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Passion Pit

Manners

(Columbia/Frenchkiss)

Review [27.May.2009]

40



Passion Pit
Manners



“Everything’s easy when you never have to choose” sings Michael Angelakos in “Fold in Your Hands”, a theme that resonates throughout Manners, with its heady mixture of falsetto pop vocals, dancefloor basslines and euphoric, strobe-lit energy. Wearing intentions on their sleeve, Passion Pit weave a musical patchwork, which distills a decade of influences into an album of elegiac indie pop. A less assured band might fail to walk such a precarious tightrope over an ocean of cynicism, but Manners confidently exists within its own insular musicality. So, by the time a children’s choir arrives on “Let Your Love Grow Tall”, you cannot help but be swept away by the experience, which succeeds where others might fall into saccharine annoyance. Manners brims with electro–tinged paeans to love, longing and an intangible feeling of youth, when anything might be possible, and for Passion Pit, it just might. Tom Fenwick


 

 



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Warsaw Village Band

Infinity

(Barbès)

Review [8.Apr.2009]

39



Warsaw Village Band
Infinity



Infinity is a beautiful, complicated, fast-moving, and intelligent album. On its own it’s enough to justify the burst of attention this Polish group received from the English-speaking world in 2004 when it won the BBC Radio 3 World Music Award for Best Newcomer. Why didn’t the burst continue? The musicians’ playing is enviable, their capacity for invention, ditto. In this album, their fifth, they bounce a deep Afro-Americana off the higher, fleeter sound of an East European vernacular, a concentrated dark star of opposing forces. The two deep-rooted musics are “different taste[s] from the same dish,” one of them suggests. The Polish women’s singing yips like a Balkan choir, the Afro-Americana rolls and boils, grounding the quick voices with ballast. Cello strings drawl and shiver. Risks are overcome with flourishes. This is how you formalize and repossess traditional music without taming it. Deanne Sole


 

 



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Yo La Tengo

Popular Songs

(Matador)

Review [8.Sep.2009]

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Yo La Tengo
Popular Songs



Only in rock ‘n’ roll is consistency so damning. But OK, we’ll go with it, and add in the observation that Yo La Tengo has been together for 25 years (in their current line-up since 1992). They’ve been around as long as Bon freakin’ Jovi. So why the hell are we still paying attention? I freely admit I haven’t always been entirely convinced by their output in the past. They have an annoying tendency towards utter tastefulness which—gonzo garage rock covers records aside—has the unfortunate side effect of rendering them positively somnolent in high doses. But they’ve got the balance right, here: Popular Songs rocks, it sways, it drones and sighs in just the right measure. Twenty-five years on and they’ve absolutely mastered the rock ‘n’ roll longplayer. How many acts hit their stride 25 years into a career? Well, there’s Neil Young, there’s… OK, you got me. It’s these guys and Neil Young for the career derby (Bob Dylan’s entry was rejected as incomplete after it was discovered that he mysteriously neglected to record any good music during the ‘80s). Is it their best? That’s one for the trainspotters to decide. When you’re this good for this long, that’s kind of academic, yes? Gimme another 25 just like this, thanks. Tim O’Neil


 

 



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Baroness

Blue Record

(Relapse)

Review [15.Oct.2009]

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Baroness
Blue Record



All eyes of the metal world were on Baroness to see whether or not they’d be able to come through with a worthy follow-up to 2007’s highly acclaimed Red Album. Interestingly, what listeners got wasn’t a huge stylistic stretch from Red. Far from the kind of audacious curveballs that Mastodon continually throws our way, Blue Record faithfully stayed the course, but the gigantic difference between the two companion pieces is that the new one is much more well-rounded, more musically rich, more refined. The big, riff-oriented gallopers are still there, as “A Horse Called Golgotha”, “The Sweetest Curse”, and “The Gnashing” attest, but the more diverse tunes are what tie the entire album together, not to mention help attract curious listeners who don’t ordinarily listen to heavy music, such as “Jake Leg”, “O’er Hell and Hide”“, and the terrific one-two punch of the Moody Blues-esque “Steel That Sleeps the Eye” and Fugazi tones of “Swollen and Halo”. Adrien Begrand


 

 



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Jarvis Cocker

Further Complications

(Rough Trade)

Review [12.May.2009]

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Jarvis Cocker
Further Complications



Some men enter middle age gracefully and purposefully, while others have crises that end in divorce and malaise. At age 46, former Pulp ringleader Jarvis Cocker has seen both sides. Following the warm and mature 2006 solo debut Jarvis, Cocker enlisted producer Steve Albini and headed to the workshop with his band to craft a rougher and more stripped-down sound. The itchy and perverse Further Complications is the end result of that effort. Subverting his role as Britpop elder statesman, Cocker gets back to shades he hasn’t explored since the depraved urban glamour of Pulp’s This Is Hardcore. He pairs his usual witty one-liners with Albini’s no-nonsense approach to recording, creating an atmosphere of gritty sexuality. Cocker pens some of his strongest songs in the reflective “Leftovers”, the pounding “Fuckingsong”, and the biting title track which has him asking, “If your parents didn’t screw you up / why not do it yourself?” Consistently engrossing, Further Complications begs the question: when you’re having this much fun, who needs a reunion? Cyrus Fard


 

 



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Japandroids

Post-Nothing

(Polyvinyl)

Review [2.Jun.2009]

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Japandroids
Post-Nothing



The formula is simple: one guitar, one set of drums and two vocalizers. This was the summer of Japandroids, and as esoteric, bloated and self-important indie rock swelled around me (I’m looking at you Animal Collective), I fell in love with these two guys from Canada, carrying the flag for sex, drugs and rock and roll. Post Nothing is eight tracks of sweat, adolescent garage riffs and infectious pop melodies, and anyone with a pulse is invited to join the party. Japandroids sing about sunshine girls and French kissing French girls before last call, with the immediacy of Hüsker Dü and the reckless spirit of the Stooges. As the ball drops on 2010, I hope that somewhere, in some garage or leaky basement, kids will take note that sometimes less is more, to stop worrying and just have fun. “I don’t wanna worry bout dying / I just wanna worry bout those sunshine girls.” You’re goddamn right. Drew Fortune


 
 

 



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Dinosaur Jr.

Farm

(Jagjaguar)

Review [22.Jun.2009]

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Dinosaur Jr.
Farm



While many of this year’s indie heroes (viz. Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective) gathered their kudos by finding beauty in obvious places like vocal harmonies and atmospherics, the indie vets of Dinosaur Jr. continued their successful post-reunion comeback with Farm, a record that reminded listeners that there’s still plenty of beauty in a wall of Marshall stacks and a pair of ratty Chuck Taylors. On Farm, guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph put their two primary strengths—sheer volume and a near-paralytic capacity for introspection—on full display. Whether it’s the meaty, beaty one-two opening punch of “Pieces” and “I Want You to Know”, the are-you-sure-it’s-not-1991? single “Over It” or the epic, swirling, eight-minute masterpiece “I Don’t Want to Go There”, the trio prove that, over the course of their 20-plus-year career, they’ve mastered the art of picking at emotional wounds until they bleed, then cauterizing them with sheets of guitar noise. Maybe it’s not the indie scene’s go-to mode of catharsis it once was, but, hey, it’s a lot more fun to air guitar to than, say, Veckatimest. To that end, Farm‘s biggest contribution to 2009, here in the twilight of the guitar-god era, is to remind us that the phrase “indie rock” used to equally stress both words. Stephen Haag


 

 



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Khaled

Liberté

(Wrasse)

Review [11.Oct.2009]

33



Khaled
Liberté



Liberté, the first studio album for five years from Khaled, Algeria’s “king of raï”, was a masterpiece of retrospection and innovation. Khaled chose to revisit some songs he had originally recorded in the ‘80s, teaming up once more with Martin Meissonnier, his first producer. The pair, together with a cast of highly skilled musicians, brought to the album a range of acoustic and electric instrumentation, live performance and studio precision. Standout tracks included “Raikoum”, a remake of an early hit, which mixed accordion, brass, and backing vocals in what could only be described as ecstatic, life-affirming soul music. Elsewhere, on “Gnaoui”, desert blues tonalities took pride of place, while on “Rabbi”, Egyptian-style strings added appropriate drama. Most evocative of all was Khaled’s voice, one of the great sounds of world music, heard to intensely moving effect here on the eight-minute “Zabana”. With Liberté, Khaled claimed a freedom from musical straightjackets and from the endless debates which have hounded raï vis-à-vis its relationship with tradition. In doing so, he produced some of the finest music of his career. Richard Elliott



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Akron/Family

Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free

(Dead Oceans)

32



Akron/Family
Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free



You’d think that after the departure of key player Ryan Vanderhoof, the three remaining members of Akron/Family would take some time off and possibly retool their sound, instead of switching record labels and releasing one of the strongest albums of their already-stellar career. While Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free doesn’t deviate much from the traditional AkAk sound—intense group singalongs, spiraling guitar crescendos, off-kilter metaphors, and piano breakdowns are still the band’s bread and butter—the group has rarely sounded so rambunctious. From the noise-squall of “MBF” to the horn-assisted majesty of the single “River” to the keyboard-laced faux-dub “Many Ghosts”, this is, in many ways, the single best distillation of the Akron/Family sound: a record that bowls you over right from the get-go and then reveals new layers and subtleties with each subsequent listen. Freakouts have rarely sounded so good. Evan Sawdey


 

 



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Pearl Jam

Backspacer

(Monkeywrench)

Review [17.Sep.2009]

31



Pearl Jam
Backspacer



Coming on the heels of their wonderful self-titled eighth album, Backspacer further emphasizes Pearl Jam’s growth and relevance as a band as they end their relationship with their major label and offer up their first self-release. Backspacer reteams the band with producer Brendan O’Brien and their partnership makes for one of the band’s leanest and most energetic releases. Although the album has more of a pop influence than their previous releases, it kicks off with three rockers that showcase the band at what they do best. “Gonna See My Friend”, “Got Some”, and “The Fixer” are fast and immediate and speak to the band’s renewed sense of focus. “Just Breathe” has moments that are reminiscent of Vedder’s recent work on the Into the Wild soundtrack, but its chorus reveals a hopefulness that leads to one of the loveliest songs the band has recorded. “Unthought Known” and “Speed of Sound” both utilize a rare piano that adds a freshness to the songs that still feels very true to the band and their sound. Plus, the use of backing and double-tracked vocals adds another layer to the production that fills out the album. “The End”, the album’s appropriately titled closer, is one of those quiet gems that Pearl Jam has been doing so well for years. Backspacer, clocking in at just over 35-minutes, stands as one of Pearl Jam’s most satisfying releases and a great signal of what to expect from a group that continues to put out music this relevant and honest after almost 20 years together. Jessica Suarez


 
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