CD Reviews for 2-20-08

Feb 19, 2008 at 5:14 pm
The Golden Age
American Music Club

For AMC’s ninth studio album, I expected Mark Eitzel & Co. to come out of the gate like a depressed, narcoleptic horse that bucks me when it kicks into high gear and drags me rocking toward the finish line with jagged guitar daggers and wailing vocals stressing Eitzel’s “the bar is a macrocosm of the world’s pain” observations.
    And I’m half right.
    The album begins like most AMC albums do. “All My Love” is slow, pretty and pretty sad, but then my expectations collapse.
    There’s no punch in the gut or loud anthems, no explicitly open vein and no poignant album centerpiece of possible redemption. Instead, Eitzel continues comfortably with smooth, well-constructed, alt-tuned songwriting, carried along by (best sidekick this side of the Edge) Vudi’s gentle, feedback-soaked guitar atmospherics, and kept solidly in line by the new rhythm section of bassist Sean Hoffman and drummer Steve Didelot.
    Eitzel’s voice is strong and pleasant on songs like “The Decibels and the Little Pills” and “The Sleeping Beauty.” Don’t get me wrong — he still describes lost souls’ pain better than anybody, but the album, aided by quiet Beach Boys-like harmonies and a few keys and horns, is evidence that redemption is in the small treasures Eitzel finds in each of his characters, not through them. —Michael Sohan

Heretic Pride
The Mountain Goats

For all John Vanderslice’s polish and production, Heretic Pride remains John Darnielle’s record. The third Vanderslice-produced Mountain Goats album maintains, and sometimes expands, the arrangements of 2005’s The Sunset Tree.
“New Zion” and “Lovecraft in Brooklyn” are both treated with large doses of drums and violin. While the instrumentation has grown more elaborate, the music itself has stayed decidedly minimalist, to the point where we wonder if all the extra keyboards, strings and percussion don’t distract from what always made The Mountain Goats great: John Darnielle’s songwriting.
“So Desperate” handles the same themes of frustrated love and isolation we’ve come to expect from Darnielle. At his best, he conceals these themes in vivid narratives and elaborate conceits. Persona poems “Michael Myers Resplendent” and “How to Embrace a Swamp Creature” become the high points. Darnielle’s voice quivers and shakes during the climax of “In the Craters on the Moon.” At these moments, we believe that Darnielle believes what he’s singing, and that’s when we remember why we loved The Mountain Goats to begin with. —Justin Keenan

Lust, Lust, Lust
The Raveonettes

The Raveonettes return to their love affair with ’80s British new wave on their new release Lust, Lust, Lust. The Danish duo (now bi-coastal, living in Los Angeles and New York) enjoy distorted guitars almost to the exclusion of anything else. I mean, I love The Jesus and Mary Chain, too, but come on. Some genuinely sweet offerings like “Hallucinations,” “Sad Transmission” and “The Beat Dies” end up overwhelmed by the fuzz.
The record starts off with the Death in Vegas-esque “Aly, Walk with Me” followed by a run of 3-minute pop offerings. Though the aforementioned guitar wash invades nearly every song, I’m definitely not immune to the charms of Sune Rose Wagner and the 6-foot Sharin Foo. It seems somewhat impossible for Scandinavian pop not to be adorable.
It feels a bit like the band has fallen back into a comfort zone after the more adventurous Pretty in Black, but all in all, I’ve spent an enjoyable Sunday afternoon listening to the rather friendly Lust, Lust, Lust. —L. Park

Throw Me the Statue

Throw Me the Statue’s debut album, Moonbeams, sounds like a boy smitten by the pinups of yesteryear. From track to track, it is a love letter to indie bands as they were before hipster soundtracks for “Garden State” and “The O.C.” destroyed their anonymity.
    Producer Casey Foubert (Sufjan Stevens) and Statue mastermind Scott Reitherman prove that, collectively, they have the best ear for lo-fi arrangements this side of Jeff Mangum. Partner that with Reitherman’s tenor voice and sing-song melodies, and you have a truly unique listening experience.
    Reitherman’s lyrics are consistently mysterious — never committing to full-on optimism nor complete cynicism — but the sunny disposition with which he sings seems dishonest, and alludes to an uneasy gloom lying just below the surface of every word.
    “Lolita” is a wonderfully explosive love song that sounds like Reitherman recorded it with the house band at the 1957 Copacabana. “Conquering Kids,” which discusses the increasing distance between adulthood and youth, is wavering and heartbreaking as the lyrics paint a nostalgic picture of a bygone era. The apocalyptic coda of “The Happiest Man on the Plane,” serves as the perfect last glance toward the future of indie rock. —Brent Owen

Allison Moorer

Why another version of “Ring of Fire”? Hasn’t it been slowed/speeded/smoothed/roughened, etc., enough? Americana princess Moorer might be including it because the song’s such a recognizable landmark among women songwriters.
Here are a dozen tracks written or co-written by a variety of women (including Moorer). The disc hangs together on Buddy Miller’s slightly busy production. It’s anyone’s guess whether Miller decided to add the sprightly strings and chunky, growling guitar only after hearing the understated direction in which Moorer was taking her interpretations.
But without the choices in arrangement and sound, solid-but-not-earthshaking versions of “Dancing Barefoot” (Patti Smith) and “Go, Leave” (Kate McGarrigle) would seem shorted of dynamic contrast. Curiously, Moorer takes a long time to warm to “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl” (Nina Simone) and doesn’t add anything new to sister Shelby Lynne’s “She Knows Where She Goes.” But Moorer can’t ever be written off, as shown in a perfectly loosened performance of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” Haven’t we heard enough of that warhorse? —T.E. Lyons

Gary Louris

Simply put, Vagabonds is a damn good album from start to finish.
This long overdue solo effort from the former leader of Americana giants the Jayhawks boasts an impressive supporting cast — Susannah Hoffs, Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley) and pedal steel player Josh Grange among them — that helps give this endearing batch of songs the treatment it deserves.
Tastefully produced by former label-mate Chris Robinson (of the Black Crowes), the 10 introspective tracks that comprise Vagabonds rank among Louris’ best work to date. More understated than much of Louris’ previous output with Golden Smog and the Jayhawks, this record is a subtle beauty rich in melody, harmony and thought-provoking lyrics. It is hard to pick favorites here, but I’m willing to bet that the producer’s is “I Wanna Get High.” —Kevin M. Wilson