TINDERSTICKS: The Hungry Saw [Constellation]

Nobody said loving Tindersticks was easy. Since 1992, the Nottingham, England, outfit has pursued a sonic and lyrical palette according to the gray and gold of its elders (Hazlewood, Brel, Gainsbourg, Morricone) with occasional curves thrown into its thoroughly somber and sometimes disturbed arrangements. While other artists (Nick Cave, for example) have followed those roads with thunderous footsteps and an incumbent litany of sad/jealous/hateful lyrics, Tindersticks have walked softly and played in more subtle, noirish tones. But with three members of the band now gone (including writer/violinist Dickon Hinchliffe), the off-kilter madness that would once throw the group into a tizzy is missing from seventh album The Hungry Saw. Led by mercurial crooner Stuart Staples, the current lineup’s grand balladry is more stately and slow-boiled than ever. “The Other Side Of The World” and “All The Love” are smoky and choked-up, while “The Turns We Took” is cool and laconic and mesmerizingly so. Yet the grandeur of such tunes as the gospeled-up “Mother Dear” are touched by a too-severe sentiment. Tindersticks may have been in a dismal mood in the past, but at least it seemed like fun. Being sealed off from its own sense of spirited weirdness and play has made them dull boys. [www.cstrecords.com]

—A.D. Amorosi

EL PERRO DEL MAR: From The Valley To The Stars [The Control Group]

There’s an old saw about sophomore records: You get a decade to write your first record and four months to write the second. El Perro Del Mar’s self-titled debut LP was among the best releases of 2006. Despite being culled from various singles and EPs (some dating back to more than two years), the sonically and thematically cohesive album marked the arrival of a classy, timeless and mesmerizing pop talent in sole band member Sarah Assbring. How ironic, then, that when Assbring intentionally sets out to craft a full-length statement the results are so desultory. On El Perro Del Mar, Assbring displayed a gift for trimming all lyrical fat and getting to the matter at hand, repetition be damned, to wonderful and wondrous effect. On From The Valley To The Stars, Assbring edits her songs and arrangements so severely that there’s barely a chorus left, while mystifyingly allowing multiple aimless instrumental interludes to interrupt throughout. Something is amiss here, and it can only be chalked up to a lack of time and focus. From The Valley has some fine moments, but it looks awfully unflattering in the light of its less distracted and infinitely sharper predecessor. [www.controlgroupco.com]

—Bret Tobias

THE REPLACEMENTS: Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash / Stink EP / Hootenanny / Let It Be [Rhino]

It’s hard to imagine, nearly three decades down the line, improving on what the Replacements did in their 11-year tenure as alt-rock progenitors. Their impact is as seemingly contradictory as their music: Paul Westerberg and Co.’s collective work has easily outlived the good and the bad reviews, surviving to that now time-honored plateau of deluxe reissues. The first batch of ’Mats re-releases address the band’s Twin/Tone catalog: 1981’s Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, 1982’s Stink EP, 1983’s Hootenanny and 1984’s Let It Be, each remastered and expanded with band-selected bonus tracks and produced by manager Peter Jesperson.
The necessity of remastering the first four Replacements releases is arguable, and the result is what you’d expect. The varied output of the band either benefits from the treatment or barely shows signs of tampering. The very point of the Replacements is the untempered nature of their music, and the new remastering job thankfully doesn’t go so far as to smooth any of the rough edges that have helped the music endure.

Only ’Mats-rabid audiophiles would be interested in these reissues if it wasn’t for a wealth of bonus material. After 1997’s Sire-specific hits-and-rarities compilation All For Nothing, Nothing For All, this extensive revision of the Twin/Tone releases brings the unevenly expanded Replacements discography into balance and promises to supplant All For Nothing when Rhino releases deluxe editions of 1985’s Tim, 1987’s Pleased To Meet Me, 1989’s Don’t Tell A Soul and 1990’s All Shook Down this fall. From the band’s initial four-song demo to the accomplished instrumentation on Let It Be, these reissues show how the band first learned to create combustion, then sustain it, each time building a bigger and louder engine. Neophytes already intimidated by the Replacements’ back catalog will probably want to steer clear of these expanded reissues, while the rest of us can joyfully have the perspective afforded by almost 30 years of consideration and time-tested triumph jarred one more time. Bonus Material: A total of 30 unreleased tracks span the four CDs—comprising outtakes (notably, an alternate take of Sorry Ma’s “Customer” and alternate-vocal versions of Hootenanny’s “Lovelines” and Let It Be’s “Sixteen Blue”) and demos (“Shutup,” “Raised In The City” and “Answering Machine” among them)—and offer rare glimpses into Westerberg’s songwriting process. [www.rhino.com]

—Pat Hipp

THE NIGHT MARCHERS: See You In Magic [Swami/Vagrant]

If your John Reis fix has been sated in recent years via his signature fretwork in Hot Snakes, it might take a while to warm back up to him in the role of singer in the Night Marchers. Reis is as lyrically blunt as Hot Snakes vocalist Rick Froberg was cryptic, with songs such as “Open Your Legs” and “Closed For Inventory” leaving little to the imagination. But then again, we’ve never looked to the former Rocket From The Crypt frontman for probing insights into the vagaries of life. What we want from him are big, badass riffs, and there are plenty of them here. “In Dead Sleep (I Snore ZZZZ)” is the best, building from a jagged run in the verse to a tense, ascending progression that culminates in a double-time finish. The choruses rarely skimp on melody, and Reis’ urgent delivery hammers them home on “I Wanna Deadbeat You” and “We’re Goin’ Down.” Deviations from the script are interesting but not as successful (the jangly “Jump In The Fire,” the rockabilly “Branded”). Luckily, they don’t detract from the main course: a heaping helping of straight-up rock ’n’ roll like only Reis can deliver. [www.vagrant.com]

—Jonathan Cohen

PEPI GINSBERG: Red [Park The Van]

When Pepi Ginsberg opens her mouth to sing, countercultural throwback signifiers come spiraling out: rose-tinted glasses, patchouli clouds, gypsy skirts, lungfuls of dope smoke, Janis Joplin. This 25-year-old Brooklyn singer/songwriter’s beanbag tunes exude a refreshing sense of freedom and possibility, even if she comes across as extraordinarily leathery: Natalie Merchant-husky vocally, sub-Dylan lyrically. She tackles the 12 tracks on Red with a breezy confidence beyond her years. On “The Contortionist,” all flashing-siren organs and fuzz-bass pow, Ginsberg transforms an emotional and financial swindle into a bouncy garage-rock party. “Nothing More,” a campfire folk number suffused with chirping-cricket samples, explores political dissatisfaction, head-in-the-sand ignorance and unrequited love for a best friend: a downer trifecta. But it’s “Ghosts Of Perdition” that encapsulates Ginsberg’s carpe diem appeal. As pianos whump like dancing feet, she sings, “There used to be a year, you say, when people didn’t write/ They showed up on friends’ doorsteps late in the middle of the night/Said, ‘Let’s go to the West Side, catch a movie, maybe we get ourselves high.’” Just live life already, Ginsberg seems to insist, while you’re still able. Like her beat/hippie psychic ancestors, maybe she is onto something. [www.parkthevan.com]

—Raymond Cummings

The Raveonettes: Deeper Into Movies

Five years after being typecast as a retro-rock buzz band, Danish duo the Raveonettes have brought their cinematic, hooked-on-classics sound into sharp focus. By Chris Barton

2003, America was heading into an election year full of hope and promise, with the prospect of real change in the air. Although a war had just started in Iraq, the government offered comforting promises that it would be over quickly, culminating with the unfurling of a “Mission Accomplished” banner on a battleship’s deck. And in the world of music, the White Stripes, the Strokes and vintage-sounding, feedback-embracing Danish duo the Raveonettes made fans and critics swoon. It was “the return of rock,” an apparent revival of the raw energy and integrity of garage rock that would bring the genre back to its roots and, it was hoped, dominance.

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The Duke Spirit: Open Sea

The Duke Spirit creates the kind of record-collector rock that’s usually explained with mash-up descriptors that sound like they were written for a music-industry version of Robert Altman’s The Player.

“We’ve had some weird comparisons, like ‘Björk fronting Meat Is Murder-era Smiths,’” laughs guitarist Luke Ford, who grew up outside of London reading hype-afflicted U.K. music magazines. “One of our favorites was, ‘A crack whore fronting an Oasis tribute band.’ It wasn’t very positive, obviously, but we thought it was pretty funny. We almost put that on a sticker on the front of the album.”

But on an album like Neptune (Shangri-La Music), which was recorded in the California desert with Queens Of The Stone Age producer Chris Goss, it’s difficult not to point out obvious touchstones. Over the course of a dozen tracks, there are easily identifiable elements of Sonic Youth’s poppier moments, the neo-girl-group harmonies of the Raveonettes, shades of the shoegazers and cinematic ballads that would’ve made Lee Hazlewood proud. If those reference points weren’t obvious enough, the Duke Spirit’s website features photos of the band holding up albums by the Modern Lovers, Black Sabbath, Ronnie Spector and Sly And The Family Stone.

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AMERICAN PRINCES: Other People [Yep Roc]

The too-easy quip about Other People is that it sounds like, well, other people. But unless you’ve been watching MTV circa 1985 or hobnobbing with Oingo Boingo and Tears For Fears, said people aren’t exactly in your regular rotation or Rolodex. The strikingly retro elements on the fourth album by Little Rock, Ark.’s American Princes (notably, the icicle-pop guitar effects and singer/guitarist Collins Kilgore’s clipped vocal delivery) are difficult to ignore. But Other People isn’t a Big ‘80s theme park; it’s an inventive album that, despite the addition of a keyboardist to the band’s lineup, is essentially driven by the same walloping pop/punk guitar attack found on 2006’s superb Less And Less. The injection of effete mid-’80s radio pop works to perfection on “Real Love” (sung by co-frontman David Slade) and “Watch As They Go” (which matches Kilgore’s Devo-esque staccato vocals with a twitchy array of guitar lines). Hidden in tracks such as “Where I’m Calling From” and “Still Not Sick Of You” (whose massed-vocal chorus is the source of the Tears For Fears comparison) is Other People’s actual theme: loneliness and missed connections, with wartime imagery looming in the background. Any moderately talented band can go out and get Flock Of Seagulls haircuts and slap some synthesizer effects on its songs; American Princes have adeptly bent era-specific sounds to their considerable songwriting will. You know what they say: Wear the clothes. Don’t let the clothes wear you. [www.yeproc.com]

—Matthew Fritch

BLACK FRANCIS: Svn Fngrs [Cooking Vinyl]

When Charles Thompson resurrected his Black Francis moniker for last year’s hard-rocking Bluefinger full-length, the results were uneven but fun. This seven-song EP benefits from its short format. Opening track “The Seus” is all Beefheart-ian blurt and skronk; “Garbage Heap” is pounding, propulsive and Pixies-anthemic; “Seven Fingers” is pitched halfway between a sea shanty and a trail-rider raveup. Conceptually, the songs on Svn Fngrs reference Irish mythological hero Cúchulainn (one key line goes, “I turn into a monster when I fight/Death is on my left and on my right”), and sure enough, on final track “When They Come To Murder Me,” he meets a bloody demise. [www.cookingvinylusa.com]

—Fred Mills

MT. WILSON REPEATER: Mt. Wilson Repeater [Eastern Fiction]

Even though a sizable chunk of the indie community worships the Radar Bros., the L.A. outfit’s narcotic qualities typically prove perilous to anyone whose idea of rock ’n’ roll involves anything beyond lightly drumming one’s fingers upon the recliner. Which is why head brother Jim Putnam’s nom du psych, Mt. Wilson Repeater, comes as such a shock. While this debut retains some of the mothership’s languid elements (these lush, electronic-tinged compositions don’t so much embrace psychedelia’s interstellar overdrive as they indulge a deep-space drift), there’s an edgy undercurrent that’s anything but dirgelike. Opener “Canmtady” is a melodic mélange of fizzy guitars, undulating synths and shuddery shakers that, with Putnam’s yearning voice, could pass for classic Yo La Tengo. “Out Country Way” is strummy and sunny, with hissing percussion, a French horn and off-kilter singing; think Flaming Lips on a minimalist trip. Among the instrumentals are soundtrack-worthy vistas, nods to techno and the occasional foray into Talk Talk-styled musique concréte. Resurfacing throughout, however, are guitar (often a kind of slack-key or slide style) and piano, so even at his most machine-centric, Putnam makes sure there’s a human heart beating at the core of his songs. [www.easternfiction.com]

—Fred Mills