Initial Reactions (2011): Stephen Malkmus, Girls, Thurston Moore, tUnE-yArDs

Stephen Malkmus – Mirror Traffic – [ind]: Initially, Mirror Traffic sounds like a bunch of slightly off-kilter but mostly generic stabs at classic rock. However, a shift occurs around the album’s middle.  "Asking Price" approaches vintage Pavement, and from then on the album takes a step in the right direction. There are some bright moments here, even a few flashes of Stephen seeming to re-capture his Pavement-era muse ("Fall Away" is a definite winner). Unfortunately, they are merely flashes, none of them reaching the low-key melodic transcendence of "Here" or "In the Mouth a Desert" or any other Malkmus-penned great. Pass. ("Fall Away", "Asking Price", "Spazz")

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost – [ind]: Shades of canonical classic rock all over the place. I hear "Kodachrome" in "Honey Bunny." "Die" sounds like some proto-metal proggish thing that I can’t quite put my finger on. "Saying I Love You" recalls the Beach Boys. "Vomit" could be an outtake from Dark Side of the Moon. The loveliness abounds, fer sure. It’s all nice, don’t get me wrong, but the thing is, none of it grabs me. In all honesty, why the hype? ("Alex", "Saying I Love You", "Forgiveness")

Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts – [++]: It’s an understated effort, built upon haunting and oblique acoustic guitar figures, but Moore gets it right by inviting violinist Samara Lubelski along for the ride. A meditative and poetic record that is frequently gorgeous and inviting, it is perhaps only lacking in gluey themes. Nonetheless, these tunes make for excellent study soundtracks, assisting in the construction of thoughts better perhaps than Moore intended. ("Benediction", "Illumine")

tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L – [++]: I can’t say that this is the type of sonic adventure I’m prone to jump all over, but I have to give Merrill Garbus credit. Word is she was a puppeteer in a former life, and that doesn’t surprise me one bit given the way her music rhythm-izes synthetic sounds into a strangely organic flow. There’s a whole bunch of absolutely fascinating musical moments contained herein, and she performs with a combination of giftedness and passion that is entirely rare. Even though I don’t completely get it, I can definitely appreciate the musical vision that W H O K I L L represents. I’ll certainly revisit this one, and keep my fingers crossed for Garbus as she becomes indie rock’s musical rocket woman. ("My Country", "Gangsta")

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): Battles, Twin Sister

It’s hard to review all of the new releases I’d like to, especially as you really need 5-10 listens to form something approaching a conclusive opinion about a typical LP. Initial Reactions is my solution to that problem. This will be my way of keeping up with the latest and greatest. I’ll give each of these records at least two full listens, and I’ll apply a blanket qualification to what I write here by saying it’s more of an intuitive reaction than a fully formed opinion. Plus, I can cover more than one band per post this way.

If I’m going to go much past two listens with a record, you’ll probably see a longer review at some point in the not too distant future.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget to check out the rating key down below. Letter grades don’t seem appropriate for initial reactions, so I’m going with something a bit more basic.

Battles – Gloss Drop – [ind]: This was a record I was expecting to like quite a bit, essentially based on descriptions of the band. I like post-rock, as uncool as that apparently is now, and to be sure, Battles comes off as the perfect post-rock act, cross-pollinating the sounds of Tortoise and Don Caballero. However, as cool as some of these tunes are, the record as a whole left me unimpressed after multiple attempts. A little too hyper-active and noisy, you know? Give me some space, give me some soul. ("Ice Cream")

Twin Sister – In Heaven – [****]: Great stuff! I really didn’t know what to expect with this one, but the most obvious comparison seems to be the perfect mix of Puro Instinct and Stars. There’s also a Euro-pop-ish element, reminiscent of Saint Etienne. It’s really something all their own though. There’s fantastic, versatile songwriting throughout. "Kimmi in a Rice Field" is beautiful and pure (think "Take My Breath Away"), and the rest of the album goes from funky groove rock to indie soul pop. Possibly one of the best records this year. ("Kimmi In A Rice Field", "Stop",  "Saturday Sunday")

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. Rare. This has to be a real screw-up.