Playing Catch-Up: Several Short Reviews

Okay, there are a lot of albums from 2009 that I haven’t reviewed yet and it’s already 2010. This doesn’t really bother me, but when I look at the stack of albums I have to review, there are some that I just don’t have that much to say about. Because I update with a frequency that can best be described as erratic, I like the posts to be of a length that might justify the time between them. And some albums, try as I might, don’t inspire much verbosity from me. This is not always because I dislike the album.

Anyway, I decided to put together a collection of shorter reviews of albums I’ve listened to, some of which I think you should listen to and some of which I think no one should listen to. In alphabetical order, even:

Alec Ounsworth, Mo Beauty. You might know Mr. Ounsworth as the uber-nasally vocalist for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and it’s a reasonable bet that, if his voice chased you away from that band, it will chase you away from his solo debut as well. You know, ’cause it’s still him singing. Anyway, Mo Beauty is actually kinda beautiful. I haven’t had as much time to listen to it as I would like, but every time I do, I enjoy it. Ounsworth is a little more folky on this album and by “folky” I mean “folk by way of David Byrne and Tom Waits”, which is hardly a bad thing. Ounsworth’s best work is still the first Clap Your Hands Say Yeah record, but Mo Beauty is good in its own right.

The Cribs, Ignore the Ignorant. I’ve already mentioned that “We Were Aborted” is a thunderously badass way to open an album. Ignore the Ignorant doesn’t get any better than its opener, but it drops down to a fairly consistent level of quality. Gary Jarman has a pretty pleasing voice, one minute crooning like Dave Gahan, the next yowling like Johnny Rotten. I didn’t like this album much when I first heard it (after “We Were Aborted”, which I loved instantly), but it’s actually done a lot of growing on me and I find more to like with each listen. Not a bad choice for people who miss the Libertines.

Devendra Banhart, What Will We Be. I’m probably gonna catch hell for this, but somewhere in the time between Cripple Crow and What Will We Be, I stopped being able to tell the difference between Devendra Banhart and Jack Johnson. I know Banhart looks like Charles Manson, and his music a bit more sophisticated than Johnson’s but I can’t help feeling like Banhart fills the same niche for indie kids that Johnson fills for frat kids. I’ve listened to What Will We Be about eight times now and I find myself drifting off about half way through every time. I’ve made an honest effort and, well, I just don’t give a fuck about this album. Moving on…

Franz Ferdinand, Blood. This is the “dub” version of Tonight. I don’t really care for dub music, but Blood is actually not entirely intolerable. If you think Tonight is not ravey enough, this might help you out. Incidentally, I listened to this album on headphones on a long subway ride and enjoyed the hell of it. That’s a pretty specific context in which to enjoy an album, but I stand by it.

Fruit Bats, The Ruminant Band. A dude from the Shins. I think his name is Eric Johnson. This record is like an indie version of the Supertramp songs I liked from the Magnolia soundtrack and the only Led Zeppelin album I like, Led Zeppelin III. I’m gonna pretend that tells you everything you need to know about The Ruminant Band.

Girls, Album. Pitchfork went all gooey over this album, but I don’t get it. It sounds like Wheatus. Fuck this album.

The Gossip, Music for Men. This album, on the other hand, is pretty rad. Beth Ditto is a big, fat, Katy Perry-hating dyke and I would adore her on those grounds alone, but the fact that she can straight up belt shit out is icing on a giant lesbian cake. This was my surprise pop album of 2009, like the first Santogold record (she’s Santigold now, I guess. I don’t care as long as she stays awesome) – something that sounded abhorrent to me on paper but was absolute candy for my ears. Ditto’s voice may be too strident for some, but it’s a real voice in an age of auto-tune and you gotta raise your glass to that.

Iggy Pop, Preliminaires. I just never knew what to say about an album that features Iggy Pop singin’ cabaret style, often in French. I dig this record for existing, but I hardly ever listen to it. Make of that what you will.

Karen O and the Kids, Where the Wild Things Are Soundtrack. Karen O and some kids having a lot of fun in a studio. I like the cut of this album’s jib and feel deep shame for having not seen the movie yet. The film is written by Dave Eggers, who is awesome. He co-wrote the screenplay for Away We Go and if you haven’t see that yet, stop what you’re doing and watch it right now.

Kings of Convenience, Declaration of Dependence. This is easy: the degree to which you are put off by the forced cuteness of this album title is the degree to which you’ll probably not have patience for the album itself. I’ll cop to liking the Kings of Convenience, though. They come up at the perfect times when my Songbird is on random, but listening to a whole album of theirs could induce a coma. They make Riceboy Sleeps sound like Black Fucking Flag.

Marilyn Manson, The High End of Low. I know I’m passing up easy jokes about how Manson worships David Bowie here, but the fact is Marilyn Manson made one great album called Holy Wood that was equal parts tuneful and wrathful and he’s never had that kind of fire since. While The High End of Low isn’t as cringe-inducingly emo as 2007’s utterly ill-advised Eat Me, Drink Me, it is still pretty awful. To illustrate my point: on Holy Wood, Manson pretty blatantly jacked the riff from Blur’s “Song 2” for “The Fight Song,” but I forgave him for it because “The Fight Song” is still one of the best things to crank up when you’re pissed off. On The High End of Low, Manson gives us “We’re From America”, which astute (by which I mean “non-comatose”) readers will recognize as a shameless and wholly inferior ripoff of LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum.” Maybe getting the swine flu will give Manson a much-needed boost of inspiration, but I’m not holding my breath.

Taken by Trees, East of Eden. So this Swedish indie singer goes to Pakistan and… well, it’s not a joke. Victoria Bergsman, once of the Concretes (an occasionally good band), took a trip to Pakistan and recorded East of Eden, her second album as Taken by Trees. How good does this album have to be to surmount the pretension of a spiritual journey to Pakistan and an Animal Collective cover? Exactly as good as it is. This album is truly lovely, and not a little surprising for that fact.

Deck = cleared. I should have some thoughts for you on some late-2009 finds (including stuff from Soulsavers, Lucero, and the late Vic Chesnutt) and the new Vampire Weekend record very soon. And by “very soon” I mean “????????”….


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