Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Frequent Spins (2008.7)

Bloc Party - Intimacy
I discovered Sirius radio in the car I rented on my recent baseball park tour of the midwest. "Left of Center", the indie rock station, seemed to be the best I could find, but just like every top 40, alternative and classic rock station I know, they had a fairly repetitive playlist. So, of course, they played the new Bloc Party single, "Mercury", quite a few times. The DJ raved about the song and expressed her excitement about their upcoming album. I wasn't quite as impressed with that particular song, but there are quite a few others that have really grabbed me, especially the closing track, "Ion Square". This album, a digital-only release until October 28, feels a little less plaintive than last year's A Weekend in the City, but maybe that's because there are more songs on which it's easier to ignore the lyrics. There is no "I Still Remember" here, but the album certainly measures up to their prior efforts.

Blue Mountain - Omnibus
Two-thirds of this alt-country trio from Oxford, Mississippi were the husband and wife team of Cary Hudson and Laurie Stirratt, until their marriage fell apart circa 2001. They struggled to stay together musically, but eventually the band broke up as well. This year, though, they've reunited...as a band, not a couple, as far as I know. The result is two new albums: Omnibus, a collection of re-worked versions of their greatest hits; and Midnight in Mississippi, their first album of newly written material in nine years. The updated songs on Omnibus are just different enough to sound fresh, but familiar enough to evoke a few pleasant memories of this band's heyday. I can't complain at all about the song selection either, as all the essential tracks are here, including "Soul Sister", "Generic America" and "Mountain Girl", although I may have selected a slightly different set of deeper cuts.

David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
David Byrne and Brian Eno worked together plenty in the late 70s and early 80s. Eno produced three albums for the Talking Heads from 1978 to 1980, and he also played various instruments on those albums as well. They also teamed up for 1981's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which is credited to Brian Eno/David Byrne. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, though, is their first collaboration in the 27 years that have passed since. I have to say that this one can be a little hit or miss. There are some songs here that I absolutely love, but a couple that are emerging as candidates to be skipped over, particularly the last two, which I suppose means they don't really have to be skipped. On the album's first track, "Home", Byrne sounds even more welcoming than he does on my favorite Talking Heads song, "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)", although no song moves me quite like the latter. Other standout tracks include "Strange Overtones", "Wanted for Life" and "Everything That Happens", the song that best fits the duo's description of the album as "electronic gospel". There's very little here that sounds as quirky or experimental as these two rock veterans' prior work. For the most part, though, this album is an absolute pleasure to listen to.

Jennifer O'Connor - Here With Me
Of course, I love this photo of Jennifer O'Connor. Apparently, she's from the "better" half of Connecticut, with no offense intended to my friends from the eastern side of the Constitution State. I hope allmusic doesn't mind that I grabbed this image from their site. After all, I do tout their site by frequently linking to it (see also "Current Oldies"). Here With Me, Jennifer's latest, is even better than 2006's well-received Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars, in my opinion. It's a mellower affair, which runs the risk of venturing too closely to standard singer-songwriter territory, but the songs are so well written that that's never really a concern. Highlights include "Always in Your Mind", "Credit in the Cost" and "Highway Miles", but mostly this is a very consistent album without a bad moment from start to finish.

The Walkmen - You & Me
Earlier this year, I made reference to The Walkmen in touting Vampire Weekend's debut album. There was something about the guitars on some of the more upbeat songs on that record that reminded me of tracks like "The Rat" and "The North Pole", from Bows + Arrows. Maybe I was way off base with that comparison, but most of the resemblance to the rocking side of The Walkmen is absent here. Their trademark reverbed guitar sound is still present, but there's a much more somber tone than usual, even for a band that's never been accused of being happy. The standout tracks on You & Me , "In the New Year", "I Lost You" and "If Only it Were True" might not quite approach the highs of Bows + Arrows, but this may just be their most consistent album to date.

Wild Sweet Orange - We Have Cause to Be Uneasy
I read about this band when the Boston Phoenix did their 50 Bands, 50 States feature. They were The Phoenix's pick as the Alabama "band you need to hear, like, now". The album's opener, "Ten Dead Dogs" begins with the lyrics, "I saw ten dead dogs on the side of the road...", blatantly playing into the hands of every uninformed country music detractor. There's far more to this record, which I like to call alt-country with a side of indie rock, than trite country phrasing. That Boston Phoenix feature described them as "More polite (and literary) than Kings of Leon...", and I have to admit that the lyrical refrain of "Tilt" kind of gets to me, and not necessarily in a good way. It's a great song, though, and this is a very good album, one that seems to be continuing to grow on me with each listen.

Also spin-worthy
Blue Mountain - Midnight in Mississippi
Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst
Death Vessel - Nothing is Precious Enough for Us
The Music Tapes - For Clouds and Tornadoes

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