Quick Review (LP): This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem

lcd soundsystem this is happening LCD Soundsystem
This Is Happening
DFA Records; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Dance Yourself Clean”, “All I Need”, “I Can Change”, “Pow Pow”

Really didn’t want to like this one, but you see that I do. Hands down one of the best records this year. The scale reminds me of the truly great massive pop classics of the early 80’s, stuff by folks like Talking Heads and Michael Jackson. The most impressive thing is the epic-ness of this pop music. Most of these songs are long, but I think that’s due more to Murphy’s sense of structure than anything else. These are songs that take you somewhere, from a tantalizing beginning right on through to a stadium-sized climax. Plus, these songs are fun and catchy right to the core. I’d say that with this one, Murphy has become one of pop music’s doctors. He gets the utter silliness and the sheer thrill of it all from track to track, and I’d be willing to bet that he’s one of the best frontmen that we’ve seen in some time. All in all, This Is Happening is one of those records that I’m going to need to really dive into, not because I don’t get it, but because I really think I do.

Pitchfork review
Metacritic review

Quick Review (LP): Astro Coast by Surfer Blood

surfer blood astro coast Surfer Blood
Astro Coast
Kanine; 2010

My Rating: C

Best Tracks: “Swim”, “Slow Jabroni”

It’s simultaneously a strange and a given thing that these guys are indie darlings. On one hand, they sound like a less-interesting-than-Weezer retread of The Cars. On the other hand, a vibe reminiscent of the dorm room goofball pop of The Dismemberment Plan is evident. Overall, it’s decent, but I can’t really see what would set it apart from any other indie band I’m likely to see on any given night in any given club. Even Pitchfork seems to think the lead single “Swim” is likely to remind you of a “Buzz Bin one-off”, and that’s on the way to calling it “Best New Music.” I don’t think so. This smells too much of mediocrity. The hooks don’t pierce and the melody is high but monotonous. I suspect these guys were riding the overly reverb’d wave of indie beach pop, but after a mighty flood, that tide’s going out.

Pitchfork review
Metacritic review

Quick Review (LP): So Runs The World Away by Josh Ritter

so runs the world away ritter Josh Ritter
So Runs The World Away
Pytheas; 2010

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “Change of Time”, “Southern Pacific”, “Lark”, “Long Shadows”, “Orbital”

The world may be running away, but Josh Ritter’s 6th LP finds him slowing things down. More meditative than Ritter’s past efforts, this record is no less dense with lyrical majesty and lush with orchestration. It’s not an “easy” album by any means, especially for those who have come to love Ritter especially for the big-hearted Americana of Hello Starling and The Animal Years. Nevertheless, it’s an album that asks you to surrender, with the payoff to follow. The poppiest songs (“Lark” and “Lantern”) are buried in the album’s mid-section, sandwiched between two of the record’s most obtuse tracks (“Folk Bloodbath” and “The Remnant”), and the rest of the record is more dream-like and/or cinematic than anything Ritter has come up with before. What we have here is a musician once heralded as a latter-day Dylan achieving a heartland synthesis of Simon and Springsteen. That’s an interesting development. So Runs the World Away may not grab you with the immediacy of some of Ritter’s past work, but with a little bit of patience you’ll see some real genius begin to unfold.

Paste review
Metacritic reviews

Quick Review (LP): The Desert of Shallow Effects by Miles Kurosky

miles-kurosky-desert-of-shallow-effectsMiles Kurosky
The Desert of Shallow Effects
Majordomo; 2010

My Rating: B-

Best Tracks: “Pink Lips, Black Lungs”, “Housewives and Their Knives”

I know it’s not fair to judge an artist by his past work, but let’s be honest, it’s what we do. No one would expect so much from every new Dylan record if he hadn’t released all those great ones in the 60’s and 70’s. Miles Kurosky released two great indie records (When Your Heartstrings Break and The Coast Is Never Clear) as frontman and chief songwriter for Beulah many moons ago. Beulah’s last, Yoko, was a staggering let down. This is his first solo offering, and he seems to be trying to find a middle ground between Yoko and Beulah’s mid-period. It’s an admirable effort, but ultimately nothing here grabs me like “Burned by the Sun” or “If We Can Land a Man on the Moon…” This guy used to make sunny, clever, blissfully melodic indie beach pop. I don’t know what happened along the way, but that ain’t this.

Pitchfork review

 

Quick Review (LP): Broken Bells by Broken Bells

broken bells Broken Bells
Broken Bells
Columbia; 2010

My Rating: C

Best Tracks: “Mongrel Heart”, “The Mall & Misery”

Dull, dull, dull. And I like The Shins. Unfortunately for Mercer, these are the flattest songs he’s ever taken part in. I don’t know what sparked this on his part, because he’s made 3 pretty outstanding records with the band of his youth, but this comes off like something far less than a great collaboration. What’s most frustrating about the record is that it’s so non-salient that it’s nearly impossible to get a foothold. Most of the songs just sort of drift by on a mid-tempo beat, and what’s worst, Mercer sounds bored with it all. “The Mall & Misery” has a cool guitar riff, but even then it doesn’t come close to  The Shins’ best stuff. This one was a big disappointment.

Pitchfork review
Metacritics reviews

Quick Review (LP): Heaven Is Whenever by The Hold Steady

the hold steady heaven is whenever The Hold Steady
Heaven Is Whenever
Vagrant; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “The Sweet Part of the City”, “We Can Get Together”, “The Weekenders”

There is a true authenticity to this music, and I certainly don’t think comparisons to Springsteen are unfounded. After all, what draws me in is the gorgeous sound, a great mix of twangy Americana and anthemic classic rock. Lyrically, there’s a hefty sense of midwest nostalgia, and when you really listen closely, you get the feeling in your gut that Craig Finn knows what in tarnation he’s doing as a songwriter. If forced to draw a direct comparison, I’d say The Hold Steady remind me most of Counting Crows without all the daydream believing. Still, Finn draws together “heavenly” themes quite nicely on this record, leading to a strong sense of cohesion. Given the melodic density and dramatic riffage contained herein, that puts this in the running for one of the year’s best.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews

Quick Review (LP): The Promise by Bruce Springsteen

springsteen the promise Bruce Springsteen
The Promise
Columbia; 2010

My Rating: A+

Best Tracks: “Because The Night”, “The Promise”, “Fire”, “The Brokenhearted”, “Save My Love”, “Breakaway”

Wow. This is quite simply unprecedented. There aren’t many artists out there who have as much unreleased material as Bruce Springsteen, but we haven’t gotten something this substantial since the Tracks boxset in 2010. What makes The Promise special is that, rather than feeling like a hodge-podge of half-conceived ideas or novelty leftovers, this feels like a cohesive and expansive effort. You don’t need me to tell you that these lost tracks fall somewhere chronologically between Born to Run and Darkness on The Edge of Town, but in light of that they definitely resemble a missing link of sorts. The former was Springsteen’s great big shot of hopes and dreams, and the latter was his exploration of working class misery and dead ends. The Promise manages to retain the romance and possibility of Born To Run while foreshadowing an end to it all. Overall, the album contains some of his best work, including one of the most famous “I didn’t know he wrote that” tracks, “Because The Night.” Much of the record recalls golden age rock and roll and R&B, and one is left wondering just how many radio royalties he left laying on the table by shelving these tracks for 30+ years. This collection is a rock fanboy’s dream, and it makes me think that maybe – just maybe – we’ll get to hear Electric Nebraska in a few years. For now, we have this absolutely glorious collection to revel in, and for that, I thank you Bruce.

Metacritic reviews

Quick Review (LP): There Is Love In You by Four Tet

four tet there is love in you Four Tet
There Is Love In You
Domino; 2010

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “Plastic People”, “Circling”

Kieran Hebden’s strangely accessible found sound compositions are best when they contain a twinge of darkness and/or sadness, and that’s the case with the two best tracks here, “Plastic People” and “Circling.” Furthermore, he gets the soul-tronica thing right with the lead-off “Angel Echoes”, and “This Unfolds” recalls the lovely little dreamscape “Slow Jam” from his early sensation Rounds. I can’t quite say that this is one of the best of the year, because I don’t see him making a huge leap forward, but it’s still great stuff from a guy who has found his niche. Highly recommended, although if its your first time with Four Tet, you should really check out Rounds first.

Pitchfork review
Metacritic reviews
Wikipedia on Kieran Hebden

Quick Review (LP): Transference by Spoon

spoon transference Spoon
Transference
Merge; 2010

My Rating: C+

Best Tracks: “The Mystery Zone”, “Got Nuffin”

I’m not going to say that I just don’t get it, because I do. Spoon’s minimalist aesthetic can work to powerful effect. The band has nailed it in the past, especially on Girls Can Tell and Ga Ga Ga. Still, I just can’t help but think that Britt Daniel sounds a little bit bored here, and that Transference feels like the band is marking time. There’s no grand pop statement like “The Underdog” here, nothing beyond the stylish black and blue shades that we’ve come to expect. I don’t want the band to sell out, but I know that deep down they’ve got the ability to dress up some of these tracks with a little more melody and a little more wit. I know I’m the only one putting this out there, but I’m wondering if the career of Spoon hasn’t run its course?

Metacritic reviews
Pitchfork review

Quick Review (LP): One Less Heartless to Fear by Shipping News

Shipping News
One Less Heartless to Fear
Noise Pollution/Karate Body; 2010

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “Half A House”, “(Morays or) Demons”

Shipping News speeds things up and unleashes a little bit of the ol’ Albini charm here, but I gotta admit, I’ve always been a sucker for Shipping News’ slower, brooding side. Therefore, I wasn’t immediately thrilled by “The Delicate” when it was released a few months back. And to be clear, OLHTF is not really a new LP so much as a live document. It contains a few tracks from their last LP proper, Flies the Fields, and features a solid set of otherwise unreleased material. The good news is that the old tracks sound great here, and the new stuff presents a side to the Noble/Mueller partnership that I hadn’t thought of since “Shiner.” Overall, I’m a big fan of the record’s concept. More bands (indie ones specifically) should take a step back from the studio and let their fans hear unreleased songs in process. I’m not so much talking about “LIVE” albums, greatest hits collections performed on stage, I’m talking about single-take sets of old, new, and weird. I could get used to Shipping News (and plenty of other bands) releasing something like this every other year or so. Dig the cover art too.

Built On A Weak Spot review
Dusted review
Young Scamels review (SGB)
June of 44 career-in-brief (SGB)