CD Reviews for 2-6-08

Feb 5, 2008 at 8:48 pm
Old Growth
Dead Meadow

D.C.-to-L.A. transplants Dead Meadow begin 2008 with their fifth studio album, and third for Matador, Old Growth. Even though I cannot fathom the reasoning behind putting more than two minutes of static at the end of the first track (or the blatant Led Zeppelin “Four Sticks” intro rip-off on “Down Here”), Old Growth isn’t without its charms.
The psychedelic offspring of D.C. scenesters The Impossible Five and Colour, Dead Meadow sway through the ’60s and early ’70s in their merry stoner rock sort of way. I’m sure they get tired of lazy reviewers conjuring up the same imagery with every review, but from what I understand, they have a groove that’s on repeat, much to the delight of their fans.
    I’ve been down this droning semi-bluesy, hippie-fied road before, and it’s an easy enough ride that doesn’t require too much thought. While it’s true, I’d rather just listen to Zeppelin, Old Growth manages to find a way to feel somewhat fresh and enticing. My favorite track is “Great Deceiver,” which feels sublime and heavy at the same time. —L. Park

My Blueberry Nights Soundtrack
Various Artists

Artifice looms over movies that have pretty people going out on the road to find themselves. Two hours from Hollywood likely won’t capture the gradual accumulation of grit by which a pilgrimage to nowhere will transform a soul.
    The typical solution (for all but the great Jim Jarmusch) is to borrow shortcuts — and the soundtracks to these movies do likewise. Spacious instrumentals accompany montages and panning shots. Soul and blues tracks zoom in on the inevitable wrestle between hard times and resilient spirits. In this new film, Nora Jones acts under a ragamuffin hat — but she’s still lovely, and her soundtrack contribution is nice enough to avoid typical road matters, like outdoor urination or scraping together gas money. Eventually Jones’ film character is pulled into schemes and dreams gone wrong, though, so there’s (extremely) modest justification for including earthy powerhouses both old (Ruth Brown) and new (Cassandra Wilson). But Cat Power’s slightly daring soul reinventions encapsulate the entire project. Ry Cooder, meanwhile, is the natural choice to do right in leading the diverse instrumental segments. —T.E. Lyons

Nada Surf

There is nothing more gratifying than finding something completely certain: love, a trust fund, your exact size at the Gap. Barsuk Records is, for me, one such thing. Whenever I listen to an album released by the House That Death Cab Built, I can be almost sure that I will have precisely middling feelings on said album. Nada Surf continually falls in line with this hypothesis. Their latest, Lucky, generates virtually no strong associations, positive or negative, much like any of their previous four albums.
    It’s a well-made album, certainly, but nothing stands out about it. It has some wonderful songs (“See These Bones,” “I Like What You Say”), but those are counterbalanced by some truly lackluster tracks (“Whose Authority”). The musicianship is fine enough, but not noteworthy in any way. The listener is never once offended by what is offered, but never left wanting a second play, either. —Kirsten Schofield

Here, My Dear Deluxe Edition
Marvin Gaye

You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for this. This is one of my absolute favorite albums, and this new, 30th anniversary edition includes a second disc of alternate mixes, fantastic liner notes and perfect sound.
    For the uninitiated: As part of the divorce settlement between Marvin Gaye and Anna Gordy (Motown founder Berry’s sister), the judge took Marvin’s lack of fluidity into account and ruled that the proceeds from his next album were to be paid to Anna instead of alimony. Marvin planned to record a horrible record as a final snub of his wife, but as he entered the studio, he found he was unable to. What he recorded was an amazing document of a relationship, from birth to death to reincarnation, the likes of which has never been heard before or since. Of course, the end commercial result was the same, as the fans of the time thought this was “TMI” (don’t you long for those days again?), and the album didn’t sell. The second disc is a winning experiment of allowing modern producers to adjust the mix (note that I’m not saying “remix”), opening up the album, removing overdubs, and truly allowing Marvin’s voice to soar, making an already great album greater. —Damien McPherson

Kiss, Kiss, Kill, Kill

Singer/bassist Patricia Day and her guitarist/husband Nekroman finally have their collaborative act firing on all cylinders. Some may say they’re late to the party — and sure, psychobilly with horror-chintz has been done to death. But this couple has been compiling notes on what works and what doesn’t, and now they’re good for a reliably entertaining roar, no matter how flimsy the retread holds up the chassis. Opener “Thelma & Louise” energetically lays out the basics without going too far too soon with the “Monster Mash” shtick — a typically smart move. The 12 tracks feature effective, layered production (the ooo-oh-wah! backing vocals seem straight off of old, drive-in movie speakers) and secondhand sound effects, plus a constant friction built up by riffs that turn into rhythmic scratching (reference the Pretenders’ “Don’t Get Me Wrong”). This band knows they’re in a furious battle to keep from going moldy, and they emerge as sexy survivors. “Highway 55” really does generate chills in its tale of a hidden grave, and “Heading for the Disco?” hilariously punctures ’80s nostalgia. —T.E. Lyons

Bill Dixon & Exploding Star Orchestra

The release of a new record featuring a rare appearance by legendary trumpeter Bill Dixon is reason for celebration. When that album also features cornetist Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, the rewards multiply.
    Dixon came to prominence organizing the 1964 October Revolution in Jazz, while simultaneously co-founding the Jazz Composers Guild, featuring fellow visionaries like Paul Bley, Sun Ra and Archie Shepp.
    A looser and more dynamic effort than their previous release, it vacillates from dense chromaticism to ethereal pointillism. Dixon’s two variations progress with glacial severity, slowly intensifying before steadily drifting into the ether. Balancing brief individual statements with group improvisation, the compositions largely forgo extended solos, opting for nuanced segments that highlight the many electro-acoustic timbres of the Orchestra.
    A rare but welcome addition to Dixon’s discography and a high point in the budding career of Mazurek, the powerful and multi-layered Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra is a treasure. —Mark Bacon