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Higgins, Dear Higgins (Maggadee) Rating: 7
Dreamy without being too melancholic, Higgins offer up a retro look at slightly trippy sounding ditties with a song like "Difference" that slides along without any huge hiccups. Somewhat Beatles-que, the duo of Kevin Fish and Brian Kantor weave pretty but distant harmonies in the background. Later on they one-up themselves with "Drop Off" that conjures up images of George Harrison. "Come Again" is driven by a crunchy guitar and an arrangement Matthew Sweet would be proud of. The biggest drawback is how it abruptly ends just 70 seconds into it, a riff meriting two and half or three minutes at the least. What is obvious though is how they have an ear for a hook judging by the gloriously ballsy "Come" that sounds like the Black Crowes doing Ed Sullivan. How well they do it without becoming a parody is another asset on the lengthy, Floydian, summer lullaby "Bees". Only on the languid "Town 2 Town" does Higgins seem to hit a retro-sounding rut before the coda revs things up again. Fans of Canadian Joel Plaskett would see Higgins as his American cousin.
Joel Plaskett, La De Da (MapleMusic) Rating: 7
Like a maritime Tom Petty, Halifax's Joel Plaskett makes simple, heartfelt roots-rock for shaggy-haired romantics and the women who love them. But don't take that as faint praise, because it isn't easy to deliver an album as elegantly careworn and bittersweet as La De Da, his follow-up to 2001's Down at the Khyber. Built on a foundation of lush acoustic guitars and Plaskett's lonesome, vulnerable voice, La De Da is an album about a young man's attempt to reconcile his life with the things that are supposed to make life whole -- be they religion ("Non-Believer"), aging ("Absent-Minded Melody"), or love ("Happen Now"). The ex-Thrush Hermit frontman doesn't come up with many answers, and his question-asking is often too cutesy for a songwriter of his gifts, but you'd be hard pressed to find a better musical companion for a night of Labatt induced introspection. [Amazon]
The Fiery Furnaces/Ted Leo "Norwegian Wood"/"I'm Looking Through You" [7-inch] (Razor and Tie) Rating: 6
This double a-side takes two selections from the compilation This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles' Rubber Soul. The Fiery Furnaces provide an unusual take on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", using echoed vocals, studio effects, and their typical theatrics to turn the narrative into a bad trip, one that, at least musically, is somewhat engaging and wholly original. Power-pop artist Ted Leo stays truer to "I'm Looking Through You". Energetic and well-versed in strong guitar hooks, Leo makes a natural Beatles cover boy, and his vocals and lead playing (backed by impatient toms) make this track enjoyable from start to dismantled finish.
Staind, Chapter V (Elektra) Rating: 6
It's a bit unfortunate that Staind gets such a bad rap in the modern critical community -- thanks to songs like "It's Been a While" and "Outside" (lead vocalist Aaron Lewis's immensely popular duet with Fred Durst), the band somehow ended up at the top of the "nü-metal" heap at the worst possible time. The genre was on a massive downslide, and Staind became the critical scapegoat. Now, Chapter V has arrived, and nü-metal is all but gone, but the critics haven't forgiven Staind. And it's too bad, because Chapter V could well be one of the strongest entries in the band's discography. "Paper Jesus" displays a refined sort of aggression that recalls the harsher moments of Alice in Chains (not a bad band to emulate), "Cross to Bear" is an anthem packed into a scant three-and-a-half minutes, and "Everything Changes" is a wistful, mellow lighter-waver. There are a couple of spots where they fall into the clichéd conventions they've built for themselves -- "King of All Excuses" is a repetitive and unimaginative stab at metal, and "Devil" tries for introspection but finds boredom -- but for the most part, Chapter V is a solid album that all of the stalwarts who haven't already classified Staind as has-beens are sure to enjoy. [Amazon]