Tag Archives: Matador

Guided By Voices – Half Smiles Of The Decomposed

Guided By VoicesHalf Smiles Of The Decomposed (Matador)

Well, so long and thanks for all the fish. Bob Pollard closes the books with this album on Guided By Voices, and this is either a bitter-sweet farewell or long overdue exit depending on which camp you fall into. If you’re an indie snob purist, you’ll write this album off like every other one since Under The Bushes Under The Stars (or if you’re kind, Mag Earwhig). Slavish fan-boys (like me) will shrilly impose this album on all their long-suffering friends. But to the point: has Uncle Bob and his boys over-stayed their welcome? Well, ahem – maybe.

Like most of GBV’s post-lo-fi days, Half Smiles Of The Decomposed has its ups and downs. Yes, there’s filler; yes, there’s goodness. However, unlike recent albums like Earthquake Glue or Isolation Drills, there doesn’t seem to be any fruitless search for a hit. Their own early critical success has hemmed them into an indie circle-jerk; the mainstream can’t hear them, the critics are still pissed at them for Do The Collapse. Pollard realizes this, I think. Thus the reason for the breakup.

So how’s the album? Like I always say about recent GBV albums (Earthquake Glue is the exception—excellent for anybody): pick it up if you’re a fan. If you’re not, this won’t sway you. And wait for Pollard’s solo ouput. I have a feelng he’s saved some of the best stuff for Act 2.

MP3s available from Matador and gbv.com.

Interpol – Antics

InterpolAntics (Matador)

Interpol’s 2002 debut, Turn On The Bright Lights, was one of the year’s best albums. The moody, propulsive guitars and cryptic lyrics of the down-and-out four-piece propelled them into the limelight and critical acclaim. The question is, does their new album, Antics, rest on its laurels?

Antics begins with the sweet sounds of a Sunday organ on “Next Exit,” a plodding, slow-dance hymn about returning to a home that’s become strange place. The entire album seems to be treading awkwardly over old ground, specifically in the land of star-crossed romances. Lyrics like “Feast your eyes I’m the only one / control me console me / cause that’s just how it should be done” (“Narc”) and “The anatomy of kisses and a teacher who tries / who knows I will disappear” (“Take You On A Cruise”) make this a perfect album to play while sorting through yellowed love letters.

The bluntly love-addled lyrics may border on tacky, but Paul Banks’ vocals give them a nervy and self-conscious quality. Sprinkled throughout the album are new wave strings and bittersweet choral harmonizing.

While the album maintains Interpol’s signature taut sound—the drumplay of Sam Fogarino providing a bouncy punch, with Dan Kessler’s guitar skipping around Carlos Dengler’s meaty and relentless bass lines—the overall feel is more subdued than on Bright Lights. Antics lends itself more to quiet introspection. Interpol, while not exactly boldly going where no band has gone before (“A Time To Be So Small” is off of an early EP), certainly can’t be accused of making a cookie-cutter album.

Slick as they sound, Interpol has actually moved away from the frantic, high-speed gloss of their debut, going as far as to toy with feedback on several tracks, notably the delicious finale to “Public Pervert.” The only sore spot is the cheese of “Not Even Jail.”

Flying in the face of a sophomore bomb, these pretentious New York kids have clearly established that they know how to rock. Will this satisfy their swelling fan-base? All the cool kids think so, but the only reason Interpol has reached so many ears in the first place is because everyone and their scenester brother has picked up on the fact that NYC bands are a hot ticket.

It can be tough to sort through all the ultimately forgettable acts out there. But it’s safe to say that Interpol is doing justice to NYC. And who really cares about New York when you’re experiencing great music?

A.C. Newman – The Slow Wonder

A.C. NewmanThe Slow Wonder (Matador)

A.C. (Carl) Newman follows his fellow New Pornographer Dan Bejar with an excellent solo release that is sure to make many a critic’s year end top ten. Whereas Bejar put out the art album of the year with Destroyer (review), Newman has put out a power pop album that sounds much like Mass Romantic outtakes. Keep in mind; this isn’t a bad thing, as The Slow Wonder contains eleven songs that highlight how tremendous of a songwriter Newman is.

“Miracle Drug” (mp3) is so damn catchy that you fear Newman set you up for disappointment the rest of the way. However, the bouncing “Drink to Me, Babe, Then” (mp3) tops it with perfectly timed symbol crashes and hand claps. Each song stands out as a pop gem and deserves a paragraph of praise. “On the Table,” “Most of Us Prizefighters,” and “Secretarial” are reason enough to play The Slow Wonder over and over again.

Yet, Newman slows the tempo with faultless precision on “Come Crash” and “The Cloud Prayer.” Singing, “Once again, you’re a Godsend” on the former you can’t help but think this translates to the timing of the release of the album. Saving his best for the end Newman incorporates a cello of all instruments to turn “The Town Halo” into a song of the year candidate. And brings the listener to their knees with the tremendous closer “35 in the Shade.”

In what might become the Year of the Pornographer, The Slow Wonder is a half hour of concise and catchy power pop songs. You’ll find it hard to get through the entire album because of hitting repeat after each one.

MP3s via Matador.

Guided By Voices – Earthquake Glue

Guided By Voices – Earthquake Glue (Matador)

If you’re a die-hard skeptic of Guided By Voices, and wish that they’d make another Bee Thousand and quit riding the ‘wish we were popular’ horse they’ve been on for years, quit reading. And skip Earthquake Glue. The old lo-fi, frustrated-math-teacher days of GBV are long behind them and aren’t coming back. For their past few albums Bob Pollard and his boys have tried to point themselves in the direction of a hit, and it looks like this time they might have one.

Earthquake Glue is good solid rock, coated with that faux-Dada patina that Pollard has refined over the years. And it features some of Pollard’s best songwriting. At times it sounds like GBV is channeling some lost Who rock opera, as written by Marcel DuChamp. And that’s good.

And gone is the filler – this one is tight. Standout tracks include “My Kind Of Soldier,” a buoyant rocker that sounds amazing live, “Useless Inventions,” a brilliant take on the technology of modern life (and a seriously rocking tune), “The Best Of Jill Hives,” very close in spirit to “I Am A Scientist,” and “I’ll Replace You With Machines,” a warp-drive anthem with a catchy guitar core. This is great stuff – “Useless Inventions” is one of the best recent GBV songs I’ve heard, and deserves to be heard by everyone.

The rest of Earthquake Glue is almost as good. That GBV album you’ve been meaning to pick up for the last few years but never got around to buying? Make it this one.

You can stream the entire album, watch the “My Kind Of Soldier” video, and download the “I’ll Replace You With Machines” mp3 and the “My Kind Of Soldier” mp3.

The New Pornographers – Electric Version

The New PornographersElectric Version (Matador)

The Vancouver conglomeration (with Virginian chanteuse Neko Case as an added bonus) The New Pornographers are back with their second album for Matador, Electric Version, the follow up to 2000’s out-of-left-field killer Mass Romantic. The sound here is distinctly similar to what is on their debut, yet certain aspects of their game are even sharper. Forget about a sophomore slump, the Pornographers come out swingin’, and most shots are headed for the fence.

The so-called “supergroup” sounds more like an actual band on this one instead of reeking of collaboration as they did before. The songs are sharper and the melodies tighter, the production is better and the mood a little looser. The root elements from Mass Romantic are intact—Carl Newman still knows not only how to write a hook, but to play it to its max and Case’s voice soars heavenward—but with the improvements in the band, everything that was good on Mass Romantic now sounds even better.

Newman fills as much space with sound as possible—there is always a buzzing guitar, well-placed vocal harmonies or keyboards between all the cracks—yet the atmosphere remains spacious and breezy. To take the road that has been traveled constantly with these Pornographers, Phil Spector and Brian Wilson are the obvious references, but there are also shades of Todd Rundgren, The Kinks and Cheap Trick.

Electric Version features a sound so bright and lush, intelligent yet fun, that I can’t imagine anyone not liking it. Throw away all of your preconceptions about what music you can and can’t like and you’ll find yourself loving every minute here.

From the raucous sing-a-long “From Blown Speakers” to the more sedated “Loose Translation” to “Testament to Youth in Verse,” there isn’t a mistake to be found. Simply put: album of the summer.

You can download mp3s of “The New Face of Zero and One” and “The Laws Have Changed” from Matador.

Interpol – Turn On the Bright Lights

InterpolTurn On the Bright Lights (Matador)

When Magnet, the most respectable major American music magazine [ahem, in the “paper” world – ed.] chose Interpol for their April/May cover, I scoffed at the newsstand. Someone nearby asked me if I was okay. I shook my head. However, with that surprising discovery I chose to take another look at their debut album, Turn On the Bright Lights. That’s despite the fact that I’d seen them perform four times already. And that I owned a (forgotten) promo. I was surprised, after a few more listens, to find musical merit—plenty of it.

Repress, for a moment, the prevalent notions that you have of the band Interpol. Those ideas that they are fashion-obsessed musicians that wear their egos on well-tailored sleeves are correct. The ideas that they are a talentless Joy Division Redux with little musicality and less originality are not. The size of their collective ego is duly correspondent with the quality of the music that they create. Put aside your lingering doubts and give a listen to their album’s simplest song, musically-speaking. “NYC” is the lowest point that the band manages to reach in terms of mood (and likely spawned the countless comparisons to Joy Division). This track, though musically constricted, is the most indicative of Interpol’s artistic potential, when contrasted with the rest of the album. It radiates the type of synergy that comes along only when the members of the band choose to step back appropriately and highlight what is most important to the song, rather than themselves. In this case, it is the lyrics, secondarily the delivery of the vocals.

This is lead-singer Paul Banks at his most somber, yet the track is anything but monotonous or lethargic. No hints of imminent suicide are to be found. His voice, even in a studio recording is downright emotive, making “NYC” an unmistakable anthem of what can only be a male depression. The song is necessarily simple. From the other tracks, one would know that the guitarist (Dan Kessler), bassist (Carlos Dengler), and drummer (Sam Fogarino) have much more to offer. What makes this track—and ultimately, the album—work is that they leave the preacher at the pulpit to do his thing, supportive of his monologue.

Ultimately, I have more listening to do, as do the others who scoffed with me at that cover. Most will find something to appreciate about this band if they listen, be it Carlos Dengler’s proof that the bass has a place in rock or whatever else. It’s not as hard to hear as I had originally made it.

See for yourself—you can download mp3s of NYC and PDA from Matador.

A Direct Hit: And Yes I Do Want to Be Free

Cat PowerYou Are Free (Matador)

Cat Power - You Are FreeA) I feel like I’ve already raved quite a bit about Cat Power on this site, and b) I feel like I rave too much in general. So how should I write about a record I already love but I’m self-conscious about raving about?

I emailed Jake Brown, my editor, that I was having trouble writing this review because I feel foolish (come along, fool) to rave about Cat Power one more time. I wish I was Lester Bangs, I said, and he said, “Make a lot of coffee and type non-stop until you have 3,000 words.” So I am. This is it.

Continue reading A Direct Hit: And Yes I Do Want to Be Free

Cat Power – Moon Pix

Cat PowerMoon Pix (Matador)

Matador just announced that Cat Power will be releasing a new cd, You Are Free, in Feb. 2003. Though Chan Marshall (she’s Cat Power) put out the Covers Record in 2000, this’ll be the long-awaited follow-up to Moon Pix (1998).

Fans of Marshall have been wondering where she will have gone from the dark, haunting Moon Pix. For those not acquainted with this record, a glance at its lyrics on one of the many websites devoted to her is enough to suggest the poetic, free associative style of her writing. “Say you’ll say the same thing/let us hold fast to saying the same thing,” she sings on “Say,” a mysterious song that might be about two people agreeing to issue the same information to the public, and might be about social convention: “Hope all is well with you, I wish the best for you,” she sings in a possible caricature of social niceties. Yet her voice is devoid of mockery, and what comes next feels genuinely loving: “When no one is around, love will always love you.” I’ve had discussions with friends about what she might be saying in this song – inconclusive ones, of course.

“Metal Heart” is the most beautiful song on the cd — like “King Rides By,” an earlier Marshall masterpiece, it has a musically simple base, but what’s built on top of that is textured and imagistically complex. “You’re losing the calling that you’ve been faking, and I’m not kidding,” she sings of the blank, dreary time that follows a break-up. “Losing the stars right out of the sky.”

Whatever they’re saying, the songs have an eerie power. There’s a darkness in Marshall’s music that’s dangerous to encounter if your own mood is shaky. “Have you ever been to that place? You know the one, I’m not supposed to say,” she sings in “He Turns Down.” Or, has anyone ever heard a more hopeless line than this from “No Sense:” “The moon is so hollow/ What’s the use?” The record, both lyrically and instrumentally, is suffused with heartache and loss. But it’s also crafted with such originality that it’s exhilarating as well as sad. Marshall has a genius for making the ordinary memorable: “We can roll up our jeans/ so the tide won’t get us below the knees…” she sings in “Colors and the Kids.” That kind of matter-of-fact imagery distinguishes her songs, and her voice, above all her voice, can twist any phrase into a resonant, honest, totally affecting lyrical moment.

Marshall is from the South and you can hear it in her haunted wail. She comes from the understated indie rock tradition, but her occasional full-on yell reminds me of blues hollerer Wynonie Harris. Rock critic Steve Tignor once wrote, in a brilliant piece on her in Puncture, that he hoped she’d pursue “the rootsier opportunities in her singing.” One thing seems certain: she’ll never do anything predictable. Despite her erratic live performances, the recorded songs of this American original will always be worth checking out.

Mary Timony – The Golden Dove

Mary TimonyThe Golden Dove (Matador)

Helium, Mary Timony’s old band, could always be counted on to spook you with the rock. With Timony’s articulate, cryptic (arcryptulate?) lyrics weaving between spiraling guitar lines, Helium was the indie rock answer to Medieval Baebes. THE GOLDEN DOVE is Mary Timony’s second solo effort, and it’s nice to see that her adoration for the 16th and 17th century lingers, even as she fucks up the Renaissance rhythms with rock and roll. On “The Mirror,” a courtly melody in the verse is invaded by girl group sensiblities in the chorus. “Music and Charming Melodee” is Stereolab in King Arthur’s court. But it’s “14 Horses” that may contain the couplet that best encapsulates Timony’s symbiosis of Medieval mood and modern indie rock theme: “I fell in a poisoned well/through the water I saw HELL/Take the telephone outside/someone bury it alive.”

MP3 available from Epitonic.