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.

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Quick Review (LP): Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron & Wine

iron and wine kiss each other clean Iron & Wine
Kiss Each Other Clean
Warner Bros.; 2011

My Rating: B (66/100)

Best Tracks: “Tree By The River”, “Monkeys Uptown”, “Godless Brother In Love”, “Glad Man Singing”

Prediction: one of these days Sam Beam will make a lullabye-metal record, entitled Iron Maiden & Wine. For now, we must content ourselves with his exceedingly pleasant indie-folk, and Kiss Each Other Clean shouldn’t make anyone upset at that fact. Now from what I know of Iron & Wine, this is the grandest stretch Beam has yet made. It’s essentially a record that celebrates the soft-rock of the 70’s, with a little bit of Stevie Wonder’s good-times-funk thrown in for flavor. As for references, Paul Simon and Fleetwood Mac are primary, and “Half Moon” recalls Clapton‘s “Promises” big time. This is a friendly record, wide-eyed and fatherly, full of great melodies and warm, clever arrangements. Additionally, the best tracks feature some truly lovely moments, especially “Tree By The River” and “Godless Brother In Love.” This isn’t a great record – the last song in particular sort of stinks – but Beam deserves accolades for taking some serious chances here. A 70’s throwback record could easily have sounded hokey coming from Beam, but he pulls it off rather well. That’s much easier said than done. Worth a listen for fans of the soft-rock sound.

Concept (4.5/5)
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4/5)

AMG review
Pitchfork review
SputnikMusic review

Quick Review (LP): The King Is Dead by The Decemberists

decemberists king is dead The Decemberists
The King Is Dead
2011

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “Don’t Carry It All”, “Rox In The Box”, “January Hymn”, “June Hymn”, “Dear Avery”

Were it not for the bleating timbre of Colin Meloy’s voice, I’d probably own every Decemberists record. Surely there has to be a better way to create a hybrid of Morrissey and Stipe, no? As for this here slab o’ wax, while it’s certainly no masterpiece, it’s nonetheless an exceptionally strong set of songs, featuring all of the things that folks have loved about The Decemberists from the beginning. There are a few instances where it seems they might be loafing – “This Is Why We Fight” for instance – but otherwise The King Is Dead finds the band embracing Americana, with several of the tracks getting help from the vocals of Gillian Welch (who I hope has learned a thing or two from Master Meloy’s productivity, ahem). While there’s nothing so lovely as “The Engine Driver” (though the pair of hymns come close) or as soaring and accessible as “16 Military Wives”, this is a well-rounded folk-rock record that will please fans of The Decemberists and might even convert a few Welch fans.

Random observations:

– “January Hymn” recalls the pastoral college rock of late 80’s / early 90’s REM, and even The Smiths
– “Dear Avery” reminds me of Fleetwood Mac

Wikipedia article
AMG review
Metacritic reviews
Pitchfork review