Initial Reactions (2012): Memoryhouse, The Cranberries, New Multitudes

Initial Reactions are just that: my reactions to records after only a few listens (usually 2 or 3). I try to be fair, but if a record doesn’t make much of an initial impression on me, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Memoryhouse – The Slideshow Effect [B+]: So close to greatness. It seems they are starting to move away from their ambient, Engima-esque roots into something more poppy, and while TSE pleases and soothes, I do wonder if that threatens their distinctiveness. I’ll certainly stick around, but I am disappointed that this one didn’t completely roll me over. Love that gal’s voice though. Brainy and sultry at the same time. Also, precious video. ("The Kids Were Wrong", "Heirloom")

The Cranberries – Roses [B]: Once upon a time, The Cranberries created a triad transcendent; “Linger”, “Dreams”, and “Ode to My Family” are all sublime. Roses, their first album in 11 years, starts off promising, with the band sounding completely rejuvenated on "Tomorrow." However, after "Fire and Soul", things become dull and predictable. There’s not really a bad moment here, it’s just that most of these tunes are sans thorns, pleasant and inviting, but lacking any sense of danger in beauty. ("Tomorrow", "Fire and Soul")

New Multitudes – New Multitudes [B]: More reminiscent of Middle Brother than Mermaid Avenue. That’s not say it’s bad, just that it doesn’t quite have that joyous spark that made MA I such a treasure. The big surprise: Andres Parker steals the show. His cuts range from pastoral ("Fly High") to alt-rock artistry ("Old L.A.") to downright grungy ("Angel’s Blues"). The rest of the troupe deliver as you’d expect. Any of Farrar’s tunes could have been Son Volt cuts, and Yames mostly lends that golden voice. As for Will Johnson, I’ve heard of his band, but none of his stuff here impresses me. BTW, is it a coincidence that Tweedy is delivering Mermaid Avenue III this year, or does anyone think there is still the old rivalry in play? Sensationalism, I know… (“Fly High”, “Old L.A.”)

Initial Reactions (2011): Real Estate, Cults, My Brightest Diamond, Memoryhouse, Washed Out

Real Estate – Days – [!!!!!]: Different packaging, same great taste. Band upgrades from one room flat to spacious loft. No matter how you put it, this is a band destined for great things. One thing I tend to insist is on is that I don’t care how great your band name or image is, if you don’t write great songs who really cares? And that’s why I love Real Estate. No sense of a well cultivated image (but not anti-image either, more like image-agnostic). This is a band that exists to make beautiful, chiming surf guitar love pop. You MIGHT find their equals, but where are you going to find tunes BETTER than "It’s Real" or "Out of Tune" this year? I defy you. ("Easy", "Green Aisles", "It’s Real", "Out of Tune")

Cults – Cults – [++]: I was going to say something snarky about how this is 2011’s version of 2010’s obligatory producer/voice combo Sleigh Bells, but there is a tunefulness and a soulfulness here that I didn’t expect and I like this much better than what I heard from Sleigh Bells. I think that’s owing to 2 things, the first being the no so subtle influence of 60’s girl group pop and the second being Madeline Follin’s voice which is certainly up to Brian Oblivion’s arrangements. So instead, I’m going to say that I really wish they’d re-hashed "Fire Woman", cuz I really love that song (honestly, I do). But yeah, think of the idea of Sleigh Bells, but the tunes of She & Him. That’s more like it. ("Abducted", "Walk at Night", "Rave On")

My Brightest Diamond – All Things Will Unwind – [++]: That Shara Worden sure is a talented lady. In some sense, I don’t really think I’m worthy of reviewing this. After all, I’m used to reviewing obvious, accessible pop music, not complex and challenging pseudo-classical compositions. What I’ll say though is that I really appreciate her work. I like it better than I expected, and one extremely positive thing I want to say is that she transcends the "hyper-pop" model that has become so popular and, if I may say so, somewhat cliche. There’s nothing cutesy about this. So musically, I have to acknowledge a certain greatness on Shara’s part. The problem is with me; her style just isn’t my cup of tea. So while I probably won’t be spinning this a great deal, I can wholeheartedly commend it to anyone who’s musical tastes go beyond that of a guy who watched way too much MTV growing up. ("We Added It Up", "She Does Not Brave the War", "I Have Never Loved Someone")

Memoryhouse – The Years EP – [ind]: I have to say, it’s a bit disappointing for the band to essentially "revamp" their self-released EP from last year as their debut proper. Whatever, it’s not like they owed me anything, but I will say that if you can get your hands on the original version of The Years, the versions of those songs are superior. Also, why did they ditch the Enigma-esque cut? I loved that one. Anywho, I’ll pass on this, but I am really looking forward to their debut LP. Oh, and the 7" they released earlier this year ("Caregiver" b/w "Heirloom") is most definitely worth seeking out.

Washed Out – Within and Without – [++]: I can appreciate this. It’s romantic, passionate, warm as a night on the French Riviera. However, what I really like about it is the density. My only touchpoint is Enigma (and maybe a few tracks on comps here and there), but what Washed Out seems to do differently is take those Eden-esque melodies and adorn them to a degree that would make Brian Wilson feel young again. Shades of IDM (you know, Four Tet, Boards of Canada), but more like Ecstatic Dance Music. Call it exotic dreamscapes to drown out the fridge buzz? ("Eyes Be Closed", "Far Away", "A Dedication")

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.