Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
Music

20 - 11

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
 



cover art

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

(Slumberland)

Review [3.Feb.2009]

20



The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart



What makes the self-titled debut from the Pains of Being Pure at Heart so exceptional is, paradoxically, that it sounds so much like albums by so many other bands. On this album, the Pains take threads from a dozen or more indie rock predecessors, including the Cure, Rocketship, Heavenly, and Superchunk, and expertly weave them into a flower-print sundress of early indie nostalgia (match with black leggings and Doc Martin’s for maximum effect) that proved to be one of 2009’s most enjoyable releases. It’s territory that isn’t mined often enough by indie bands, and it’s hard to know why, when you hear the all the joy, disaffection, and goofy enthusiasm the Pains pack into every song. The album has more than its share of instant classics, tracks that come down from the Platonic Heaven of teenagerdom on cascading synth lines and clouds of echoing guitars; “A Teenager in Love” and “Young Adult Friction”, in particular. The former is a Cure-aping strum-and-shimmy about teenage obsession powered by a relentless snare and a keyboard line as delicate as a crystal chandelier. The latter, with boy-girl vocals and a beat the doesn’t ever come up for air, is a guaranteed four minutes of giggling and jumping whenever and wherever it’s played. It’s an album that’s precision engineered to plunge into the heart of wallflowers everywhere, peel them off the wall, and let them have a little fun.  Chris Chafin


 

 



cover art

Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses

Roadhouse Sun

(Lost Highway)

19



Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses
Roadhouse Sun



In an era of contrived images and generic production values, an old school album of down-to-Earth rock ‘n’ roll stands out. Roadhouse Sun stands tall in such a manner, with West Texas troubadour Ryan Bingham’s gritty vocals and honest songwriting recalling a fading era. Ex-Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford produces and helps Bingham deliver an album that pays homage to roots rock pioneers such as The Rolling Stones, The Band and vintage Bob Dylan, while still forging new ground. Bingham’s songwriting and killer backing band have a crisp sound, varying from the upbeat rock of “Dylan’s Hard Rain” and swinging stomp of “Hey Hey Hurray” to the mournful blues of “Snake Eyes” and melodic majesty of “Bluebird”. Flourishes of mandolin, harmonica, dobro and lap steel guitar accent the songs in superb fashion. But it’s the distinctive flavor of Bingham’s old soul voice that makes these songs really stand out. When the former rodeo cowboy sings about how he “might of took a few wrong turns” and has “spent my time with the whiskey” in “Country Roads”, you can tell it’s coming from an authentic place. Greg Schwartz


 

 



cover art

The Mountain Goats

The Life of the World to Come

(4AD)

Review [4.Oct.2009]

18



The Mountain Goats
The Life of the World to Come



If anyone was going to make a Biblical album my religious and atheistic friends could both appreciate it was going to be John Darnielle; lo and behold, he’s succeeded. It’s not that the Biblical theme/source material is somehow misleading (one of the reasons Darnielle is such a good fit is that he takes the book seriously), it’s just that Darnielle appreciates the beauty, terror and humanity of the Bible in a non-dogmatic way, and so these songs are more about the perils and wonders of being alive and human than any particular doctrine. The result is a masterclass in both why the non-faithful might want to pay some attention to the Good Book and why (some of) the faithful ought to loosen up about it. Darnielle is not without questions for God, but he’s also not reluctant to ask “Lord, send me a mechanic / If I’m not beyond repair.” Ian Mathers


 

 



cover art

Camera Obscura

My Maudlin Career

(4AD)

Review [21.Apr.2009]

17



Camera Obscura
My Maudlin Career



We’re still associating Camera Obscura with scenes out of an old movie. My Maudlin Career positions us on a comfortable living room rug, poring over a breakup letter that should’ve landed in the trash long ago. And though the guitars chime and floor toms rumble as reliably well as they do on Let’s Get Out of This Country, the quintet’s fourth album feels like the start of a new, grown-up relationship, perpetual heartache and all. Sunnier outings “French Navy” and “You Told a Lie” help soften downers like “Careless Love”, where Lesley Gore-styled, gloomy subject matter necessitates dense over-orchestration. Camera Obscura steers through lovesickness and stolen new kisses with the same authoritative dexterity, and for its thoughtful song arrangements and finicky medley of ‘60s pop, country, and plain ol’ mournful folk moods, My Maudlin Career‘s charm is immediate and irrefutable.  Dominic Umile


 

 



cover art

Fever Ray

Fever Ray

(Mute)

Review [25.Mar.2009]

16



Fever Ray
Fever Ray



Not only did the new solo project by Karin Dreijer Andersson prove to be a complete departure from the Knife’s past work, but compared to the more insistent, accessible sounds of Deep Cuts and Silent Shout Fever Ray was darker, enigmatic, subtle, and in the end, just plain better. With each minimal track stripped right down to its core, the arrangements subtly channeling the early ‘80s tones of the Cure and Kate Bush as well as modern dark ambient music, Dreijer Andersson puts her vocals at the forefront. The songs are often filtered and pitchshifted to the point where the album feels schizophrenic, from the innocent “When I Grow Up”, to the aching desolation of “Keep the Streets Empty for Me”, to the unsettling combination of dread and unadulterated lust on “If I Had a Heart”. Alternately chilly and warm, wistful and foreboding, expansive and claustrophobic, Fever Ray‘s peculiarity and bleak magnificence holds us in its thrall. Adrien Begrand


 

 



cover art

Mos Def

The Ecstatic

(Downtown)

Review [8.Jun.2009]

15



Mos Def
The Ecstatic



Mos Def stormed onto the hip-hop scene in the late ‘90s, but as his acting career took off in the following decade many fans agreed that his music career suffered in the meantime. After 2006’s True Magic, it seemed reasonable to question if Mos Def would ever regain his creative spark. Leading to this album’s release, Mos revealed his strong affinity for Madvillainy and MF DOOM, and just weeks later we received The Ecstatic complete with production from Madlib (and brother Oh No, among others) and abstract, chorus-less rhyme construction that immediately reminds listeners of the aforementioned masked MC. The Ecstatic revived not only Mos Def, but in many ways the original spirit of hip-hop in which dope MCs inspire others to work harder on their craft. Spiced up with a dash of the eclecticism Mos Def has become known for since his debut, The Ecstatic is certainly his most focused effort since those early days and, true to its title, happily celebrates a creative energy unique to hip-hop. David Amidon


 

 



cover art

Goran Bregović

Alkohol

(Wrasse)

Review [29.Jul.2009]

14



Goran Bregović
Alkohol



A little town of some 20,000 souls in Serbia houses an annual festival of brass band music every August that draws more than seven times the normal village population. For good reason too, as Guca is the pre-eminent meeting ground for the luminaries of Balkan and gypsy brass band music who duke it out in fevered performances to claim the mantle of top band. This is a setting the Sarajevo-born former rock star Goran Bregović knows intimately, as he has guided his Wedding and Funeral Band through many foot stomping performances on that stage. A huge musical figure in the Balkans and Central/Eastern Europe, Bregović‘s music hasn’t made it to North American shores until this year with Alkohol, the exception being the music he has composed over the years for Borat and some films of Emir Kusturica.


Alkohol was recorded in 2007 at the Guca festival and features many highlights from Bregović‘s library including the frenetic “Gas Gas” and the soulful “Ruzica (Rose)” (previously recorded with Polish star Kayah). Balkan music has regained attention stateside in recent years with the popularity of indie bands such as Beirut and A Hawk and a Hacksaw joyfully adopting this music, but Alkohol is the real deal, created by a Bosnian of Serbian and Croatian background who works with former Yugoslavs of all stripes and choirs of Bulgarian singers. Celebrating the multiculturalism of a highly troubled part of the world with both a strong beat and large heart makes this music instantly classic and timeless. As Bregović told the Cleveland Plain Dealer this year, “Yugoslavia is the intersection of so many worlds: Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim. With music, I don’t have to represent anyone except myself—because I speak the first language of the world, the one everyone understands: music.” Sarah Zupko




 

 



cover art

The Flaming Lips

Embryonic

(Warner Bros.)

Review [11.Oct.2009]

13



The Flaming Lips
Embryonic



In a way, Embryonic is the album a displaced generation of long-time fans secretly hoped, but never really expected, the Lips to make. That is to say, it’s gnarled. It’s ugly. And it’s a thinly veiled refutation of damn near everything that’s made this band a national treasure these past few years—the studio-manicured symphonic pop, the adorable “Yoshimi” singalongs, the Kraft salad dressing commercials. Maybe the animal costume shtick got tired. Or maybe Wayne just got bored. Whatever the reason, Embryonic is here, and it’s glorious—a dark, seething, psych-rock masterpiece, careening recklessly between stomp-box fuzz-metal (“Worm Mountain”), hypnotic Krautrock tributes (“Convinced of the Hex”), and Bitches Brew-style space jazz (“Scorpio Sword”). There are sugary melodies to be found, of course—but only if you sift beneath the Daft Punk-style vocoder (“The Impulse”) or roaring noise blasts (“Watching the Planets”). I’ll freely admit this is a confusing, messy beast of a record, with more in common with 1990’s In a Priest Driven Ambulance than “Do You Realize??” Because really, that’s what makes it so refreshing. Zach Schonfeld


 

 



cover art

The xx

xx

(Rough Trade)

Review [7.Oct.2009]

12



The xx
xx



When exhausted keyboardist Baria Qureshi ducked out of the band midway through their European tour, it was the first and thus far only signifier that the xx were anything other than preternaturally self-assured. As rare as it is, however, to discover such poise, grace and general gorgeousness contained within the unaffected stylings of a group of 20-year-olds, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised by the peculiar case of xx itself. Because the album—perhaps the finest, most revelatory debut 2009 has seen—isn’t about studied architectural complexities; it trades on the general feeling more than the concrete. It’s all moods and tensions, it’s empty space and the suggestion of what could fill it. Skeletal and understated to the end, this is minimalist music with a beating heart, the reverb-sodden guitar, furtive basslines and sultry vocal interplay seem so unselfish as to be unitary. It seems trite to reduce it all to a particular time, place or mood, but such is the somnambulant, conversational intimacy of Romy Croft and Oliver Sim’s exchanges that xx feels like a window into late-night, whispered sweet nothings of two lovers, post-love. It’s customary to gesture to standout tracks in a précis such as this, but with xx it would be an arbitrary motion; this is such a complete work of neat, sparse and gratifying precision that it practically yearns—and undoubtedly deserves—to be swallowed whole. Chris Baynes


 

 



cover art

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

It’s Blitz!

(Interscope)

11



Yeah Yeah Yeahs
It’s Blitz!



The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have always had a way with a pop hook, something that was evident when “Maps” turned into the indie-ballad of choice ‘lo those many years ago. Although initially dismissed as hyped-up squall-rockers, each subsequent YYY’s album has shown the band growing and expanding in ways that most have never thought possible, resulting in their most dramatic about-face of all: It’s Blitz!, the sound of the YYY’s at their poppiest. Although calls of the group being “sell outs” have been heard far and wide, Karen O and co. don’t seem to really mind that much, especially when “selling out” results in songs as hauntedly beautiful as the prom-ready “Hysteric” and the keyboard-accented slow-throb of “Soft Shock”, covering deeper emotional terrain than Show Your Bones while exerting only half the effort. Yet when the group wants to rock, they do so without hesitation. Nick Zinner’s furious synth break on “Zero” winds up turning a simple New Wave pastiche into something far more visceral than your typical ‘80s-indebted club song imitation. Throw in a heaven-scraping anthem (in the form of “Skeletons”) and the most wryly seductive track Karen O has ever cooed (“Dragon Queen”), and you wind up with another expectations-busting, head-spinning trip with one of the most important bands working today. Get your leather on, indeed. Evan Sawdey


 
Related Articles
15 Sep 2014
The third track on Green Day's 2004 opus blends its social commentary and coming-of-age narrative into a single explosion that's both powerful and profound.
8 Sep 2014
An exceptionally intricate, intelligent, gripping, and ambitious track, "Jesus of Suburbia" also did a fantastic job of setting up the story, characters, and social commentary that makes this LP so great.
5 Sep 2014
The New Pornographers teamed with NPR for a unique performance at the Brill Building - the place that inspired the title of their newest album Brill Bruisers.
5 Sep 2014
You reach out and into the absence and gasping. The vastness grabs you like an alien embrace, your face to the face of this week's Counterbalance, in which we look at the Dirty Projectors' 2012 indie hit. Foolish, we know, but we're about to die.
Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.