The Notwist’s last album, 2003’s Neon Golden, was irresistibly catchy and irretrievably downbeat. Both of those qualities are muted on The Devil, You + Me, the German combo’s long-in-the-making follow-up. Brothers Markus (guitar, voice) and Micha (bass) Acher, electronics wrangler Martin Grestchmann and new drummer Andreas Haberl have woven a 20-piece orchestra into an already rich sonic field in which electronic beats and dubby effects co-exist with crisp guitar pop. No single component dominates; instead, a parade of endlessly changing sound effects and synth tones keep some structurally simple songs interesting. Take “Gloomy,” whose Brazilian-flavored acous-tic-guitar chords burst out of a bit of static, then slowly gain presence behind Acher’s fuzz-coated voice and a Windex-clean synthesizer. Keyboards, loops and horns coalesce and recede while Acher’s earnest vocal reels out a paradoxically defiant lyric. Each song performs a similar trick, working elements in and out of the mix. The Devil, You + Me’s flaw lies in its presumption that you’ll be so taken with the sounds that you’ll wait around for the hooks to show up. Ultimately, they do, but if they were buses, you might’ve already hailed a cab by the time they arrive. [www.dominorecordco.com]
If My Brightest Diamond’s 2006 debut Bring Me The Workhorse was singer/songwriter Shara Worden’s dramatic move away from the clutches of her bud/boss Sufjan Stevens, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth is a damn fine second act. Beyond the too-grand operatic rush of her tunes, it should be noted that the New York-based Worden has a great shushy voice powered by a delicious warble at its center. It’s as if Björk and Jeff Buckley got together to listen to Queen’s A Day At The Races, only without ever becoming annoying. Worden writes powerfully worrisome, anti-romantic lyrics when she isn’t cribbing from Ravel (“Black And Costaud”), and she’s suspicious and carnivorous on the mammoth roar of “Goodbye Forever.” Star-struck by string sections, harps, vibraphones and horns, Shark’s Teeth is imbued with classicist elements throughout, from the rush of “Inside A Boy” to the tinkle of “The Ice & The Storm.” Though there are crinkled guitars and tiny beats slipped into the mix, they only add to the eloquence of the lush affair. [www.asthmatickitty.com]
It’s so very punk to want to slam dance all over the grave of the American Record Industry (b. 1929 – d. 2008). Good riddance to The Man. Let us gob on the memory of all those tone-deaf A&R men, greedy suits, house producers, misguided promotions foofs and slick payola palm-greasers. Let the mp3 rule, give the artist the power, long live musical freedom!
At this year’s induction ceremony for the Rock and/or Roll Hall of Fame, no less a rebellious iconoclast than Billy Joel (80 million records sold) introduced musical freedom fighter John Mellencamp (28 million units moved) with a note of triumph: “Congratulations, John! You outlived the record industry!”
Continue reading “The Back Page: Sympathy For The Devil”
From Big Star to beard-era Beatles, Sloan’s sprawling Never Hear The End Of It hit all the classic pop touchstones and more over the course of 30 songs. Two years later, the 13-track Parallel Play is a decidedly less ambitious effort, but it’s no less brilliant in its execution. Once again, all four band members have a hand in the songwriting, yet the Nova Scotia group’s ninth album is a surprisingly cohesive display of power pop’s key attributes. Bright vocal harmonies, handclaps, a keyboard squiggle here and there, an occasional Buddy Holly hiccup, razor-sharp guitar hooks—all of the genre ingredients are present in perfect measure. Indeed, if you’re the type who can’t fathom why power pop hasn’t taken over the world, you’ll experience an almost childlike joy within the first few fuzz chords of opener “Believe In Me” that will quickly turn to giddiness from the abundance of hooks deployed on the first three songs alone. There are exceptions to the formula, including skinny-tie punk (“Emergency 911”), Dylan-esque roadhouse blues (“Down In The Basement”) and an ill-advised exercise in white-boy reggae (“Too Many”). Parallel Play joins the likes of Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend and the Posies’ Frosting On The Beater in the pantheon of power pop. [www.yeproc.com]
“I just want it to be weird,” Jim James told MAGNET last summer, when his still-gestating Evil Urges barely registered as a nefarious inclination. By that standard alone, My Morning Jacket’s fifth LP has one outright success: “Weird” is definitely the word to describe the industrial-funk “Highly Suspicious,” the album’s third song and even-money lightning rod. Any MMJ fans wondering when James would give in and embrace his inner Divine will thrill at the track’s over-the-top nitrous-oxide giggles and breathy, orgasmic squeals; for the Kentucky band’s legions of Bonnaroo-lording, Skynyrd-loving beardo diehards, it may be akin to FBI lifers finding out J. Edgar Hoover liked wearing dresses on the weekends. That said, the weirdest thing here is that nothing else is remotely weird; it’s actually a far milder affair than the musical-genre Cuisinart of 2005’s Z. The evilest urges James has are to spin some bald Eagles soft rock on “Thank You Too” and sex up a bookworm on the Donovan-esque “Librarian.” There’s Prince-ly panting here and a little Lenny Kravitz crooning there, but the straight-ahead rock and country numbers (“Remnants,” “Sec Walkin’”) fare better. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Part 2” has James remixing the album’s bland second track into an eight-minute, beat-based electro dream. Forget Evil Urges entirely; call this one Zzz. [www.atorecords.com]
—Noah Bonaparte Pais