Here’s a back-handed compliment that’s going to sound a lot uglier than I mean it to: turn off your brain and listen to Wormburner. Roll the windows down, turn the radio up and rock out. They’re loud, they’re catchy, and they aren’t trying to be anything other than what they are—a fun power-pop band that your frat-boy brother would love to play at his next kegger. And I’m not being sarcastic in the least.
Their website calls them, “one of New York’s most exciting live bands,” and I can believe it. Check out “Muscle Car,” with its crowd-revving synth intro and lyrics that sound like something The Boss would’ve written in his Born to Run days. Try “Skinny Leather Tie” (mp3), with the ever-crowd-pleasing slight mention of drug use that inevitably makes crowds go crazy. And if you’re in the crowd when they play “Doctor’s Orders” and you don’t start thrashing your head back and forth, get lost and make room for the kids outside trying to get in.
Swan Lake is the latest product of the incestuous Canadian music scene. There’s Dan Bejar, of New Pornographers and Destroyer, Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown, and Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes. With this line-up, the expectations for the album are going to be superfluously high.
And on paper, this combination certainly seems like it would be a massive success. But paper doesn’t always translate to real life. While it delivers most of the time, Beast Moans is inconsistent. The biggest problem is a general lack of cohesion on the album as a whole; it sounds like Bejar, Krug and Mercer are three separate entities. It is abundantly apparent that they wrote these songs separately. It lacks the collaboration that you hear on other albums by bands like Gnarls Barkley, where it sounds like Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo were working with each other.
What makes the Hold Steady great is their ability to write heartbreaking songs that tell of wild teen years, substance abuse, and jaded Christianity. Craig Finn hones his prowess as a lyricist in their third and best release, Boys and Girls in America, and in so doing makes the album of the year.
On this album, the Hold Steady improve their take on the “Springsteen” sound with a new maturity. The riffs are better, and overall they sound more musical than they ever have before. And Finn crafts some of his most poignant lyrics yet. Separation Sunday was linked by its stories of lost faith and its tales of characters who partake in youthful extravagance, getting wasted and having fun. But this album, instead of glorifying youth, looks back with remorse. The first verse of the album establishes that theme with a nod to Kerouac: “There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right / Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together.”
Finn’s best lyrics take him back to high school, a time he looks back on with sadness. He considers the betrayals of past relationships: “I’ve had kisses that make Judas seem sincere.” On “Massive Nights,” he regrets the nights of partying: “We had some massive highs / we had some crushing lows.”
A major problem in entertainment today is the lack of originality. Such is the case with the Welsh group People In Planes. They come across as a new Muse or Snow Patrol, which of course begs the question: do we need a new Muse or Snow Patrol? Especially one with shamefully bad lyrics.
People In Planes’ debut, As Far As the Eye Can See, comes roaring in with the bad-ass, coked-out “Barracuda,” begging, “Don’t let me pull over / My senses rely on the finest wine / The quickest time.” Um…what? When they try to get deep, it’s even worse. “Falling by the Wayside” and “Penny” read like passages from a teenager’s poetry notebook. Here, even the music can’t pull it out of the realm of the mundane. Album closer, “Narcoleptic,” is a weak Incubus impression with the chorus: “Must be narcoleptic / Can’t help the way I am (I’m so tired).” Thanks for making us wade through the entire album for that.
The syncopated tonic scale that decorates “Rush” tries to hide lines such as, “Beware of the professional / You won’t get me on / My bicycle with you.” That’s pretty much how it goes with the whole album: raging, kick-ass rock (replete with time and key changes a la Muse) masking a lyrical quagmire. The album’s not all bad: “For Miles Around (Scratch To Void)” is a fine Muse rip-off, and the first single, “If You Talk Too Much (My Head Will Explode)” is interesting enough (mp3). The effort is there, but there are too many inane lyrics and overproduced choruses to make much of an impact. Maybe next time.