Initial Reactions (2011): Feist, Ryan Adams, Still Corners, Beirut

Feist – Metals – [ind]: If I had to compare Feist’s career trajectory to anyone right now, it would be Norah Jones. What I mean is, after two great albums, she has reached the point where she is running purely on charm and an amazing voice and beginning to suffer from a complacent and narrow vision. Not that I’m trying to hate – that’s not it at all – but quite frankly this album seems to substitute a sort of languid jazziness for songwriting chops. I know she probably got sick to death of "1234", but would it really kill her to throw an upbeat track or two into the mix? Another one like this and who will care? ("Caught a Long Wind", "Bittersweet Melodies", "Get It Wrong, Get It Right")

Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire – [++]: This definitely sounds like Adams pre-Cardinals, which, depending on one’s perspective, could go either way. The good news is that Adams sounds a little wiser, a little more patient, a little more balanced, and completely ready to focus on the things he does best. Excellent melodies abound, and there’s a sleepy Saturday morning feel to the album that recalls Love Is Hell and the lovelier, nostalgic moments on Cold Roses. Furthermore, I’m detecting the ghost of Richard Manuel in many of these tunes, which is always a good thing. Overall, I’m thinking that this might be one of the best albums of his career, and it could wind up being one of the best of any artist this year. ("Lucky Now", "Ashes & Fire", "Dirty Rain")

Still Corners – Creatures Of An Hour – [++]: More like Endless Winter! Very atmospheric, ghostly stuff. Pretty nice, though not incredibly original what with the voluminous…VOLUME of atmospheric and pretty post-punk outfits making music these days. Still, Creatures is well executed, and our lady Tessa Murray positively haunts these tunes. It’s like they took the last few Camera Obscura albums and boiled ’em down in The Cure’s early records. Also, sounds like Memoryhouse, but more David Lynch. Should make for some pleasant twilight drives in the darker seasons. Overall, shows promise. And I like the dude’s vision. ("Endless Summer")

Beirut – The Rip Tide – (++): I’ve always loved the "Old World" element in Zach Condon’s outfit, but on this one he indulges a heavier pop element for the better. Condon has such a profound gift for rich, memorable melodies that the synths and such, instead of sounding kitschy or tacky, further highlight the wonderful old/new paradox that makes Condon’s music rise above the fray. A keeper for sure and a possible year end sleeper. ("Santa Fe", "Goshen")

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.

Camera Obscura: My Maudlin Career (2009)

CameraCame Obscura

camera-obscura-my-maudlin-career-coverCamera Obscura
My Maudlin Career; 2009
4AD Record

My Rating: 59/100

I’d never heard of CAMERA OBSCURA until a few years ago, when the band was afforded all kinds of critical hoopla for the wonderful LET’S GET OUT OF THIS COUNTRY. I really dug that record.  Tracyanne Campbell writes blissful and floral love songs like no other, the kind of music that skinny indie kids fall in love to while backpacking across Europe. Girl’s got a real gift. While it’s hard to say anything bad about the incidentally gorgeous MY MAUDLIN CAREER, it’s also difficult to detect any sort of growth, or even effort toward growth, therein. The overall tone of the album is so sweet it borders on nauseating, the consistency of the tracks slides into monotony, and there’s so much drama here that you’re over it all by the middle of track 3. There are plenty of moments when I suspect Tracyanne is bored herself. Which is really a shame – Campbell’s too strong a talent to be receiving a review like this. I’m just hoping that next time out she reaches outside the box and searches for something new to bring into her songwriting. The high-pop 60’s were pretty and all, but it’s time for a sonic overhaul.

TRACKS:

1. French Navy (4.5/5)
2. The Sweetest Thing (4/5)
3. You Told a Lie (4/5)
4. Away with Murder (4/5)
5. Swans (4/5)
6. James (4/5)
7. Careless Love (4/5)
8. My Maudlin Career (4.5/5)
9. Forests & Sands (4/5)
10. Other Towns & Cities (4/5)
11. Honey in the Sun (5/5)