Where’s The Street Team?: Heavy-Metal Parking Lot

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Let’s rock out! Let’s make some metal! Better yet, let’s fake it! I’m not a metalhead. I do, however, know a lot about metal and have always listened to it alongside more obvious obsessions. I bought Mercury Rev’s Boces during the same record-store outing that netted Death’s Individual Thought Patterns. I know, whoop-dee-doo, but I want to distinguish myself from some windbag who latched onto this shit three years ago. It’s interesting to note that the only genre more clique-ish than indie rock is metal, and the invasion of one by the other has produced much whining and fruitless grandstanding. And rocking out? Rocking out is still a popular and novel way to spice up those breadwinning careers that are allergic to energy. Join me, dear friends and amusing enemies, for a look at a few clumsy mid-career crises, ones that result from a need to show the world that metal is cool. As of yesterday.

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Bright Eyes: Carry That Weight

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A private, precocious songwriter who’s grown up in public, Conor Oberst has shouldered expectations and weathered the hype. But Bright Eyes’ latest album, an orchestral-country passion play for the 21st-century decline, is the heaviest thing he’s ever done. By Matthew Fritch

They say it takes a worried man to sing a worried song. Until now, you may not have regarded Conor Oberst as someone who’s seen a lot of trouble—or enough of it to craft one of the most complex, haunting records a concerned citizen is likely to hear in 2007. Cassadaga, the Omaha, Neb., native’s sixth full-length under the name Bright Eyes, is set against a bleak backdrop of American idiocy and imperialism, its 13 songs bound by lyrics about holy wars, Babylon and falling empires. Not to mention polar ice caps, hurricanes, poor black children and a frightened middle class. Cassadaga isn’t an album; it’s a federal disaster area.

If this gives the impression that Cassadaga is the feel-bad album of the year, with Oberst preaching the kind of liberal politics that landed him on the Vote For Change tour in 2004 alongside R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen, well, that’s kind of like saying M*A*S*H wasn’t funny because of all the wounded soldiers lying around. Cassadaga is full of symphonic, weird, cosmic country/rock, and it’s more than a little confusing. Here, Bright Eyes sounds as eerily uplifting as the Titanic’s string band, playing for beauty and kicks even as the ship is going down.

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Dinosaur Jr: Ancient Ruins And The Monumental Reunion

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The Seminal Band Reunion is becoming so commonplace that it’s refreshing when one is done right, as they’re so often pathetic, flaccid performances by old farts in it for a quick buck. The old farts know that the sycophants will come out in droves, tongues dragging on the floor as a set of classic songs is phoned in and an unfortunate new album is lapped up. But when it comes to the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr—guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph—and the band’s new studio album, Beyond (Fat Possum), the outcome couldn’t be further from the previously described debacle.

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Classic Alternative: Buffalo Tom “Let Me Come Over” [Beggars Banquet]

buffalotom_380Of all the enduring alt-rock templates to come out of New England’s Fort Apache Studios, 1992’s Let Me Come Over may have suffered the most undeserving fate. While the Pixies’ Come On Pilgrim, Dinosaur Jr’s Bug and the Blake Babies’ Earwig had no literal designs on mass appeal, Buffalo Tom’s third album was the sound of a band clamoring for the next level. Let Me Come Over marked the trio’s transition from the Dinosaur Jr lite of 1988’s Buffalo Tom and 1990’s Birdbrain to a far more imaginative reconciliation of layered psychedelia and Neanderthal noise. From its juiced-up acoustic-to-electric power ballads (“Taillights Fade,” “Mineral,” “Frozen Lake”) to its reliance on mesmerizing melodic repetition, Let Me Come Over is a beautiful, overachieving mess whose moving parts weren’t always well-oiled. Drummer Tom Maginnis’ herky-jerky timekeeping always seems to be trailing just behind the beat. Frontman Bill Janovitz’s lyrics are the convoluted spew of a cooter-crazed UMass dweeb with one ass-cheek on the psychoanalyst’s couch and the other on a barstool, his vocals a half-hollered marvel of overcompensation. On the frenzied “Darl,” bassist Chris Colbourn can be heard whining for his mommy. Which is fitting, because Let Me Come Over is defined by the contradictions between Buffalo Tom’s rock-star aspirations and its inability to stomach the posturing that comes along with it, choosing instead to lay waste to its imperfections with some of the most devastatingly beautiful guitar rock of the ’90s. [www.buffalotom.com]

—Hobart Rowland

Elvis Perkins: Come On Pilgrim

elvisperkins77350On the surface, you should be able to draw a straight artistic line from the dark, Leonard Cohen-like moodiness of neo-folkie Elvis Perkins’ debut album to his surreal Hollywood upbringing. (He’s the son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins and actress/photographer Berry Berenson.) But it’s not so simple, sighs Perkins, who documents one particularly jagged detour on vaudevillian romp “May Day!”

“I’m moving from Santa Fe back to Los Angeles on the first of May,” he explains of the track from Ash Wednesday (XL). “And I’d gone there to … gather myself on my way to some greater clarity. Santa Fe was a place of spiritual energy, and I felt it, for sure. So I spent a year and a half there, gathered my strength, my thoughts and powers, and I decided to move back to Los Angeles and make my music happen.”

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