Initial Reactions (2011): Lucinda Williams, St. Vincent, Justice

Lucinda Williams – Blessed – (ind): I don’t think I’m being lazy when I say this sounds pretty much like a new Lucinda Williams record. I loved Car Wheels (SO good), but everything I’ve heard her do since sounds like a facsimile of that record. This is no different. It’s not bad or anything; "Blessed" is a really memorable tune for all of the right reasons. So I’ll commend it for all of the Lucind-heads and move on. ("Blessed")

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy  – (ind): Suffers not so much from a lack of craftsmanship as a lack of tunefulness. Makes a strong first impression with "Chloe in the Afternoon." Otherwise, not a memorable track to be found. Falls into the same category as My Brightest Diamond, only St. Vincent dwells in post-modern abstract pop rather than neo-classicism. Yawn-fest, for the most part.

Justice – Audio, Video, Disco. – (ind): Basically Ratatat (French edition), right? Or is it the other way around? Which came first? Where am I? It all dissolves into philosophy from there. This sort of sound has a shelf-life of exactly one album. Once you’ve heard it one time, you’ve heard enough. I suppose I just prefer my IDM with the emphasis on the "I" rather than the "D,"  and that not so much for “intelligent” as “introspective.”

REACTION KEY

[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

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Initial Reactions (2011): Atlas Sound, Primus, Fruit Bats

Atlas Sound – Parallax – (++): This guy Cox comes up with some pretty melodies, and I like the Zombies-vibe that his music puts off. "Te Amo" is a neato moment and a standout cut. As is common with Deerhunter, he often launches with a killer melody but lands with a disappointing follow-through in terms of arc and/or narrative. Promises the stars, but fails to really engage at a gut level. Still, pretty. ("Angel Is Broken", "Te Amo", "Mona Lisa")

Primus – Green Naugahyde – (+++): This is a strong record. There were a few moments that reminded me of Modest Mouse’s recent work. If I was a diehard Primus fan, I’d be really happy with Les Claypool for giving me an album that is essentially as good as the band’s early work. Think of Dinosaur Jr.’s 2 reunion albums rather than reunion albums by pretty much any other band. Strangely and surprisingly enjoyable. ("Hennepin Crawler", "Tragedy’s a’ Comin’")

Fruit Bats – Tripper – (++): I suspect this one is a grower. At first glance, it sounds like pretty typical indie-pop, but there is at least one undeniably great track here (“Wild Honey”), and I suspect a few more shall slowly reveal themselves. I’m not crazy about the vocals (in general), but I don’t hate them either. All in all I find myself liking this more and more on repeated listens. ("Wild Honey", "Shivering Fawn")

REACTION KEY

[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

Initial Reactions (2011): Joe Henry, Frank Turner, Middle Brother

Joe Henry – Reverie – (ind): I don’t get it. It’s all very artistic sounding, excellent in appearance, jazzy, smoky, sultry, deeper than you’ll ever hope to be, but it’s so slick and smooth on the surface that I can’t find a foothold. I have this gut-level feeling that Joe is thinking to himself "Behold my musicianship – let me cast my spell over you." Maybe the guy could lighten up? Look, if you dig this, then fantastic. I just find it dense and forgettable. ("Odetta")

Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones – (++): Pleasantly surprised by this one. Billy Bragg’s younger, spoon-fed brother. Big, catchy rock tunes likened to rowdy pub sing-alongs, and he’s definitely a gifted lyricist, although I will say that he leans towards a heavy moralism that I find disappointing. Gotta mention that "There is no God" song – I was thinking that it might be a response to this. FT is the same guy who wrote these lyrics. Puzzling…

Middle Brother – Middle Brother – (++): Well, I loved Dawes’ latest, so more Taylor Goldsmith is OK by me. All in all, strong songwriting, though I’m not as crazy about the dude with the gravely voice. It does have a nice sort of oldies radio feel at times, but it’s not particularly earth-shattering otherwise. What you get: big tunes, big melodies, big voices. All in all, a worthwhile listen. ("Thanks for Nothing", "Me Me Me")

REACTION KEY

[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

Initial Reactions (2011): The Civil Wars, Foster The People, Office Of Future Plans

Foster The People – Torches – (–): This all sounds ready made for either an Apple commercial or a Grey’s Anatomy promo, and it sports as much originality as you would expect from a band that is essentially re-writing "Young Folks" multiple times. After all, the clown behind this madness used to write jingles, and while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it’s extremely telling this case. I detect cynical devils masked as beings of lite. I detect self-aware, formulaic, soulless songwriting. I thought maybe – just maybe – I would find something like Steely Dan: The Next Generation. Instead, I got Justin Beiber: The Old Dudes.

Office Of Future Plans – Office Of Future Plans – (ind): This is J. Robbins’ third post-Jawbox outfit, and not much has changed. Sure, a cello figures prominently, but for the most part, these sound exactly like the signature angular riffs that you’d expect. I don’t know exactly what I was hoping for, but I guess it all just seems a bit ho-hum. Short on inspiration and concept, ya know? Hey, where’s Barbot when you need him? ("Salamander")

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow – (++): I’ve heard so many rave reviews of this band and how they are God’s gift to music that at this point I am pre-disposed to vehemently hating them. (Actually, I’m not that much of an a-hole, but you know what I’m saying). That being said, I think it’s good stuff. I’m not convinced of their greatness, but I will say that "I’ve Got This Friend" (for example) sports a nice mix of playful and melodic elements in a Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac sort of way. One thing: they over-sing, which makes it a teeny bit burdensome for frequent listens. Basically, think of The Swell Season via Nashville. Fair enough. We’ll see where the next album goes. ("I’ve Got A Friend", "C’est La Mort")

REACTION KEY

[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

Initial Reactions (2011): The Jayhawks, Blitzen Trapper, VHS or Beta

The Jayhawks – Mockingbird Time – (++): Pleasant enough. Leaves you with that peaceful, easy feeling. I might have been indifferent to this, but I enjoy alt-country, and to that point, humble-pie songwriting. I’m a newbie, but this is notable for long-time Jayhawks fans as Mark Olson has returned to the flock. Also, Gram Parson would have been 65 this year. ("Hide Your Colors", "She Walks In So Many Ways")

Blitzen Trapper – American Goldwing – (++): Stadium filling antebellum classic rock, except it’s not 1975. These guys remind me of some high school buddies that used to cover Grand Funk Railroad. What I mean is that this is imitative of a bygone era, but it’s also durn well done. "Fletcher" reaches a prodigious groove. I’m pleasantly impressed, and hoping this will grow on me. ("Fletcher", "Might Find It Cheap")

VHS or Beta – Diamonds and Death – (ind): A reboot for this band. Reminds me a bit of the first Tears for Fears album. While there’s a few groove-tastic and even neato moments, it mostly sounds like a couple of kids discovering synthesizers. High point: "Jellybean" sounds like a Police instrumental from the future, but I guess I just can’t get past the silicon taste on anything else. Cool cover bonus points though. ("Under the Sun", "Jelly Bean")

REACTION KEY

[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.