Most frustrating is coming up against albums I enjoy the first few times, feel it heading for the A-slot, then drop off once I get over their initial allure. They never turn out to be bad albums, but stuff I though was really growing on me (Yo La Tengo, for example), wound up drying out the more I went on. On the other hand, I was pretty upset with Atoms For Peace at first but gradually came around—which is what happens with Yorke—though the pretentious aura that looms over how he’s come to record weighed heavily on me. The same is true whenever I come across Trent Reznor; the idea of a recluse in a studio slaving over every note only to release something any sane person would consider half-baked makes you wonder what he was thinking all that time. Then again, Reznor seems like a huge asshole.
ATOMS FOR PEACE – Amok (XL Recordings): That Amok’s construction was more haphazard than The King of Limbs forgoes the pretense Yorke is interested in writing songs rather than dawdling in the studio for years until tailor Nigel Godrich can stitch the scraps together. Those who yearned for Radiohead’s golden touch on Yorke’s solo Nintendo-glitch The Eraser got what they wanted with AFP’s killer live sets, here see a sequel as close as what could be imagined—meaning no alarms and no surprises, please. The band (including RHCP bassist flea, percussionists Joey Waronker and Mauro Rubio, and synth-wizard Godrich) formed four years ago, and for what? I don’t care how much stock Yorke puts in rhythm—a beefier beat-heavy Eraser undercuts a large part of what made that album listenable. You know, that annoyance called discernible melody. (“Default,” “Ingenue”) ***
VERONICA FALLS – Waiting for Something to Happen (Slumberland/Bella Union): Rarely do indie bands whose debut I’m too disinterested in re-experiencing reel me in with their second, but this London quartet fronted by Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare flip clichés like ‘the grass is always greener’ on their head and ride a good guitar lick when they find one to dizzying effect.. They seem like nice enough broken-hearted blokes with the epitome of ‘white-people problems,’ but at 36 minutes and 13 songs, too few get me juiced like the killers mentioned here: (“My Heart Beats,” “Waiting for Something to Happen”) ***
YO LA TENGO – Fade (Matador): Male/female duo from Hoboken, a place I imagine is about as uninspiring as you can get, and not what I think of as a bastion from which musical talent springs. Despite their lengthy career and seeming semi-popularity, they never broke Billboard until 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. With indie rock all the rage for some time and Tengo’s fitting all its fashions (dreamy pop, whispered vocals accompanied by horns/orchestral swells), I’m surprised they never amounted to more. This is easy enough on the ears and people smarter than me attest to what Ira Kaplan murmurs, but I’ve got nothing to say about this record. I could listen a dozen times and fail to remember most of it. I’m halfway there, apparently played it two days ago, and can’t recall much. (“The Point of It,” “Is That Enough”) ***
EX COPS – True Hallucinations (Other Music): Plenty of pop hooks to be heard in what many describe this Brooklyn duo’s debut as ‘shoegaze,’ but amongst the luminaries they cherry pick, I hear the Beach Boys, Velvet Underground, and most recently Girls as opposed to naval-gazing gloom-machine Richard Ashcroft. It’s Brian Harding’s vocals that try to mask the emphatic music, and that’s the trick everyone’s falling for. Pop and rock riffs work well, dreamy lo-fi doesn’t. (“Spring Break,” “Jazz & Information) **
ICEAGE – You’re Nothing (Matador): Danish ‘noise-rock’ group whose ’11 debut (which ran a mere 24 minutes) received fab raves though I got virtually nothing out of it. I thought Thom Yorke could be vague lyrically, but at least he emotes and has enough politics to fill in a Mad Libs; Elias Ronnenfelt’s adolescent croak makes him look like Dylan. My only concern with their increased following and critical clout is their championing of the absurd as an answer to the evermore dangerous rightwing they see at home and abroad, and absurdity strikes me as a chickenshit way to say ‘I don’t understand,’ or even ‘I’m afraid.’ If melodies, hooks, or meaning is hidden under their unnavigable reverb muck, their exalters can make the case; I haven’t the time to keep searching, regardless how short their releases stay. (“Coalition”) *
EELS – Wonderful, Glorious (Vagrant): Scotch-weathered Mark Everett sings about not trusting the world—can’t tell if the paranoia shtick is intentional or a sign of his unknowing schizophrenia. (“Wonderful, Glorious”) *
DAWN MCCARTHY & BONNIE “PRINCE” BILLY – What the Brothers Sang (Drag City/Palace Records): Mawkish Will Oldham pairs with Faun Fables’ (?) Dawn McCarthy to cover mostly unrecognizable Everly Brothers vault material, its enjoyment already so modest cross-checking with originals seems pointless. (“What Am I Living For,” “Omaha”) *
UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA – II (Jagjaguwar): The production trickery this lo-fi psych-folk American/New Zealander trio employs to reproduce 60’s psychedelia studio quality irks me to no end, only psych titans like Cream were into jamming, not curious to prod prog tendencies. (“Swim and Sleep”) *
SUN ARAW, M. GEDDES GENGRAS, THE CONGOS – FRKWYS Vol. 9: Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras Meet The Congos (RVNG International ’12): Experimental artist Sun Araw, Jamaican reggae group The Congos, and some other guy converge for forty-something minutes of tripped-out reggae mixed with ambient electronica. I blame Araw for the weird overlays and unnecessary substance; though I bet the other guys thought it was a good idea, too. (“Invocation”) *
THE BRYAN FERRY ORCHESTRA – The Jazz Age (BMG): Ex-Roxy Music bandleader hires Colin Good to retool old hits into 20’s jazz instrumental arrangements. Nails the sound right down to the muffled recordings, though they rarely sound anything like originals, if memory serves. A question Ferry fails to consider: Why, exactly? (“Love is the Drug”) *
NATALY DAWN – How I Knew Her (Nonesuch): Fiona Apple/Regina Spektor imposter has neither the melodic nor lyrical chops to compete with other copycats, much less real artists.
FREE ENERGY – Love Sign (Free Energy Records): Rhapsody has the audacity to compare them to Japandroids—because both are ‘rockers,’ though the Wells brothers’ idea of rock is Bachman Turner Overdrive.
THE JOY FORMIDABLE – Wolf’s Law (Atlantic): Welsh indie/alternative trio, second album. Awfully loud for indie, lacks the idiotic testosterone of the alternative digest the music attempts, largely from frontwoman Ritzy Bryan’s reedy, emotionless vocals which are overpowered by guitar heroics every single time. Too often can’t stick to a single riff and consequently attempt almost-suites, all so overblown that discerning song from song is near impossible.
WIDOWSPEAK – Almanac (Captured Tracks): Indie rock quintet from Brooklyn, though vocalist Molly Hamilton and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas seem to be the important ones due to their appearing exclusively on the cover and promo photos. Unremarkable almost folk-rock. No hooks, no humor, no discernible talent. Not sure if it’s pronounced “Widow Speak” or Widow’s Peak,” doubt it matters much.
YOUTH LAGOON – Wondrous Bughouse (Fat Possom): I have the sneaking suspicion I listened to this group’s debut though I can’t remember a thing about it. What I definitely don’t recall is a psychedelic sludgeball so wrapped in its own preciousness I can’t tell whether I enjoy its acid trip journey or despise its posturing. After a second spin, definitely the latter.