Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Nick Cave is music’s itinerant street preacher. Put the music on, or see him live, and you smell the scent of sulphur and brimstone. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! is no different, and possibly the best of 2008. Again, the familiar topics — sex, death, literature, religion and humor — abound.
After the Stooge-esque release of Grinderman last year, they regrouped with more familiar sounds. Lazarus sounds almost too straightforward — before its ambition is revealed.
The album is glorious from beginning to end, the sound reminiscent of The Doors, with a bass-heavy groove and swirling backing. The faster songs jab and thrust, the slower pieces are all sinewy muscle and snake-like.
And the words, once again, reveal the majesty of the artist.
There is not a hint of the lovesick topics of The Boatman’s Call. Romantic love is wholly ignored. The title track and “More News From Nowhere,” glorious.
As usual, Cave’s world is self-contained. Melodic, yet cryptic. Ideas abound, yet explode into the listener’s ears. Cave sings that the world is doomed and hell-bound. And it sounds like a ride worth joining. So dig. —Mark Bacon
“Overglazed” — Stoner intro; repeats “I can feel it.”
“Bang On” — Clean, Pod-era funk jazzercise workout jam.
“Night of Joy” — Trippy Free Design/Carpenters Pod-era, sounds like The Cardigans if Liv Ullmann had been their singer.
“We’re Gonna Rise” — Slow-burning slow-core, sister harmonies.
“German Studies” — Like walking around in the dark, vocals everywhere. Really in German? Extra creep.
“Spark” — Crawls sexy.
“Istanbul” — Melodica? Harmonica? Melonica? My favorite already. Exotica. Duh. Cheerleader raps? Wow.
“Walk It Off” — It’s a hit. NY attitude, dude.
“Regalame Esta Noche” — Mid-’60s country = Freddie Fender … Wait, what’s going on here?
“Here No More” — Gorgeous sister harmonies. Everly bratz.
“No Way” — A rock song.
“It’s the Love” — Another hit, poppoppoprockrockrock.
“Mountain Battles” — Letting the air out of the tires. —Peter Berkowitz
The Odd Couple
In case you’ve recently been released from Gitmo, Gnarls Barkley is Cee-lo (Goodie MoB, Outkast pal, father of one of the brats from My Super Sweet 16) and Danger Mouse (producer of Gorillaz, Jay-Z’s Gray Album and the new Black Keys LP). They teamed up for 2006’s biggest song, “Crazy,” which eventually became your mother’s ringtone and the music playing in the background at Walgreen’s. It’s a great song, but dammit, it was everywhere.
Couple plays as an extension of their debut, while adding several elements of indie rock and dark cosmic soul to the mix. Cee-lo’s petulant delivery on songs like “Whatever” seems to tip his hat to both emo and his daughter’s MTV shenanigans, though if one digs deeper, he’s written some great lyrics here.
The highlight is easily one of the best soul songs of the last decade, in the brooding, paranoid and beautiful “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul.” They simply don’t make songs like this anymore. Danger Mouse provides a diverse yet familiar bed of open drums, jangly guitars and weird sound effects to great results. Only the frantic pacing and exhausting mastering levels leave me wanting in an otherwise nearly flawless 39 minutes. —Damien McPherson
Don’t ask me what Man Man sounds like, because they sound like a caveman circus strung out on drugs and booze. That’s the best I can do. Their songs are mostly cacophonous percussion, horns and the howls of singer, Honus Honus (I know, right?). I can’t tell you why it’s mind-blowing; it just is. Rabbit Habits is every bit as colorful and bizarre as previous efforts. The effect is often overwhelming. “Big Trouble” layers honky-tonk piano over droning horns while Honus Honus sings about feeling “like a Zombie/falling to pieces/all over your feet.” Somehow, Rabbit Habits works in spite of itself. It never aspires to erudition or sublimity; rather, it contents itself to horse around in its own baseness. It’s hard to call Rabbit Habits a new direction, because to suggest that Man Man believe in directions would be to suggest that they observe laws of formal logic or Euclidian geometry. Their house is a party you should visit from time to time, but you’d probably never want to move in. —Justin Keenan
Heavy metal is the bastard stepchild musical genre, seldom garnering the respect afforded lesser musics (hello, alt-country).
Someday, LEO will grant me the word count to flesh out that thesis, but for now, let’s just say that since Dead Child was founded by indie rock superhero Dave Pajo, the band ran the risk of being a mere joke: smarmy hipsters looking down on a supposedly blue collar, white-trash artform, while appropriating its tropes oh-so-ironically.
Instead, they play it straight, and their new disc, Attack, sounds as if Martin Birch (or maybe Max Norman) recorded it sometime around 1982. The twin guitar attack, the meat-and-potatoes rhythm section, and especially singer Dahm’s vocals, which bear a passing resemblance to Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, combine into a whole that amply demonstrates that these guys love and respect the genre (within reason, of course).
Tracks like “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” and “Eye to the Brain” are prime old-school metal, and if closing epic “Black Halo Rider” doesn’t make your head bang just a smidgen, you are a douchebag. —Jay Ditzer
Trouble in Dreams
Poor Dan Bejar. The hirsute Canadian should have been a fiery Latin. Not to get all cliché on that ass (though white people do do this), but Bejar is a passionate, passionate man whose lust for words, women, his own always just-out-of-reach ambition, and its unattainable goal — The Perfect Song — burns burns burns.
Listening to what begins to seem like the same nine-minute epic over and over reminds me of the scene in “Annie Hall,” where naïve young Annie falls for the transparently pretentious, self-styled artiste whose interest in the arts is overshadowed by his interest in nailing chicks, man.
Having survived my 20s, painfully, I had to know many guys like this, who teetered on the edge of bipolar disorder. Some could play instruments well, or write or sing like a more glam-inspired Bob Dylan, but most didn’t get as far as this fiery Canuck. I guess that counts for something. —Peter Berkowitz