CD Reviews 11-14

The Modern Tribe

Celebration doesn’t mince words or beats. Their singer, Katrina Ford, professes on the band’s website, she “wishes a violent death upon the era of glum audience members motionlessly watching glum bands with glum arms crossed.”
    You’re gonna be hard-pressed to stay maudlin once “Fly The Fly” jumps to life. The Modern Tribe slaps around traditional shoegazer-rock’s annoying preoccupations, and Ford’s voice never dwells in melancholy too long. “Evergreen,” produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, gives a nod to Baltimore’s geographically specific club beats.
“Hands Off My Gold” is a greedy, sexual romp the same way “Comets” and “In This Land” are dreamy and pulsating. There is no new ground broken, but the sequencing, organization and delivery are competent. —Mat Herron

Raising Sand
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

It really is a trio. The production by T Bone Burnett bridges the chasm of stylistic dissonance (which is significant but was never insurmountable). Add in session legends like Marc Ribot, and it’s not so surprising that the Original Golden God of Cock-Rock does indeed blend together with Little Miss Sweet ’n’ Bluegrass.
Plant frames a more intimate space than his usual. Burnett makes the instrumentation sound like a mysterious, slightly electric fog that shifts about to reveal tantalizing perspectives. You get some austere, alt-country balladry but also some rockabilly that makes good use of restraint and adds power to spacious guitar eccentricities. Krauss’ vocals wrap around Plant’s with an inviting, relaxed warmth.
Inspired song selections (such as The Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone”) pave the way to a reading of Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothin’” that really nails the legendary songwriter’s particular mix of humanity and doom. However, two Gene Clark songs go downright numb — proving how ethereal and precious is the magic that’s often on display here. —T.E. Lyons


On their eponymous debut album, Health make a lot of interesting noise. It’s interesting, however, in a purely academic sense. At its core, Health is a 30-minute, post-rock jam session. Whatever sense of continuity that develops between these 11 tracks appears only to be the product of boorish and repetitive rhythms that no amount of scratchy synth lines and discordant guitars can conceal.
Health’s few redeeming tracks (notably “Heaven” and “Tabloid Sores”) lose much of their value because they just sound like richer versions of the rest of the album’s tedious offerings. Sure, sometimes Health can passably emulate M83 or !!!, but you still can’t dance to them. Sure, sometimes they can capture Death From Above 1979’s thundering-percussion-meets-washboard-guitars style, but you still can’t rock to it.
At the end of the day, Health isn’t awful, but there’s no reason to pick it up when so many other bands are doing the same thing, only better. —Justin Keenan

Chase This Light
Jimmy Eat World

Since 1999’s Clarity, this Mesa, Ariz., foursome has kept gravitating toward standard pop territory so often it’s becoming rote.
Yes, Jim Adkins has a voice younger emo bands have been trying, and failing, to emulate for years — one that shifts between breathy introspection and wailing, quasi-electronic tenor. His lyrics, too, are vivid worlds that balance intimate descriptions with self-deprecating humor.
Which is why it royally sucks when, on Chase opener “Big Casino,” he drops this cornball: Rock on, young savior, don’t give up your hopes. Suddenly, this sounds more like notes from the diary of Bill & Ted, less like the man who penned “For Me This is Heaven.”
Chase has all the catch you could ever want, but it doesn’t give you enough variety, as if they’ve decoded a math theorem for pop wanderlust and used it in each track. I believe most fans don’t want the same record twice. I believe they don’t want regression, either. —Mat Herron

Robert Wyatt

If much of Robert Wyatt’s work of the last decade has invoked the pastoral jazz rock of his 1974 masterpiece Rock Bottom, Comicopera instead revisits Wyatt’s early 1980s albums Nothing Can Stop Us and Old Rottenhat.
Comicopera proceeds along a three-act structure. It begins with “Lost in Noise,” a five-song suite addressing the personal, broadens to “The Here and the Now” and ends with “Away With the Fairies” (where Wyatt indulges his polyglot form of protest).

Act One starts happily. Act Two dabbles with spirituality before being jolted into reality by events in Iraq (You planted all your everlasting hatred in my heart, he screams on “Out of the Blue”). While Act Three moves as far from Anglo-American pop as possible, with two tracks in Spanish, another in Italian, and a highly textured solo improvisation from jazz vibraphonist Orphy Robinson.

If there’s a criticism here, it’s that the structure doesn’t really work — the songs just tumble out relentlessly, with no real flow, and Act Three sounds more like a Euro-Communist EP tagged onto the rest of the album. Yet each song works brilliantly in isolation, making this a treasure trove of Wyatt’s work. —Mark Bacon

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

    Let us now, finally, a full two months after the megahyped, pre-released first single, after the “Today Show” concert, six weeks after the actual release of the full album, with another two-headed TransAtlantic tour under way and ambling slowly but inexorably toward another presidential campaign season, let us stop to consider the newest album by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

    Magic has been widely praised as a very good Springsteen album, great even. The best since … fill in the blank: The Rising (a no-brainer), Tunnel of Love (yeah), The River (uh-huh), maybe even — God forbid! — better than Born To Run, which would, of course, make it the Best Springsteen Album Ever! Such discussions are pointless — why not ask whether Mick or Keith is the Real Rolling Stone?

    But Magic is good, great even, because a) it is full of songs by an aging icon that fit squarely into today’s world; b) you can hear in these songs parts of everything the artist has done before; c) it makes a timely and courageous political statement; d) and it all works as perfect pop music. That last item is arguably the most important.

    The first single, “Radio Nowhere,” may suffer from a hype backlash, but it draws a line straight back to the moody narrator on 1982’s Nebraska, driving across that dark landscape in the wee, wee hours. Now he’s all grown up, and yet farther than ever from any meaningful connection. “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” has the raucous timbre of much of The River, that underpinning of cheerful ambient chatter buffering bleak reality bumping against stubborn hope and wrapped in joyous sonic cloaks. “I’ll Work For Your Love” has a familiar Roy Bittan piano intro leading into a sweeping wall of sound. “Long Walk Home” wonders about giving up freedom for security, wrapped inside a story of going back home to find your town all boarded up. And “Gypsy Biker,” the most poignant song here (or is that “Devil’s Arcade”?), tells of a family welcoming home its dead war hero:
    The speculators made their money/On the blood you shed
    Your Mama’s pulled the sheets up off your bed
    The profiteers on Jane Street/Sold your shoes and clothes
    Ain’t nobody talking ’cause everybody knows
    We pulled your cycle out of the garage/And polished up the chrome    Our Gypsy biker’s comin’ home
    The music is thick — it’s an E Street Band album — but leaner than much of Springsteen’s previous work as the band members step back two paces on most tunes. It is a protest album, but the words Bush, Cheney and Iraq are never uttered. More tellingly, the writer’s wrath seems to be aimed at us, the great unwashed, for swallowing all of this bullshit so easily. There’s something much deeper at work here — the boogeyman may be us.* Let’s think about that — and then let’s dance.

* A shout-out to my barber, Buster Gootee, who posited this theory. I happen to agree wholeheartedly. —Cary Stemle

Everyone’s in Everyone
Patrick Park

Singer/Songwriter artists delivering a folk-influenced sound could easily be misconstrued as simple-minded: A man and his guitar is kind of like a man and his dog. Park’s sound is clean, clear and precise, without syrupy overtones or muddled emotion. His lyrics and his songs certainly lead the sensation while his instruments drive the rhythm and the mood.
And, there’s the plus I always hone in on: This album moves with a purpose. Each song ends by handing its baton off to the next to carry the energy forward.
“Saint with a Fever” and “Pawn Song” are two of the tracks that speak of dark realities in today’s world in an honest, direct manner using the harmonica verve for added and accelerated emphasis of Park’s emotion.
“Life is a Song” pleasantly reminds me of many country folk ditties from the past, with its easy-going texture and flow, but the thought-provoking lyrics set it apart. Closing the album with title track “Everyone’s in Everyone” serves as the perfect tie to cinch this package of engaging and captivating collection of songs. Good stuff. —Michelle Manker

Your Black Star

I remember, vividly, my first experience seeing Your Black Star. It was at the Forecastle Festival. It was screaming hot outside, and there didn’t appear to be much that could cut through the suffocating blanket of humidity – until YBS hit the stage.
I believe there is much to be said for music that literally punches you in the gut. Only because my eyes saw it did I believe that the tremendous depth and complexity surging throughout the crowd truly came from such small numbers.
Beasts follows suit by taking longer strides and leaving deeper footprints, reinforcing my initial impression of this group and its sound. Though only a 6-song EP, each track is dynamic and tenacious. “Skyjacketing” is a particular favorite with oozing keyboards and haunting vocals echoing behind brazen guitars and thunderous drums. “Set The Trap” begins with pulsing and riveting drive until the vocals come forth with the aforementioned noteworthy punch right in the gut.
This EP is full of music that grabs you, and you grab back. It is chock full of zest, energy and life. The intended rawness and vehemence exhibited stylistically through both song and production are electrifying. —Michelle Manker

Make This Break This

Upon first encounter, appearances lend this album as a virtual cornucopia of random chaos and diversity via slightly comical contradiction. The readily available examples include her kelly green hair complimented by bubble gum pink high-heeled shoes and the liner notes pictured as notebook paper with stick drawings of people and puffy rain clouds. A suggestion of innocence? Not a chance. A passive-aggressive parody to those who don’t dare to verbally give a damn? More likely.
    Every single word of every single track expresses her uncompromised cynicism with the maturity of a sense of humor. Is that maturity? Is that insanity? Either way, I get hints of the unpredictability and excitement of a Tom Waits show.
    The Timer Song is no more than a wind-up clock and a ukulele, which gracefully leads into Rise. When both components are considered as one, the end result is a bit disturbing in an all too true sort of fashion. The album wholly is about love lost, confused, misplaced and misunderstood with a splash of world affairs for spice. And in balance with her blatant impudence, she doesn’t seem to be absurdly jaded. Just honest and straight-forward in her perspective. Combine this with her distinct alto voice and passionate talent with a fiddle and you have spectacular. —Michelle Manker

You Can’t Win

It isn’t any coincidence that the head in the photo on the cover is cut off, now is it?
After listening to this album over and over and over in exhausting efforts to understand the feeling they are conveying, I finally understood the meaning of the cover image. Perhaps it represents an absence of man’s mind and soul from the physical body. Do the contents speak to the commonality of the simple man, or the path and subsequently the existence of those who did not aim for societal glory?
The title track is an arduous way to begin the journey, but “Beachcomber” stylistically gives a nice lift. Bear in mind, the mood and lyrics are consistently melancholy throughout but in comparison, the guitar is a bit more upbeat than elsewhere in the collection. “You Don’t Want To Know” squeezes the air right back out of your balloon as it descends into “Buffalo Gal.”
The lyrics are pensive and, at times, even grave but never shy of contemplative and searching. It is absolutely an effort that requires endurance to persevere but all in all, worth the time. —Michelle Manker