Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Frequent Spins (2008.8)

Now that baseball season is over, my focus turns to my other obsession...

Damien Jurado - Caught in the Trees
Damien Jurado has drawn frequent comparisons to fellow alternative singer/songwriter Richard Buckner. There are certainly strong similarities between the two, although I'm fairly sure that Jurado falls well short of Buckner on the "toughest guy in indie rock" scale. His music reflects a slightly less caustic attitude as well. His latest, Caught in the Trees, falls far short of the brilliance of 2005's And Now That I'm in Your Shadow, my personal favorite, but is another strong effort from the Seattle-born punk rocker-turned-folkster.

Lambchop - OH (Ohio)
I'm not sure when this band first appeared on my radar. It was probably in the early part of this decade, although it may have been as far back as the late-90s. Despite their potential as one of the most unique bands to emerge from the alt-country scene, employing a sound that draws from a variety of styles and truly transcends that classification, they've never really produced an album that has completely grabbed my attention. That is, until now. OH (Ohio) has all of the standard elements of a Lambchop record, achieving high marks in the pleasantly melodic and slightly melancholy categories. But, also thrown in are a couple of excellent upbeat tracks, namely "National Talk Like a Pirate Day" and "Sharing a Gibson with Martin Luther King, Jr.", and these serve as an added bonus that rounds out the album rather nicely.

Okkervil River - The Stand-Ins
It was surprising to me that some of the press I read about Okkervil River's 2007 release, The Stage Names, portrayed it as their breakthrough, with some going so far as to call it a masterpiece. As good as it was, it paled in comparison to the epic Black Sheep Boy, and so does The Stand-Ins. That's far from an insult, though, and I actually feel that this year's effort edges out last year's, if only by a nose. Both are less fractured and urgent as Black Sheep Boy, and in this vein, The Stand-Ins, to me, does a better job of pulling off a more polished feel. Highlights include the duet with Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg, "Lost Coastlines", as well as "Starry Stairs" and "On Tour With Zykos", the latter of which includes my favorite lyrics on the album: "So I wonder who you got your hooks in tonight; was she happy to be hooked, and on your arm did she feel alive, her head all light?" That almost reminds me of their true masterpiece.

Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping
I don't want to sound like a broken record here, nor do I wish to be the music fan who's never satisfied with anything a band does after the album that carved their niche as one of his favorite artists. It's just that this is the third record in this installment of Frequents Spins that is by an artist who has previously been bestowed yearly top ten honors, with a fourth to follow, all from the years 2004 to 2007. That's four out of 40, or 10%, in case you're a bit math-challenged. In this case, despite lukewarm reviews, I wouldn't be surprised if this is the album that vaults Of Montreal to that next level of success, otherwise known as the territory inhabited by such bands as Modest Mouse, Wilco and The Shins. Singer/guitarist Kevin Barnes is certainly enjoying the glam-rock references and David Bowie comparisons, and--in case anyone was wondering--he repeatedly asserts "you should know that I go both ways", on "For Our Elegant Caste". Again, despite its less than overwhelming critical praise, Skeletal Lamping is so consistently good, but not great, that it's difficult to say what my favorite tracks are, although "Mingusings" is certainly one. But, I'm sorry to say that it's just nowhere near as good as last year's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

The Streets - Everything is Borrowed
The Streets' 2004 release A Grand Don't Come for Free was a concept album that could be described as a slacker version of a lad-lit novel set to hip-hop inspired pop music. Possibly because of the bumbling nature of the protagonist, I always pictured him as a hipper version of Simon Pegg's character in his movie released that same year, Shaun of the Dead. After the success of that album, and its predecessor Original Pirate Material, Mike Skinner pondered the trappings of celebrity on The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living. It was a major disappointment, and a perfect example of one of the true pitfalls of success: a diminishing supply of quality source material. Skinner returns to his prime form by getting a bit philosophical on his latest, particularly as he states, on the refrain of the album's title track, "I came to this world with nothing, and I leave with nothing but love; everything else is just borrowed". Other highlights include the samaritan-esque "On the Edge of a Cliff", the spiritually moralistic "Alleged Legends", and the wonderful album closer "The Escapist".

Also spin-worthy
The Verve - Forth
Crooked Fingers - Forfeit/Fortune
Annuals - Such Fun

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