Record Review: Franz Ferdinand’s “Always Ascending”

Franz Ferdinand seems to have a thing for laziness. In addition to the Glasgow band’s generally louche persona, there’s a direct thread from “Fabulously Lazy” (a 2005 b-side) to “Lazy Boy” (off its fifth album; not including FF’s 2015 collaboration with Sparks as FFS). “I’m a lazy boy, I’m lazy boy, always be a lazy boy/I’m a lazy boy, yes a lazy boy, lazy in the evening boy/I’m a lazy boy, like you,” sings Alex Kapranos, in the rapid cadence of a playground taunt, and it’s hard not to apply his proclamation to the grating repetitiveness of the lyrics.

“Finally I found my people, found the people who were meant to be found by me, finally, finally, finally I’m here, in my place, oh, I’m here,” he sings on “Finally.” Repetition is a valuable strategy to anchor a chorus, of course, but at some point it becomes intrusive, and on Always Ascending, Franz Ferdinand often crosses that line. Or, the band becomes heavy-handed and didactic, such as on “Huck And Jim”: “We’re going to America/We’re going to tell them about the NHS.” (Although maybe Kapranos and Co.’s work with Sparks has turned them into satirists and the song, which includes something about “drinking 40s with Huck and Jim,” is a misfired joke.)

It’s frustrating, because behind the superficial surfaces, these songs can thrill. “Lazy Boy” even matches a pulsing disco beat to bursts of serrated, spaghetti-Western guitars, and “Feel The Love Go” has a similar disco/rock alchemy, plus a sax solo. The title track kicks in with a familiar Franz Ferdinand thump, and closing ballad “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow” features some of Kapranos’ best Jarvis Cocker-like crooning.

Always Ascending is a rebooted Franz Ferdinand: Founding guitarist Nick McCarthy (who sang lead on “Fabulously Lazy”) left in 2016 and has been replaced with keyboardist Julian Corrie (Miaoux Miaoux) and guitarist Dino Bardot (1990s, V-Twin). The band sounds energized, even when the words suggest otherwise.

—Steve Klinge

Record Review: The Decemberists’ “I’ll Be Your Girl”

Anyone who’s been cussed out by “Ben Franklin’s Song” knows Colin Meloy still has some poison left in his quill. But there’s a thunderbolt caveat—as catchy as the Decemberists make that Hamilton addendum, the lyrics were penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda. (And oh, what lyrics: “I am Poor Richard’s Almanack-writing Benjamin Fuckin’ Franklin!”)

Poor Colin’s Almanack hasn’t been quite the same since his Crane Wife flapped off. His finest offering since that Capitol-conquering opus, 2011’s The King Is Dead, forwent ornate storytelling and baroque instrumentation in favor of an Americana revolution, a salty hoedown sans frills. When the band did swaddle itself in the gabardine fabrics of olde, you could hear it swallowing its own tail. “June Hymn” is a ventricle-rending tune, but it’s “Red Right Ankle” from a different angle.

I’ll Be Your Girl answers an unposed question: Would you prefer more variations on the same themes, or risky stabs at a new one entirely? The King Is Dead proved the Decemberists’ erudite, radio-play vibe could jibe—even thrive—with unannotated folk/rock. This new LP proves no such definitive thing, except maybe that synthesizer anthems aren’t in this band’s wheelhouse. It’s often fun to hear them go for it, as on the high-contrast drama of “Cutting Stone” and severe lead single “Severed.” (Do stick around through the tonally serrated side two, which is stolen by some exquisitely bonkers backup-singer arrangements.)

What it’s missing is haunting songs—calamity songs, the kind of songs that used to proliferate on Decemberists albums like soot-smudged Victorian orphans. And no amount of Castlevania harpsichord or of Montreal choral carbonation can take their place.

—Noah Bonaparte Pais

Record Review: Weezer’s “Weezer”


Weezer, the 10th album by Weezer, is about as good (or bad, your call) as Weezer, several measures worse than Weezer and a once-you-hear-it, you’ll-never-unhear-it skid mark on the shorts of Weezer. If that sentence needs color-decoding, don’t waste your time—just go on turning Californian, gawking at “L.A. Girlz” or, more likely, stabbing stop as quickly as possible.

Further dissection of this fourth and most pallid chromatic chromosome in Rivers Cuomo’s rapidly unraveling musical DNA would be as pointless and obscene as autopsying a baby inside a dingo. It should be objectively obvious that this is terrible, often abominable music, and to anyone with any affinity for Weezer’s first two LPs—hell, even the next two—more obvious why. The truly devastating and impregnable question is how: How did we get here?

Forget for a moment the pathetic infantilism of 40-something rockers devoting an entire record to behavior that lands one on watch lists: hanging out with kids and getting away with girls. How does such a sharp, funny, honest observer of the teenage condition become so hollow and tone deaf to it? How did Cuomo go from “I asked you to go to the Green Day concert/You said you never heard of them” to “We could ride a Greyhound/All the way to the Galápagos”? To “Just a couple lovebirds/Happy to be singing” from “I’ve got your letter/You’ve got my song”?

How does the pilot of so many world-turning, round-robin, fourth-chorus liftoffs crash into Max Martin mountain over and over and over? How do three actually passable nu-Weezer songs (“Summer Elaine And Drunk Dori,” “Jacked Up” and “Endless Bummer,” all in the last four tracks) get jackknifed by the most willfully imbecilic side-one cash grab in all Weezerdom? And just how smart does Matt Sharp look now?

There are no answers. Not even Cuomo knows, if his comments are to be believed. (“I’m proud of the demented lyrics that are like, ‘What? Who says that? Who thinks that? What planet am I on? I don’t know, but I kinda wanna stay!’”) That he subtitled it The White Album is the cherry on top of a quadruple-scoop shit sundae. This album is brown.

—Noah Bonaparte Pais

Record Review: The Late Greats’ “Kids You Knew”


Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and Jesus And Mary Chain fame is often noted with the phrase, “A band is only as good as it’s drummer.” Though I have some agreeances with this statement, I must offer a different opinion: A band is only as good as its songwriting. Philadelphia’s the Late Greats just released their debut EP, Kids You Knew, a tight and concise batch of crafted garage-rock earworms. While their sound breaks down no new barriers, the band offers interesting perspectives on the genre of garage rock. As they write in the liner notes, “It’s the sound of 1976 filtered through the summer of ’96.” In a time where most consider rock ‘n’ roll falling apart, the Late Greats pick up the pieces to construct their own interpretation of the genre.

From the “Vertigo”-esque chug and harmonized dual Thin Lizzy guitar lines of opener “M.I.A.” to the post-punk influences on “Nowhere To Find Me,” the band channels powerful musical chops through tightly composed songwriting. Luke Bauerlein’s slightly reverbed vocals flow over the thoughtfully composed music, which consists of attentive use of background vocals and strong Guided By Voices-type licks (provided by guitarists Matt Hayes and Andrew Baranek) in order to fill the gaps from the rest of the band.

“Walk Away” is reminiscent of Pinkerton-era Weezer (which was not coincidentally released at the end of “the summer of ’96”), with its fall-apart-at-the-seams instrumentation and acoustic fingerpicking interludes. Songs like “Walk Away” and “Knock Me Down” are based on sturdy rhythmic time changes, provided and improved by bassist John Velez, keyboardist Adam Wassel, and the drumming of Brad Eash (also proving a band is only as good as its drummer).

Thematically, the band tends to focus on the past, in not just in the music but lyrics as well. Failed relationships, nights gone wrong, and searching for answers as years go by are consistent themes throughout the record. Kids You Knew serves as not only the title of the record, but also seems to be a way the band sees themselves. Bauerlein knows he can act childish sometimes (as any of us can), and as he sings on “Nowhere To Find Me”: “Exploit my fear of solitude and self-control I’m known to lack.”

For a band that uses a Wilco song as a reference point for its name, they stray away from Jeff Tweedy’s roots-rock in favor of a Replacements-style barrage, but the storytelling remains similar. As said earlier, the band does not explore a lot of new ground sonically on the record. “Lost Highway” and “Knock Me Down” come off as mid to late-2000s blog-rock (a la Bloc Party or Cage The Elephant) in their presentation, and there is little to no experimentation in the musical tones used. But the Late Greats were never trying to set any trends with their music, and this is not music for those looking for the sound of 2015. This is music for those who long for the sound of 1976 filtered through the summer of ’96. And as they prove with their intricate and dense songwriting, being innovative can show itself in more ways than one.

—Tyler Asay

Record Review: Erroll Garner “The Complete Concert By The Sea”


Sixty years ago today, explosively melodic jazz pianist Erroll Garner lit a fire in a Carmel By The Sea, Calif., concert hall that still burns brightly today. The highlights of that memorable evening were released at the time by Columbia Records, and sporting a cover photo of a young woman on a rocky cliff as Monterey Bay’s waves crashed all around her, Garner’s Concert By The Sea became one of the best-selling jazz LPs of all time.

Backed that evening by bassist Denzil DeCosta Best and Eddie Calhoun on drums, Garner ripped through a set composed of great American songbook classics (“I’ll Remember April,” “April In Paris,” “Where Or When”) and a few pop hits of the time that have now joined that illustrious company (“Teach Me Tonight,” “It’s All Right With Me”). It was addictive music that would reach out to a young boy. My old man brought home that longplayer, and little did he know that, years later, his oldest son would wear that vinyl out as background for occasional teenage poker parties.

Now for the exciting part. Sony Legacy has unearthed a tape containing the rest of Garner’s concert that evening—an amazing 11 previously unheard tracks—that have been re-sequenced with the former album to create The Complete Concert By The Sea, exactly as it was performed that night.

Garner, hailing from Pittsburgh and standing only five-foot-two, had to place a book on the piano bench to feel comfortable at the keyboard. Once there, he became a musical titan. The heroic moments flash by as Garner’s dancing right hand and the explosive chords punched out by his left re-invent everything he touches. Completely self-taught, Garner has the keyboard mastery of any classical pianist you’ve ever heard.

“Spring Is Here” rolls over you like a gentle breeze. “I’ll Remember April” is the first number in the patented, rollicking delivery style he’s best known for. The complex, squirming melodies dance around the simpler chordal song, sometimes colliding head-on in pure glee. “The Nearness Of You” never sounded so lovely, caressed by the Garner magic that fills the room.

Then there is “Where Or When,” a song no one could ever play any better. I’ve wallowed in its up-tempo madness a thousand times, and it sounds as thrilling and fresh today as it ever did. Taken at a breakneck pace and caressed by Garner’s delighted grunts, the darting improvisations inspired by the familiar, rising melody ignites from the launch pad, and there’s no stopping it until it explodes, once more, in the last two choruses—daring you not to play it again.

—Jud Cost

Essential New Music: Thee Oh Sees’ “Mutilator Defeated At Last”


I have no doubt that John Dwyer and the occasionally rotating crew of musicians he calls Thee Oh Sees are nice people. I feel the need to point this out because Thee Oh Sees are a mean, mean band. It’s not that these guys are stingy; in fact, Dwyer is staggeringly prolific both within and without Thee Oh Sees. The menace comes from the monstrous brew of psychedelia that arrives reliably each year in the form of a new Oh Sees album.

The ninth full-length released under this particular epithet is just as much of a bruiser as its title suggests. In just more than 30 minutes, Dwyer leads his compatriots in an unrelenting barrage of sonic creativity and rhythmic overload. From hulking opener “Web” to disarmingly delicate late-album instrumental “Holy Smoke,” Mutilator continues Thee Oh Sees’ unprecedented, mind-melting hot streak.

—Eric Schuman

Essential New Music: Ryan Adams’ “Live At Carnegie Hall”


According to William Blake, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom … you never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.” Ever-prolific singer/songwriter Ryan Adams has flirted with excess for more than two decades and still may not know when enough is enough.

For diehard fans who haven’t already been supersaturated, this limited-edition six-LP/iTunes/42-track Live At Carnegie Hall should satisfy. With little overlap between his back-to-back acoustic solo performances recorded last November, we’re provided a sterling overview of Adams’ impressive catalogue. As indulgent as it may seem, Adams’ naked exploration of his output provides plenty of highlights that should sway all but the most cynical unbelievers. The guy sure can sing and write, and his melodic genius nearly matches his drive. For those still hedging their bets, there’s a 10-track version, which should be considered a gateway drug to the full experience.

—Mitch Myers

Essential New Music: Kinski’s “7 (Or 8)”


Continuing their film-buff aesthetic (band moniker plus the director their side project Herzog is named for—look it up if necessary) with a cover that features John Cassavetes and his best-known muse, Gena Rowlands, this Seattle (mostly) instrumental quartet is also continuing a hot sort-of-comeback streak with 7 (Or 8), the relatively raging follow-up to 2013’s Cosy Moments.

Always distinct from the Mogwai/Mono/Explosions In The Sky pack for real rock dynamics via riffs and sonic drive, and far preferable to psych/improv/jam-out Six Organs-type hipster/hippie fare because it stays on point and combines these two elements with true heaviness, Kinski has probably never rocked this hard, not even on previous 2005 touchstone Alpine Static. Some of the rocking, like pre-release focus track “Flight Risk” and “Operation Negligee,” features vocals to round out the deal—something Kinski leaned toward with its last record, and something that the band pulls off with a deft hand when such a thing for a group like this could mean face-planting failure.

—Andrew Earles

Essential New Music: Jim O’Rourke’s “Simple Songs”


It’s not as if Jim O’Rourke made easily digestible vocal records when he was part of the indie-avant pop milieu before 2005. Like his most spare, intimate and beautifully innate instrumental albums (e.g., 2001’s deceptively titled I’m Happy, And I’m Singing, And A 1,2,3,4), O’Rourke’s lyric-filled moments—such as 1999’s Eureka and 2001’s Insignificance—pulled you toward them in confidence, no matter how bitterly misanthropic they may have been. Then there was his tiny, windy voice; in comparison to the plush instrumentation, it too welcomed you onto its bed of (thorny) roses. Leaving the convention of Sonic Youth and indie-everything, oddly enough, hasn’t changed his vocal moods, his lyrical love of the sardonic, unreliable narrator (a favorite literary motif of his and They Might Be Giants’ John Linnell) or his sonic range/palette.

Like Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy played by Martin Denny’s orchestra (remember, O’Rourke did record a tribute to Burt Bacharach for the Japanese-only market) at its quietest—then quieter—Simple Songs is that, and then hardly that. So, gently finicky, flighty songs such as “Friends With Benefits” and “Half Life Crisis” sarcastically veer from their titles (he has no friends) with just enough breath to get through the humbly (hummable) memorable verses. “Hotel Blue” is like dark-chocolate ice cream—soft, bittersweet, cold. Every instrument on Simple Songs (all him, as with The Visitor, his gorgeously wordless free-ballad album) sounds as if its player taped cotton balls on his fingertips, and the whole thing is ghoulishly gorgeous in the most comfortably comfortable way. That’s so O’Rourke.

—A.D. Amorosi

Essential New Music: Mates Of State’s “You’re Going To Make It”


The pleasantly cacophonous joy of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel is the unpredictable blessing and occasional curse of Mates Of State. They are wife and husband, keys and drums, singer and singer, indie pop puzzle-piece soulmates—even when their vining harmonies might lead them into semi-contradictory notes and ideas.

So, we’ve learned to love them as much when they’re on the same page as when they’re not. You’re Going To Make It, just five songs long, is awesome, a never-sappy snapshot of two people who drive each other wild. They straight-up say so on the “Staring Contest,” which pumps with the heart of the Go-Go’s and the lungs of ABBA. “Beautiful Kids,” meanwhile, is a moody, nearly new-wave thinkpiece about “staring into cracked screens” in the post-book, post-magazine (um … ), post-intimacy era. Gives me that old catchy/paranoid/Postal Service heartsickness. And, holy shit, “I Want To Run” is synthy, radio-ready, pop perfection like only the Mates could make. What’s not to love?

—Patrick Rapa