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Lily Allen

It’s Not Me, It’s You

(Capitol)


Lily Allen
It’s Not Me, It’s You



Lily Allen was never particularly easy to like. Surrounded by hype celebrating her prolific blogging and snarky songwriting, she was hastily anointed as the first superstar of the MySpace age by her numerous online fans and an overeager rock press. While she successfully maintained celebrity in the UK, she was soon eclipsed in the states by Amy Winehouse and that whole soul revival thing. Thus, her sophomore effort It’s Not Me, It’s You received relatively little fanfare, which is a damn shame. Allen has evolved tremendously since her debut, her songwriting showing a wider scope and deeper nuance.


Despite the cheeky title, Allen looks beyond unsatisfactory exes as subject matter, focusing her spite on consumerism, patriarchy, drugs, and George Bush over Greg Kurstin’s playful electronic production. Of course, she still has plenty to say about her lovers, improving upon the simplistic vitriol of “Not Big” with the affable country and western bounce of “Not Fair”, in which her lover just can’t please her despite his best efforts. As enjoyable as the first half of the album is, what makes this record great is the second half, when Allen drops the bravado on two great songs, celebrating the simple pleasures of hanging out with her boyfriend, watching television and ordering take-out. “Who’d Have Known” and “Chinese” are direct, perfect love songs without sentiment that highlight Allen’s deep talent and cement It’s Not Me, It’s You as a pop classic. Let’s just hope she isn’t serious about that whole retirement thing. Harry Burson


 

 



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Dan Auerbach

Keep It Hid

(Nonesuch)

Review [9.Feb.2009]


Dan Auerbach
Keep It Hid



The year had barely begun when I signed up to review Keep It Hid, and expectations were, shall we say, somewhat stratospheric, considering that the Black Keys’ Attack & Release was one of the better releases of 2008. Incredibly, it turns out that Keep It Hid, Auerbach’s first solo effort, is pretty close to an out-and-out masterpiece. For anyone understandably nostalgic for a time (in the not-too-distant past) when music was more of an experience and less a digital transaction from an à la carte menu, Dan Auerbach may be your man. Keep It Hid is an album you can –- and should —- listen to all the way through. Auerbach’s refreshing DIY ethos results in authentic sounds that manage to invoke the good-old-days while retaining a contemporary edge. Indeed, this is Auerbach’s specialty, and he has been perfecting it for the better part of a decade. Keep It Hid is a reminder of what rock and roll used to be, and the realization of what rock and roll can become. Sean Murphy


 

 



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David Bazan

Curse Your Branches

(Barsuk)

Review [30.Aug.2009]


David Bazan
Curse Your Branches



David Bazan has devoted so much energy over the years to picking apart wayward Christians that you had to wonder if he harbored some sort of personal vendetta against them. As it turns out, for the better part of the last decade, Bazan was adrift himself. On Curse Your Branches, Bazan turns his focus inward, documenting his own spiritual crisis, alcoholism and family strife in unflinching detail. In so doing, he invites the listener to not only appreciate the fallibility of the narrator but to also hear his previous records with fresh ears. Taking into account Bazan’s own struggles, it’s hard not to see bits of the author in the contemptible characters that populate his songs. Still, while he might rightfully be called judgmental, with Curse Your Branches, it becomes clear that David Bazan has reserved the most severe judgment for himself. Mehan Jayasuriya


 

 



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Beat Circus

Boy from Black Mountain

(Cuneiform)

Review [1.Dec.2009]


Beat Circus
Boy from Black Mountain



For his third album under the Beat Circus name, Brian Carpenter delivered a slice of “Weird American Gothic” (his term) that set the American South of Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner and Carson McCullers to the carnivalesque eclecticism of the Band and the doomed soundworlds of Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, and Tindersticks. Previous album Dreamland had set the Americana-flavored agenda with a sophisticated song suite based on a Coney Island theme park. Boy from Black Mountain upped the ante by offering a set of equally clever and newly infectious songs steeped in the themes of family and place. Carpenter’s responses to his son’s autism provided moving material for tracks such as “Saturn Song”, which dealt with the attempts by ostensibly decent folk to cope with the unfamiliar and disturbing. The title track was a magical realist masterpiece that took in Jonathan Swift, a man on a flying trapeze, and a horse called Buffalo Bill. For anyone still awed by Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, here was an album that promised a similar journey through innocent speculation and otherworldly magic. Great use of harmonium too. Richard Elliott


 

 



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The Black Crowes

Before the Frost… Until the Freeze

(Silver Arrow)


The Black Crowes
Before the Frost… Until the Freeze



Almost 20 years after their defining debut, Shake Your Money Maker, the Black Crowes released probably the finest album in their generally wobbly career. To be sure, the promise, the chops, the live shows, the brotherly squabbles and even a fair part of the music have always been the stuff of a first rate band. But, Before the Frost… fulfills the promise. Recorded in Levon Helm’s studio before a live audience, the sound is wonderful—warm and crisp. The Crowes revamped line-up, with Adam MacDougall on keys and Luther Dickinson on guitars, is even better. The new songs sound familiar and classic, yet, fresh. It’s as though an early 1970s time capsule has been unearthed and this was the damn fine example of the era’s prime recordings. Chris Robinson’s voice has never sounded better, nor has the band. Plus, the downloadable acoustic Until the Freeze is a great bonus. Kevin Ott


 

 



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A.A. Bondy

When the Devil’s Loose

(Fat Possum)


A.A. Bondy
When the Devil’s Loose



A.A. Bondy isn’t re-inventing the wheel; his brand of folk music is familiar and doesn’t immediately demand your attention. Yet, as we wrap up a ten-year period that Time called the “Decade from Hell”, the melancholy poignancy of When the Devil’s Loose perfectly revels in the very, sadness and hardship that label suggests with an unapologetic sincerity. In true Americana fashion, Bondy’s sophomore release documents our tribulations with surreal, apocalyptic fervor without ever falling into clichés or the nostalgic. Instead, his songs remains coolly effectual with a nod to his roots and a foot towards the stark, forecast of the future that maintains a sense of hope with relatable, poetic pragmatism. To Bondy, the devil may be loose, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t kick back a cold one and dance a little to ease our misery. After all, how else can you live in these times? Saxon Baird


 

 



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Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

Vs. Children

(Tomlab)


Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Vs. Children



True to its provocatively combative title, children, both in their presence and their absence, haunt the stories on this fifth album from Owen Ashworth’s solo recording project. They’re in the foolishly hopeful dreams of a frantic bank robber speeding towards a comfortable family life on “Optimist vs. the Silent Alarm”, the unhappy vacationing couple fleetingly recalling the baby they aborted 15 years prior on “Natural Light”, the narrator contemplating the anxiety and permanency of parenthood on “Killers”, and the single mother stepping hesitantly into her new life in “Harsh the Herald Angels Sing”. Ashworth somehow extracts a startling amount of warmth from his dryly half-spoken vocals and lo-fi keyboards and drum loops, lending further power to the starkly unsentimental poignancy of his lyrics, affirming Vs. Children as 2009’s finest example of pop music as literature. Jer Fairall


 
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