Initial Reactions (2012): Norah Jones, Lower Dens, Zammuto

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)

Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts [B]: On its face, Jones’ 5th proclaims edgy style. There’s the risqué album cover (cf. albums 1-4), production by Danger Mouse, and the sassy, "is that Norah Jones?" hook of lead single "Happy Pills." Certainty: Burton works wonders with the arrangements. Trouble is twofold. The songs are decent, but none great. Furthermore, Jones’ delivery is still maddeningly mild. I was amped by "Happy Pills" – but further listening feels like falling off of cloud nine. ("Say Goodbye", "Out On The Road")

Lower Dens – Nootropics [A-]: The sound of an alien’s existential crisis? I know from the interwebs that this is high concept, but I won’t get into all that here. What I will say is that Dens makes some sparse (and oft frightening) soundscapes, and then populates them with neurotic cosmonauts. There’s a nice diversity to the song types, but a definite unity to the overall sound of the record. I’m pleasantly surprised by this one, and if you dig krautrock then go ahead and give it a whirl. ("Stem", "Propagation", "Nova Anthem", "Lion In Winter pt. 1")

Zammuto – Zammuto [B]: The Way Out was my first exposure to The Books and their last LP release. I dug it, so I was excited to see point-5-Books pick things up with Zammuto. Sounds Books-ish, what with the silly sampling, but there’s a post-rock band feel here as well. Sports some mighty fine tunes fer sure, but the problem is sequencing. The thick, frantic stuff is relentless until the last few tracks, when things slow down to pensive. More ebb and flow might have opened this one up. Not bad, not great. ("Groan Man, Don’t Cry", "Full Fading")

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