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Katzenjammer

Le Pop

(Propeller; US: Available as import; UK: Available as import; Norway release date: 29 Sep 2008)

Review [5.Jul.2010]
Review [12.Jan.2009]

Loaded with sea shanties, Balkan gypsy folk music, bluegrass, blues, German cabaret, twee orchestral pop, and delivered with the reckless abandon of punk rock, there’s a lot to digest on the manic debut album by Norwegian foursome Katzenjammer, but the charisma of these four talented ladies always wins us over. With each member a lead singer and multi-instrumentalist, the band’s versatility is remarkable a live setting and especially on record, as Le Pop veers from raucous (“A Bar in Amsterdam”, “Hey Ho on the Devil’s Back”) to tender (Wading in Deeper”), each song boasting plenty of gorgeous, rich four-part vocal harmonies. For all their enthusiasm, the band never sounds as cartoonish as the name might imply, the performances often surprisingly restrained, making for a very accessible, enormously entertaining record. Adrien Begrand


 

 



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The Kills

Midnight Boom

(Domino; US: 18 Mar 2008; UK: 10 Mar 2008)

Review [16.Mar.2008]

Sex, violence and playground chants… after two albums of stilted (but occasionally great) blues-rock minimalism the Kills have finally lapsed into rock and roll and it’s great. Their music feels more patched-together than ever, and I mean that as a compliment. Working with Armani XXChange from Spank Rock this slim record buzzes with a groove and energy that VV and Hotel had only hinted at before, but songs like “Cheap and Cheerful” and “Sour Cherry” still sound exactly like the Kills. For that matter so do the more restrained, almost elegiac likes of “Black Balloon” and “Last Day of Magic”. The latter might be their best moment yet, evoking recent Two Lone Swordsmen and John Darnielle’s doomed Alpha couple in equal measure. The best album released in 2008 that deserves the adjective ‘trashy’, hands down. Ian Mathers


 

 



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King Khan and the Shrines

The Supreme Genius Of

(Vice; US: 17 Jun 2008; UK: 23 Jun 2008)

Review [1.Jul.2008]

Bold proclamations have always been part of King Khan’s persona. He does, after all, take to the stage with a cheerleader in tow. So the self-aggrandizing title of this album – a pseudo “greatest hits” compilation of previously released material—should have come as no surprise. The real revelation, however, was that more people didn’t perk up their ears in appreciation. Perhaps it was the ensuing recession? Even though Khan does sing about feeding someone his “welfare bread”, who wants to listen to a careening and caterwauling party record when the ship is sinking? Or maybe it was the musical pigeonholing? Of all the genres, garage rock is perhaps the most maligned and oft overlooked; a novelty, gimmicky even, something teenagers play while they try to master their instruments. Perhaps that’s why, despite its implicit soul overtones and psychedelic flourishes, King Khan and the Shrines were passed by this year: A lack of money and/or ability to overlook the group’s assumed novelty factor? Then again, maybe people just didn’t want to hear a tambourine smacked like it had done something baaaad. Kevin Pearson


 

 



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Lambchop

OH (ohio)

(Merge; US: 7 Oct 2008; UK: 6 Oct 2008)

Review [5.Oct.2008]

Though OH (ohio) weaves between tracks tweaked by two distinct and sought-after producers (Roger Moutenot and Mark Nevers), it is easily the most cohesive and smoothly satisfying Lambchop album since 2002’s way-overlooked Is a Woman. Whittled down to a core of eight members, Kurt Wagner’s so-called “country-soul” project continues to confound the expectations that descriptor suggests on spry, lilting tunes like “National Talk Like a Pirate Day” and the stellar single “Slipped Dissolved and Loose”. With his signature warm, clipped warble, Wagner turns nouns into verbs, memories into heartache and vice-versa, while the band’s arrangements have rarely been so beautifully accommodating and enhancing. From the rambling curlicues of guitar on “Sharing a Gibson with Martin Luther King Jr.” to the subtle swoons of “I Believe in You” (a startlingly prescient 1980 hit for Don Williams), each recorded element, no matter how large or small, contributes to an atmosphere of quirky grace. Michael Metivier


 

 



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Cyndi Lauper

Bring Ya to the Brink

(Epic; US: 27 May 2008; UK: 27 May 2008)

Review [4.Jun.2008]

A Cyndi Lauper album has always contained a song or two that was remix-ready. After 25 years of recording, Lauper finally made a full-length excursion into clubland, where many of her most ardent listeners reside. The dance floor is her playground on Bring Ya to the Brink, a first-rate collection of songs that emphasize Lauper’s underappreciated talent for clever lyrics and strong melodies. The best tracks—“Echo”, “Into the Nightlife”, “Set Your Heart”, among many others—transcend their expediency under strobe lights and rank among Lauper’s best-ever material, working on a number of levels. “Same Ol’ Story”, in particular, is embroidered with an attitude ripe for two-faced politicians and toxic relationships alike. When the final Grammy nominations were recently announced for the 2009 ceremony, it was a pleasant surprise to see Bring Ya to the Brink up for consideration in the dance category. Don’t be misled, though. The album is definitely for more than those who just wanna have fun. Christian Wikane


 

 



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Jenny Lewis

Acid Tongue

(Reprise; US: 23 Sep 2008; UK: 22 Sep 2008)

Review [24.Sep.2008]

After Rilo Kiley’s maligned/misguided Under the Blacklight, Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis returned with solo album #2, a record that boasted dangerous levels of charm and breezy wit, as well as a more street smarts than her ingénue-ish solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, suggested. Lewis could’ve coasted on her sun-kissed, California-girl looks (siiiiigh), but those who dwell on those superficialities risk ignoring her considerable songwriting talents and warm, honeyed voice. On Acid Tongue, Lewis inspires goosebumps (the sweeping title track; “Godspeed”), blown speakers (“Jack Killed Mom”, “Carpetbaggers”, “See Fernando”), and, in the case of (at least) one particular writer (cough cough), a fervent wish to move to California. Stephen Haag


 

 



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Love Is All

A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night

(What’s Your Rupture?; US: 11 Nov 2008; UK: 10 Nov 2008)

Review [10.Nov.2008]

Sophomore albums are renowned for expectation unmet, but Love Is All proved on their under-appreciated A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night that, in skilled-enough hands, the best ones can both fit perfectly into a first-album niche and an extension of it. The new directions the Swedes push here are a stepping-out: frontwoman Josephine Olausson is recorded cleaner and easier to understand; James Ausfahrt’s saxophone solos are more prominent and more visceral. The songs themselves are as joyful and anthemic and over-too-soon as they ever were. To regard Love Is All as a web-championed, one-LP wonder would be a mistake. A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night may be one of those grow-on-you records, with tunes that strike you randomly, when you’re thinking of something else, months after you last heard them. You’ll think then, Oh, that’s a great song; you’ll go back to the LP, and you’ll realize, yes, it actually does vindicate the hype they received a few years ago. Kevin Pearson


 

 



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The Magnetic Fields

Distortion

(Nonesuch; US: 15 Jan 2008; UK: 14 Jan 2008)

Review [13.Jan.2008]

The Wall of Sound has become a Wall of White Noise: feedback, reverb, atonal squall, discordance. But however submerged in sonic murk, a great pop song remains a great pop song and Stephin Merritt, alternating vocals with longtime muse and secret weapon Shirley Simms, delivers 13 of them—none over 3:10 or under 2:40, as though processed in a thundering factory with machines constantly whirring, purring and buzzing. The usual Merritt stamps are present: slippery gender roles, dazzling melodies, cunning wordplay, devastating tales of obsessive love, nods to pop history. He cops a Beach Boys title for a scathing putdown of celebutante culture, and writes a lively, lovelorn centerpiece (“Too Drunk to Dream”) that might awaken his beloved Busby Berkeley from the dead. In its sonorous juxtapositions, Distortion renders beauty, be it a song’s or a lover’s, the most defiant resistance to an increasingly cluttered, chaotic world. Charles A. Hohman   


 

 



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Marillion

Happiness Is the Road

(Intact; US: 20 Oct 2008)

Despite a late ‘80s lead singer change, the mid-‘90s loss of major label support, and their late ‘90s batch of mediocre releases, British rock quintet Marillion have managed a comeback in the 2000s, thanks largely to innovative marketing strategies and successful presale campaigns. They scored a Top 10 UK hit single in 2004, and 2007’s Somewhere Apart hit #24 in England. Marillion’s latest album, Happiness Is the Road, is their second great double-disc set of the decade. CD One, “Essence”, melds Floydian rock, ambient electronics, and a quest for spiritual connectedness in the modern world. On disc two, Marillion let loose with proggy rockers and Crowded House-like pop, for a deep and deeply satisfying listen. The band also pioneered their own video-embedded album leak, which explains the financial hardships of illegal filesharing. For a bunch of middle-aged has-beens, Marillion continue to blaze new trails across a stagnating music industry that once left the band for dead. Michael Keefe


 


 

 



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Laura Marling

Alas, I Cannot Swim

(EMI; US: Available as import; UK: 11 Feb 2008)

Despite, or perhaps because of, being nominated for the Mercury prize, Alas, I Cannot Swim was an odd omission from PopMatters’ Best Albums of 2008 rundown. Slinking out of the same West Country stable as Noah & the Whale (whose debut, while we’re on the subject of last year’s laughably underappreciated albums, was ridiculously given a lowly 5 by PopMatters), Marling crafted a gorgeous, delicate and articulate album, which was perhaps the 2008’s most gently charming release. Marling claims the chief inspiration for her remarkable debut is Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s I See a Darkness. Now, I’m not sure that Alas, I Cannot Swim is quite as brilliant as that particular example of Will Oldham genius, but given that she was 17 years old when she recorded it, she’s got plenty of time yet. James Bassett


 
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