When he’s not leading the Decemberists, Colin Meloy has been known to tour as a solo acoustic act and issue EPs featuring spare covers of songs by Morrissey, Shirley Collins and Sam Cooke. On the 17-track Colin Meloy Sings Live! (Kill Rock Stars), he gives the solo treatment to Decemberists favorites as well as snippets of songs by the Smiths, Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd.
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Although he made a wealth of intriguing music while fronting Karate, Geoff Farina never quite rose to the ranks of the indie-rock elite. Perhaps it was due to the unassuming nature of his songs, which were dominated by a jazz-based guitar style that had little to do with rock in the first place. On the debut by his new band, Farina moves even further from the archetypes of the genre, to the point where one tune is sung partially in Spanish and would sound perfectly normal being played by a street musician in Mexico. The songs on Glorytellers’ debut were written on a cheap flamenco guitar, and as such, there’s less of the plugged-in artistry Farina fans have come to expect. But the melodies are no less inventive; head straight for “Tears Of…,” a beautiful number with shades of early solo Paul Simon or Jim O’Rourke at his most sincere. At first, it seems the album lacks variety, as most of the songs move at the same unhurried pace. On closer inspection, it becomes easier to immerse yourself in the smoky balladry of “Camouflage,” the subtle harmonies and guitar accents of “Exclusive Hurricanes” and the rockabilly shuffle of “Quarantine.” Glorytellers might not appreciably raise Farina’s profile, but it’s well worth a spot in your collection. [www.southern.com]
If you’re looking for an antidote to the predictable seasonal deluge of summertime’s breezy pop pabulum, you could do worse than Clinic’s fifth full-length. Slanted toward the “rock” side of the art-rock continuum, Do It! is a prickly record filled with dense guitars, stuttering rhythms and vocals alternately blared and whispered. It’s art pop, but it’s pop to be sure; sharing fewer affinities with Trout Mask Replica than Safe As Milk, Do It! aims for the heart more often than the head, and its avant-garde flourishes are usually designed to underpin song structure rather than explode it. “Free Not Free” tempers its shaky tremolo with frontman Ade Blackburn’s open, vulnerable vocals, and every now and then a buzzing, distorted guitar line breaks up the prettiness just enough to remind you that nothing stays fragile forever; eventually it collapses or grows tough. The similarly tense “Corpus Christi” slinks along on a sinister drone, but it’s propelled by thoroughly ordinary hi-hat percussion. A few songs indulge in expected moves from the art-rock playbook (check the atonal, squalling horns on “Shopping Bag”), but Do It! is accessible enough to appeal to both curious indie-pop fans and avant musos without an obscurantist chip on their shoulders. [www.dominorecordco.us]
It can be lots of fun being in the culture-vulture industry. People you don’t know give you albums you didn’t ask for, sometimes you get into shows for free, and so on. But on very rare occasions, you also get in on the ground floor and watch as a swell band cracks a level of exposure it’s deserved for a while. So let us now praise Man Man, a motley cadre that has landed, after two albums which received limited release, on Anti- Records, home to such career cranks as Tom Waits, Merle Haggard and Eddie Izzard. Rabbit Habits, the band’s third full-length, coheres into something like a consistent aesthetic: Surrealist lyrics are wedded to instrumentation both historical (horns, marimbas) and semi-modern (electric keyboards, improvisatory percussion), and the whole thing’s whipped into lurching street-parade tempos or mournful, plaintive groans. Man Man’s music is fashioned quite literally from every damned thing at hand; the impeccably mastered Rabbit Habits, in its feral way the tightest of the band’s albums, sounds like the noisy work of a single organism thrumming and wailing on all the instruments in the studio at once. The same goes for the band’s unashamedly enthusiastic live shows, which can make you feel like your spine has been shot full of Freon. Granted, you either enjoy that sort of thing or you don’t, but if you do, Man Man’s your meat.
MAGNET spoke with singer Honus Honus about pigeonholing, pop music and freezing his man (man) parts off while recording Rabbit Habits.
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Are Dave Fridmann’s eardrums still functioning? Maybe he stood a little too close to Mercury Rev’s bass monitor or spent too many years squeezing every last decibel out of noiseniks Mogwai and the Flaming Lips. Whatever the reason, the leadoff tracks on two recent Fridmann productions—Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Some Loud Thunder and Walk It Off, the second album from Tapes ‘N Tapes—sound as if they were fed through the ruptured subwoofers of an ’86 Firebird. Opener “Le Ruse” is caked in so much low-end distortion that the Minneapolis quartet gets lost in the crackling mud. Eventually, Walk It Off reveals Tapes ‘N Tapes’ debut, 2006’s The Loon, to be both leaner and meaner. “Say Back Something” and “Hang Them All,” Walk It Off’s divergent high-water marks, are exemplary of the two tricks the group pulls off best: hopeless wistfulness and end-of-the-rope hysteria. But the secondary material here fails to match the depth of The Loon, where the buzzsaw hits never seemed to stop. Walk It Off’s latter half doesn’t produce anything to match its frontloaded first, and it ends with guitarist/vocalist Josh Grier singing, “Where did all the money go?” Good question. [www.xlrecordings.com]
—Noah Bonaparte Pais