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She & Him

A Very She & Him Christmas

(Merge; US: 25 Oct 2011)

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She & Him
A Very She & Him Christmas


A Marketing Director at Hallmark or Disney is kicking himself right now, drowning his sorrows in a mug of mulled cider. This man, for four decades at his company, has been slamming his head against the wall, trying to figure out how to make the ambience surrounding our Christmas holiday even more cloying, more syrupy sweet, more interminably unbearable. For 40 years, he has ironed his shirts, punched his time card, stifled the reflex to flirt with the attractive woman he always sees on the elevator (he is a professional and he is here to work, not to play), ate cottage cheese for lunch instead of a burrito. And what does he have to show for all of this dedication, the long nights, the weekends spent pouring over reports on optimal glitter saturation or ounces-per-square-inch of lead in the tinsel supply? Not A Very She & Him Christmas, an album that single-handedly makes his job obsolete. No, that album was made by people who didn’t even go to Christmas Business School, which is obviously a real school and was recently accredited by whoever accredits holiday-themed MBA programs (probably the President of the United States). Zooey Deschanel, Zooey Deschanel’s Bangs, and M. Ward recorded this album, without even a second thought to how they might be leveling an entire industry in the middle of a recession. They are somewhere laughing right now, cashing their checks, biting the legs off of gingerbread men and watching them squirm. Corey Beasley


She & Him - The Christmas Waltz by MergeRecords


 

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The Human League

Credo

(Wall of Sound; US: 23 Aug 2011; UK: 21 Mar 2011)

Review [25.Apr.2011]

19



The Human League
Credo


In a year when fellow ‘80s contemporaries released critically acclaimed new material (Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark, Duran Duran), it’s hard to find fault with Human League for wanting to hit the studio to record their first album of new material in a decade. Unfortunately, Credo is what came out, an overstuffed collection of underwritten songs presented to the strengths of its production team rather than its artists. If anyone was wondering what Human League would sound like filtered through Auto-Tune, well maybe you think this is a singular work of genius. The rest of the world, however, remained happy to remember the band for what they were.  “Privilege” was supposedly one of the album’s tracks meant to directly recall glories of old, in this case “Being Boiled”, the 1978 single that defined the band’s early sound. The comparison falls well flat, unfortunately, as the new song sounds more like Devo if they lacked a sense of humor and songwriting chops. It’s no fun for musicians to settle into becoming a touring greatest hits act; if Human League hope to break that cycle, they’ll have to go back to the drawing board. Crispin Kott


 

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Cage the Elephant

Thank You, Happy Birthday

(Jive; US: 21 Mar 2011)

Review [24.Feb.2011]

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Cage the Elephant
Thank You, Happy Birthday


Coming in off the wave of Southern alt bands that combine down-home twang with grunge and Britpop influences (see: Kings of Leon, Manchester Orchestra), Cage the Elephant’s problem is that they seem to try to use every last shred of every one of their influences (Nirvana, Oasis, Beck, a little Jack White in there) without adding anything original to the mix. Lead single “Shake Me Down” is just a mid-period Oasis ballad. It doesn’t go anywhere. “Around My Head” sounds like late ‘90s VH1 pop rock. Every song sounds like a long-forgotten one-hit wonder, and yet, this Kentucky-bred quintet somehow keeps going despite a complete lack of anything original to play or new to say. Steve Lepore


 

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Beady Eye

Different Gear, Still Speeding

(Dangerbird; US: 1 Mar 2011; UK: 28 Feb 2011)

Review [3.Mar.2011]

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Beady Eye
Different Gear, Still Speeding


It smacks of hypocrisy to harp on the derivativeness of Different Gear, Still Speeding considering that Beady Eye—essentially the Noel Gallagher-less late-period Oasis plus one—owes its very existence to its previous incarnation’s cannily-deployed, pleasing pastiche. Derivativeness isn’t the problem; Beady Eye’s crime lies not in an expected lack of originality, but in a far less expected lack of verve. With chief songwriter Noel out of the picture, the band isn’t up to writing an entire album’s worth of material, which yields boiler-plate Britpop melodies and a lack of memorable lyrics. The album’s biggest flaw lies in its most expected strength: Liam has never sounded so disconnected to what he’s singing. His ever-present vocal sneer, far thinner-sounding here than on even the most recent Oasis albums, suggests not attitude, but rather that his face just got stuck that way. David Bloom


 

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Wiz Khalifa

Rolling Papers

(Atlantic; US: 29 Mar 2011; UK: 28 Mar 2011)

Review [5.Apr.2011]

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Wiz Khalifa
Rolling Papers


I like Wiz Khalifa. He’s a good guy and his approach to life is, if not admirable, at least something to be inspired by. His proclivity for smoking weed and drinking champagne is matched only by the tenacity with which he approaches making music, having mostly self-made his career to the point this Atlantic release was made possible. Unfortunately, along with the major label cosign and Amber Rose’s arm, Khalifa seemed to avoid all of the goodwill that his greatest project, Kush & OJ, had garnered him just months prior. In teaming with pop producers like Benny Blanco, StarGate and King,  David Khalifa made a conscious split from his well-regarded sound, opting instead for pre-packaged pop jingles and microwaved success. “Black & Yellow” was and is a championship contender, but the rest of Rolling Papers is remarkably bland for a rapper with such distinct ability to rhyme and flow. Nearly every song lacks focus, and appears geared towards a pre-teen and high school freshman audience, which isn’t really appropriate for Wiz Khalifa’s content. While plenty of awful albums are awful simply for being bad, Rolling Papers earned a spot on this list for Khalifa’s disappointing simplification and regression as much as the songs themselves. David Amidon


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