics”.

The new album is exactly the hook-laden, excellently crafted, collection of pop-rock anyone familiar with the band would expect. Guitar riffs still swell and surge in interesting eddies, and the lyrical motifs of choice still include the less pleasant aspects of love, ennui and celestial bodies, but there are some changes to the band’s sound. The reverb that was a prominent feature on Surfer Blood’s debut, “Astro Coast” is mostly gone. This allows for occasional hard-charging, polished guitar charges. It also adds emphasis to lead singer, John Paul Pitts, which only lets this catchy collection further entrench itself into the listener’s head. Although, uses of reverberation may be few and far between on this album there is still an obscuring factor looming over “Pythons”.

Pitts was arrested for domestic battery March 31, 2012. Ultimately, charges were dropped, but it would seem that Pitts was definitely at fault for finding himself in such an awful position. Pitts admits it was an unhealthy relationship, but maintains that he did not hit anyone or act out of malice. It is hard to separate “Pythons” from what seems to be an all-around nasty situation. Especially, when the song “Squeezing Blood” contains the lyrics, “Damning allegations have come to light,” and “All the world fell silent when I read the verdict.” Pitts has said that these lyrics are coincidental, but no matter what it certainly doesn’t stop the specter of his arrest from hanging over the album.

While it is surrounded with unfortunate controversy “Pythons” is a smart, enjoyable pop-rock album with plenty of hooks and an atmosphere perfect for its June release. Whether the album is palatable considering the personal conduct of Pitts is up to the individual listener.