Don’t be thrown of by the band name or album title. This isn’t a dire black-clad excursion into drone and sludge. On the contrary it’s about as far from that as you can get. Iowa City’s Death Ships have crafted a remarkably nuanced rock record that bleeds ever so slightly into alt-country. It’s a sound that, depending on how you hear it, has the band either straining at the confines of their heartland roots or pushing past them with a respectful nod and wave. At the album’s best, the songs on Seeds of Devastation begin as proper salutes to the country rock sounds of John Cougar Mellencamp, Buffalo Springfield or the Byrds, but that propriety never lasts too long. On “City Never Sleeps”, “Great American”, and “Knocks Over Time”, those sweetly-spun melodies spiral into acres of guitar distortion and rising waves of drums and searing vocals. Primary singer-songwriter Dan Maloney’s impressive control over his songs, wringing maximum emotional weight out of a riff or a phrase, is all the more impressive when considering this is Death Ships first release. The bar has been set high.
Rilo Kiley front woman Jenny Lewis’s burgeoning solo career has gotten attention, but vocalist and songwriter Blake Sennett is coming into his own with side project the Elected’s second album, Sun, Sun, Sun. Sennett’s songwriting comes from a place somewhere between adolescence and full-blown adulthood. He sings in his delicate, choirboy voice about lost love, nostalgia, and the ever-growing difference between where you come from and who you are. Sun, Sun, Sun sails along with bittersweet pop songs “Fireflies in a Steel Mill”, the country-influenced “The Bank and Trust”, and the swaggering blues of “Did Me Good”. When Sennett sings, “It made me feel sweet and sad / Warm, proud, and young”, he could be describing the feeling that Sun, Sun, Sun gives you: the feeling of missing, the bittersweet pang of memory. There’s no gimmick to the Elected, they’re just making music to help many of us navigate our twenties, and they do so with a gentle, knowing, optimism all their own.
The Elected - Did Me Good
What made Light Poles and Pine Trees one of the best albums of 2006? Was it Smoke and Shawn Jay’s region-defying lyricism? Was it their elastic delivery? Their ear for wild beats? Their sense of humor? Yeah. But more than anything, Field Mob’s third album is just fun. It’s not disposible. It’s not a guilty pleasure. It’s not escapism. It’s an album full of sometimes-topical jams by a couple of dudes from Albany, Georgia who genuinely enjoy their time in the studio. While many stars in Atlanta dropped albums this year, Field Mob’s sleeper is the only one I’m still playing.
Records like the Figgs’ Follow Jean Through the Sea are habitually ignored by year-end lists, because music critics have an unhealthy obsession with ambitious grasps for profundity. Pop music needn’t be epic, obscure, and formless; it demands self-discipline, definition, and strict constitution, all of which Follow Jean Through the Sea—an impeccably written, smashingly performed power-pop record barely over half an hour—has in spades. Guitarist Mike Gent and bassist Pete Donnelly share songwriting and singing duties, as usual, but this time around their predilection for one-upmanship stings like a grudge-spurned sparring match. Gent’s stocky riff-driven songs, like the tongue-in-cheek “Regional Hits” and moody “City Loft Home”, are rousing complements to Donnelly’s fast-moving nuggets, like “Don’t Hurt Me Again” and “Let Me Hold You”. Don’t let records with longer runtimes and loftier concepts keep you from hearing this, probably the most satisfying LP of the Figgs’ 20-year career and certainly one of 2006’s most exhilarating 30 minutes.
Multiple songs [MySpace]
The Figgs - Hobble Skirt
In the Maybe World
US: 18 Jul 2006
UK: 24 Jul 2006
An incomparable singer/songwriter/arranger/multi-instrumentalist with vision, Lisa Germano released her best album this year. Did anyone notice? In the Maybe World is intimate and grand, raw and soft, dark and light. Within a dream-state milieu, it presents perspectives on death, the mystery and immediacy of it, on the split between the corporal and maybe-afterworlds, and on the puzzles of mortality, in terms blunt and fanciful. It sounds like no other album, presents its own absorbing universe. Whispered sadness, lust, mourning and questioning are orchestrated with the overblown grace of a golden-age Hollywood musical, but played out inside the quiet, unsteady mind of one person. This album has the precision of poetry and the demeanor of an extended lullaby—a swooning, lush, intoxicating one.
Live performance and interview on PRI’s Studio 360 (uses RealPlayer) [MP3]
Lisa Germano - Red Thread
The Green Arrows
4-Track Recording Session
Analog Africa No. 1
US: 14 Feb 2006
UK: Available as import
In 2006, Van Hunt emerged as the consummate singer/player/producer/songwriter, a fact that was not lost on critics who fatuously compared On the Jungle Floor to the work of The Purple One. The fact is Van Hunt is an exceptional artist in his own right who’s yet to realize mainstream or commercial success with his blistering fusion of funk, rock, and soul. That’s not to say On the Jungle Floor isn’t accessible. Quite the contrary, the 16 full-length tracks (minus one intro and one interlude) on Van Hunt’s second album are the best songs your radio station isn’t playing. From the unbridled rock of “Ride, Ride, Ride” to the sizzling funk of “Hot Stage Lights” to a rousing duet with Nikka Costa on “Mean Sleep”, the songs On the Jungle Floor will surely outlive the multi-platinum competition currently poisoning the barometer of popular music.
Multiple songs [MySpace]