Issue August 13, 2008

Music Reviews

Conor Oberst

Conor Oberst

(MERGE)

<like it or not>

Conor Oberst is a divisive character. Enough people have praised him as the boy wonder of modern indie rock. An equal number think he’s an erudite, over-hyped snob. 

The location where he conceived his first solo album in 13 years — in a spiritual, E.T.-friendly Aztec city in Mexico — is enough dynamite for his critics to say his outer eccentricities finally match his inner ones. 90-piece mariachi band! 100 Flamenco dancers stomping as guest percussion! Lou Reed lip-synchs in the video!

Not here. Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band sound like they’re on a retreat skinny-dipping in creeks. His vivid lyrics are better than most of what’s out there, even if he’s bookish enough to be class geek.

The Dylan comparisons are a bit much. Dylan sounds meaner. This self-titled effort steers closer to Petty, what with Oberst’s lazy, even carefree, delivery adding to the jubilant punch of “I Don’t Want To Die (In A Hospital),” where he sounds like he’s barely keeping up with the band.

Credit the arrangements for making this distinguishable from the Bright Eyes catalog. He’s less experimental than Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, save for “Valle Mistico (Ruben’s Song),” 50 seconds of proverbial Huh? —Mat Herron

Whistle Peak

Whistle Peak

(SELF-RELEASED)

<neatly>

I listened. It aroused my curiosity, but I just couldn’t put my finger on what exactly “it” was. So, I got out my magic 8-ball and shook it up, hoping for direction. First fortune: Sounds like Beck. Shake it up again. Second fortune: A Kentucky version of Devo? Shake that thing one more time: Stop thinking so much. 

It’s a hodgepodge, really. “Old Adage” has some hints of Pokey LaFarge; “Fold You” has a Neil Young sort of draw. Overall, the music could be collectively described as poignant, bittersweet and earthy, accompanied by a slightly effeminate percussion that makes me want to sit in the grass and make clover necklaces.

Opening track “Mecro” is curious enough to entice commitment, and “Storms in the Ocean” ends the album as cleanly as closing a book. Although not a single track has any semblance of zest or pep, the consistency in the bass, coupled with an assortment of random brightness throughout, demonstrated through such instruments as the ukulele, charm the listener into a curious state of unexpected pleasure. Decent stuff. —Michelle Manker

Conquer

Soulfly

(ROADRUNNER)

<conquerors>

I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Max Cavalera make music since 1991, when I first heard Sepultura, his first band. The charismatic singer-guitarist led his quartet out of Sao Paulo and defined the concept of Brazilian metal for the majority of the world, down to his novel, Portuguese-accented, guttural vocals. Almost two decades, one band and many years living in Arizona later have done little to alter the angry-teenager sound and perspective of Cavalera’s now-old-fashioned-sounding metal. This will be reassuring to some, and honestly, to me, to some degree, because it ain’t broke. Then again, there are times when I wish that irmão would grow up a little. His idea of changing it up, on a song like “Unleash,” leads to little more than ripping off Pantera. Is that worth your time in 2008? Plus, Max and his brother made a record earlier this year as The Cavalera Conspiracy that was even more metal than this. The choice is yours. —Peter Berkowitz

Fate

Dr. Dog

(PARK THE VAN)

<my harmonium>

I tried for more than three days to come up with a way to talk about Fate without mentioning the obvious. Labor though I did, I couldn’t think of a single way to describe Dr. Dog and their fifth album without saying “Beach Boys.”

The sunny, breezy melodies, the light, ensemble vocals, and the multitudinous nods to various genres compel the comparison. There’s something familiar and classic about this simple, 11-track collage of influences (it’s not just the Beach Boys — there’s more to it than that).

Fate offers a comforting collection of songs that envelopes you like flannel; warm, cozy, new-to-you-but-not-new-at-all. “One Hundred Years” brings to mind Uncle Tupelo. “Army of Ancients” reminds you of all the things you like about John Lennon. James Brown even makes an appearance on “The Beach.” Bringing together all the things that made you like music in the first place, Fate is what you want family reunions to be like: concise, fun and a chance to revel in the stuff you hold dear. (Hear our podcast interview with Dr. Dog at www.leoweekly.com.) —Kirsten Schofield

She Ain’t Me

Carrie Rodriguez

(MANHATTAN)

<up, steam>

Like a gray, rainy summer day just gently misting up the vast prairies of the Lone Star State, Austin’s Carrie Rodriguez sends a steamy afternoon shower on her second album, She Ain’t Me. The album has a cozy feel, and though there weren’t many risks taken vocally or instrumentally, it’s a warm, pleasant, alt-country experience.

An avid violinist/fiddler trained at Berklee, Rodriguez uses strings to complement her smoky voice for a wispy sound with a hint of twang just beneath the surface, giving that Southern feel. With an encompassing theme of full and airy sounds, the record offers modest variety from track to track, maintaining a nice flow. 

The opening track, “Infinite Night,” sets the tone for the rest of the album, which takes a few twists and turns dynamically, but perhaps a bit too safely. Relaxing but engaging, She Ain’t Me is the scenic route on a Southern road trip: smooth and constant but pretty nonetheless. —Jane Mattingly

Scars on Broadway

Scars on Broadway

(INTERSCOPE)

<incongruous>

With System of a Down on hiatus, lead guitarist Daron Malakian and drummer John Dolmayan have formed a new band called Scars on Broadway. This, a more straightforward-rock thing, ultimately fails its hype. 

Most of the songs are two- or three-minute ideas that rely on a single hook, frantic delivery and little else (sound familiar, SOD fans?). The record’s cohesion is questionable — is this minimized formula rock? A studio-slick amalgam of punk, dance and disjointed screaming passages? Did he really just shout Supercalifragalisticexpealidocious? Lyrics range from political commentary to frivolous nonsense, and Malakian’s descending hollering during the verses of “Chemicals” is laughably obnoxious.

These disparate elements do work together on a couple produced-to-sound-heavy pop songs: not completely on the single “They Say,” but tracks like “Kill Each Other/Live Forever” and “Babylon” are better. To compliment this debut, I could characterize it as diverse and driving, but it’s more honest to note its lack of development and direction. Scars on Broadway is an odd attempt at over-produced frat-rock that does not compare favorably with the band members’ previous work. —Derek Knisely