MATES OF STATE: Re-Arrange Us [Barsuk]

Is there trouble brewing in pop paradise? It sounds like someone’s been cheating on Mates Of State’s watershed fifth album. A stately Steinway has wedged itself between Kori Gardner and her beloved simple synth loops, and a whole suite of horns and strings is married to Jason Hammel’s steady, bare-bones drumbeats. It’s been an eventful two years for the East Haven, Conn., pair, who had two babies and have made the best album of their career for a second straight time. Building considerably on the subtle expansion of 2006’s Bring It Back, the powerhouse Re-Arrange Us is both natural progression and quantum leap. It’s notable, too, for matching the Mates’ loveliest music to their most doomsayer lyrics. Each hummable track contains an indelible “da-da-da/da-da-da” melody and a disturbing line such as “Everything’s gonna get lighter/Even if it never gets better.” On “My Only Offer” and “The Re-Arranger,” shining round-robin verses and soaring choruses belie relationship death knells. “We’re nearing the end,” confesses Hammel on self-explanatory summit “You Are Free.” For our sake, at least, say it ain’t so. []

—Noah Bonaparte Pais

The Kills: Just Shoot Me

For Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart—the new-primitive art-punk duo known as The Kills—life in the information age can be a fate worse than death. By Tom Lanham

Jamie Hince has a theory. He knows it sounds crazy and maybe even a little misanthropic, but just hear him out. Our egotistical, tabloid-obsessed, knuckleheaded MySpace society—perfectly depicted in Mike Judge’s wicked 2006 send-up Idiocracy—has become nothing but a huge spectacle.

“I’ve not lost touch with myself enough to think that I’m actually part of it,” says Hince, the cynical guitarist/vocalist/drummer for blues/punk duo the Kills. “I’m not a celebrity, I’m not famous. I’m just a musician, doing my thing. But the problem now is that everyone’s fought so long for the rights of the individual that it’s finally gotten through to the other side, and individualism got mutated and went all out of control. And now it’s just out-and-out selfish shit, where the rights of the individual have blended with capitalism and made for a really ugly society. Punk rock was part of it.” He sighs dejectedly. “Individualism sounded like the most amazing thing, but now everyone’s just out for themselves.”

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Jellyfish: The Men They Used To Be

For a brief spell in the early ’90s, Jellyfish was more than happy to play grunge spoiler. That much was obvious from the campy, funereal organ that kicks off Bellybutton, the San Francisco band’s effusively melodic 1990 debut.

“We went to a church in L.A. that had a massive cathedral organ and recorded it right there,” says Jellyfish keyboardist and cofounder Roger Joseph Manning Jr. “Jellyfish was actually the most punk-rock statement I ever made. We were always outsiders, musically. But unlike the sort of music geeks who would’ve gotten into jazz, we really loved classic pop.”

1993’s Spilt Milk, the band’s second and final album, is a blustery, meticulous tribute to the hook-crazed nostalgia of ’70s fandom, mining inspiration from the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Queen with a theatrical flamboyance that bordered on parody at times. While Spilt Milk confirmed Jellyfish’s immortality in the eyes of power-pop fetishists, it failed to capitalize on Bellybutton’s modest commercial success. That was enough to send band members scrambling for the exits.

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Documentary Celebrates The Entire History Of Popular Music

When journalist/filmmaker Tony Palmer was working for the BBC in the mid-’60s, his friend John Lennon offered a suggestion. “His continuous complaint to me was that there were great musicians who simply couldn’t get on television,” says Palmer. “And that I had a responsibility to get them on television.”

In 1968, Palmer delivered All My Loving, a groundbreaking documentary about rock icons such as the Who, Cream and Jimi Hendrix. But Lennon wasn’t done with his suggestions. Why not a doc on the entire history of popular music?

“I thought it was impossible,” says Palmer of the project. “[Lennon] said, ‘You know what you should call it, right? All You Need Is Love, because that’s what it’s about.’ So now I have a title like no other and have Mr. Lennon, who no doubt would find me and complain if I didn’t get on with it.”

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THE BLACK ANGELS: Directions To See A Ghost [Light In The Attic]

If the Black Angels’ 2006 debut was about the unraveling of the American dream—10 songs of alienation and anomie employing war metaphors to connote the sheer horror of existence—then the Austin sextet’s sophomore platter is the sound of recovery and healing. Musically, all the touchstones that made Passover so riveting are in place on Directions To See A Ghost: organ, fuzz/reverb guitar and sitar-laced dronescapes; hypnotic tribal drums and thicker-than-strata bass; Alex Maas’ dramatic, Jim Morrison-esque vocals; and the lysergic ambience of Spacemen 3 and the Velvet Underground. The Black Angels still trade in darkness, and several songs on Ghost are as brutally claustrophobic and paranoid as anything on Passover. Thud-rocker “You On The Run” conjures images of freaks forced to go underground with The Man in hot pursuit, while the doomy “Mission District” is a pointed j’accuse with lyrics such as, “You only love yourself/You only care for you.” Yet the Black Angels are decidedly less monochromatic this time out, as exemplified by the chiming, almost airy “Doves” and the thrumming, upbeat “Deer-Ree-Shee.” Call Ghost post-apocalyptic: The horror has been supplanted by the survival instinct as citizens stagger out into the sunlight and begin rebuilding. []

—Fred Mills

First Exposure: New Bands Worth Knowing

ROYAL BANGS: We Breed Champions [Audio Eagle]
Listen to the weary vocals and languid, Strokes-like guitars on “Broke Calculator,” and you could peg Royal Bangs as snotty, post-punk New York brats. The five-piece, in fact, comes rumbling and beeping out of Knoxville, Tenn., with a rough tangle of garage guitars and low-budget electronics. It’s no mystery why this self-produced debut found a home on Audio Eagle, the label run by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney: There’s mud and grease smeared all over “Cat Swallow.” But there’s also considerable divergence from any one playbook, with cut-up hip-hop beats invading “Let’s Get Even” and closing-time keyboards bolstering the Wheat-like “Japanese Cars.” With no outside assistance—aside from “vocal and instrumental coaching” credited to the Pabst and Miller brewing companies in
We Breed Champions’ sleeve—Royal Bangs are free to party out of bounds. []

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VETIVER: Thing Of The Past [Gnomonsong]

Releasing a covers album when you’ve only got three LPs to your own credit can be a dicey notion. Yet Vetiver doesn’t have much to lose; the San Francisco band is known more for its associations with other artists, having recently backed up Devendra Banhart, Vashti Bunyan and the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris. With Thing Of The Past, the members of Vetiver further confirm their rep as record-collector geeks by opening the album with a cover of “Houses” by Canadian psych/folk obscurity Elyse Weinberg, then proceed to dip deep into the songbooks of other ’60s/’70s songwriters such as Garland Jeffreys, Norman Greenbaum and Townes Van Zandt and invite folkie fogies such as Bunyan and Michael Hurley to join them. It’s saying a lot that the most recognizable track here is “The Swimming Song” (written by Loudon Wainwright III for Kate and Anna McGarrigle), and it’s this curatorial taste of the obscure that makes Thing Of The Past more than a romp through campfire favorites you’ve heard a thousand times. It’s all pleasant enough, especially when co-producer Thom Monahan (Banhart, Pernice Brothers) bathes everything in analog tape so that even your mp3 player manages to sound as warm and fuzzy as those old vinyl records. As tasteful as it all is, you still wonder what Vetiver is bringing to this material other than reverence. Not that it matters when Thing Of The Past closes with Bobby Charles’ “I Must Be In A Good Place Now,” a song that, unlike some of the album’s more inconsequential material, deserves the kind of loving resurrection it receives here. []

—Michael Barclay

THE SUBMARINES: Honeysuckle Weeks [Nettwerk]

For a group that earned its reputation for the confessional nature of its debut album (2006’s Declare A New State! was written and recorded as the duo broke off, then resumed, a romantic relationship), the L.A.-based Submarines have returned with a surprisingly sprightly sophomore effort. The direct, insistent choruses of songs such as “Maybe” seem to be crafted solely for their sing-along ease, while even the more brooding numbers (“Fern Beard”) are buoyed by singer Blake Hazard’s light-as-air voice. Things come together most effectively on “Thorny Thicket.” The song relies on copious amounts of glitchy electronica and warm, analog keyboards, over which Hazard and husband John Dragonetti (former frontman for Boston alt-rockers Jack Drag) wend their way through soaring harmonies about love in a way that’s either blissfully happy or perversely ironic. It’s a unique admixture of the serene and the sappy, of pop formality and contemporary experimentation, making the Submarines notable for more than just their romantic backstory. []

—Jason Ferguson

The Last Shadow Puppets: Fact Sheet

Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner has never been one for vague disclosures. His lyrics often feature long, twisting details of urban tomfoolery and daft-punk diatribes about teenage life in seedy Sheffield. It’s both predictable and surprising, then, that his first piece of non-Monkey business would be an aggrandizing long-player (co-written with Miles Kane of upstart U.K. band the Rascals) supported by the 22-piece London Metropolitan Orchestra and titled, naturally, The Age Of The Understatement (Domino). The video for the opening title track provides most everything you need to know about the Last Shadow Puppets: Turner and Kane, looking dour in shaggy Beatles bowl cuts and leftover wardrobes from the 1964 Help! shoot, recline on a Russian battle tank like a couple of comrades while battalions of troops sing backup vocals in the snow. Much like the half-galloping, half-prancing album, it’s equal parts goofily outsized and gloriously over-the-top. Turner debunked MAGNET’s myths over the breakfast din of a Manhattan diner.

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FOUR TET: Ringer [Domino]

Four Tet is usually all about addition, juxtaposition and harmonious collision of potentially incompatible elements. This half-hour EP feels like a corrective move, as though Kieran Hebden felt a sudden need to make music that was just one thing. So Ringer’s percolating title track is a stripped-down, totally electronic groove, while “Ribbons” is dreamy desktop dub; they’re solid, but they leave you wanting more. The other two tracks, “Swimmer” and “Wing Body Wing,” swing the pendulum back by making sampled guitar harmonics dance with a techno pulse and sampled jazz drumming slam into stadium synth rock. With Four Tet, more is generally more. []

—Bill Meyer