Record of the Week - 01/05/09
The Decemberists - The Hazards Of Love
'Speculate To Accumulate'
The fable-like, medieval concept of good and evil, love and potentially loss adds little to this album, but its supporting cast and director add in spades. What they bring together makes for very interesting listening. As an ensemble, or taken individually (pre and interludes aside) Meloy's master plan works, his plot comes to welcome fruition. The various reprises of the title track tie the theme, but more importantly the album, together nicely. Recruiting Stark of Lavender Diamond was a nice touch, Worden of My Brightest Diamond a masterstroke. The three play out the turbulent tryst with theatrical panache. James of My Morning Jacket must be kicking himself for not having been more forceful, reduced to mere backing vocals here and there.
Despite this stellar cast, and level of experimentation (Meloy and his gang rock out in places, jam some weighty blues elsewhere), the album is still firmly Decemberists-imprinted. The smug literacy that has punctuated previous releases is heightened if anything, the anti-tuneful but not tunelessness of Meloy's vocal is smoother in places, more whining in others. Aside from the plot, the asides and the distractions, The Hazards Of Love is built around quality song-craft. They have learnt from Arcade Fire, layering spirals of backing 'oohs' into tracks, from Black Mountain, adding heavy, bluesy, pysch-rock to 'The Queen's Rebuke/ The Crossing' and also from themselves, having taken the best, storytelling and atmospheric, folk-pop bits of the Crane Wife and pitching them at a less beardy audience. Now they aim and hit for the chin-stroking crowd, but they happily still manage to eschew the scenester gaze. This is not a trendy record and all the better for it.
Album highlight is the gloriously split-delivered 'The Wanting Comes In Waves / Repaid' in which the forest queen (that's right forest queen) does a cracking Leila Moss, of the Duke Spirit, impression and Meloy sets it against a lurching rock riff, which shifts in and out of his twee plea for release.
Obviously, The Hazards Of Love is a little indulgent and the album suffers, but only a little, because of it and its length. The indulgence is Meloy's own, the act of trying, and failing to condense a stage-intended, pop-opera into a less-than-a-hour concept album. What he has nevertheless achieved is an album of immeasurable adventure, an adventurousness that will put some off, but that probably should not. The plot and its characters quickly become vehicle to the music itself, which happily is fantastic in parts, uplifting in others, mildly conceited only rarely and mostly rather good indeed. Such are the hazards of the contemporary songwriter, nevermind the love for his art.
Royal Bangs - We Breed Champions
Coming on equally like a less serious Walkmen and a more substantial Hot Hot Heat, Royal Bangs sound like Weezer if Rivers Cuomo had sequencing skills. The daftly named glitchtronica influences play away concordantly with garage-y, indie-pop rock guitars, which duel in a comforting way as many post-Strokes bands do. The album's many hooks strengthen Royal Bang's resolve to have refrained from a reliance on choruses; the music is sufficiently interesting throughout.
Whilst perhaps not yet world-beating champions, the band do have the confidence to experiment. The ambient ode to superior, oriental automobiles that is 'Japanese Cars' (reprised in album closer ' Hyundai From Korea') is endearing if not enduring. 'Broke Calculator' is 'Blue Monday', but only for a second. Then it teasingly devolves into a more playful version of Crystal Castles 'Air War' set to some otherwise anonymous indie-rock number. 'Russian Goodbye' even hints at a Killers' track. 'Little Switzerland' lifts the Kinks' 'You Really Got Me's riff nonchalantly.
Not particularly banging, nor especially regal, We Breed Champions nevertheless courses with a winning formula. Stud duty must surely beckon.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy - Beware
'Beware But Thyself'
Will Oldham is an enviously consistent talent. His folky, acoustic, singer-songwriting skills are rarely surpassed, except by himself. Once more, on this his umpteenth album, he peddles a collection of extremely worthy, honest and true, Americana pleasers. Beware is more country than elsewhere in his catalogue, the pedal steel lament of 'You Can't Hurt Me Now' and bluegrass vocal of 'I Am Goodbye' are as country as he's ever been and they plod and nod beautifully. The latter seems to congruously borrow the Allman Brothers gently rocking electric guitar.
In general, the album is less sparse than most of his other work; album opener 'Beware Your Only Friend' has a backing choir, for example. Some fans may lament this direction but happily, Oldham's skill as an artist does not allow for these distractions to become detractions. However, in being bigger, Beware loses some of the raw effect that 'I See A Darkness', for example, had. Nevertheless, this is a very pleasant listening experience, despite some tracks being a little longer than was strictly necessary.
'Heart's Arms', 'I Don't Belong To Anyone' and 'My Life's Work' are warmly familiar Calexico-type material. They are comfortable, but arguably too comfortable. Whilst wallpaper-music would be far too unfair a label, Beware has lost the power to move, and as such, the listener is left only with awestruck appreciation. By his own standards, Beware is merely a good album, by nearly anyone else's it is very good. Beware but thyself Mr. Oldham, for thou art thine own worst enemy.
Dananananaykroyd - Hey Everyone
'DIY Because They Gotta'
Picking up where early single 'Totally Bone' and EP 'Sissy Hits' left off, Hey Everyone is a long player of more-of-the-same, high-octane, well-conceived-and-executed, garage-y, DIY indie-rock. The stress is on DIY and rock. The LP houses the majority of 'Sissy Hits' and adds seven new numbers to the party to justify your cash. And it is a party. The listener is never under the impression that these improbably named upstarts are doing anything other than enjoying themselves. The sound is never laboured, nor hackneyed. They are unto themselves, and all the more glorious because of it.
Album opener 'Watch This!' is gleefully shout
y and crashing, 'The Greater Than Symbol And The Hash' is a tongue-in-cheek experiment in restraint until it breaks into frenetic shredding amid a break-neck tempo change. 'Totally Bone' is still tight and fresh, surpassing anyone's RDA for feedback within the first minute. Their two drummers frequently bring the noise. Production duty has been given to Machine, he of Lamb Of God twiddling, and it shows. There is so much energy in here that the album practically comes with a circle pit thrown in.
It's difficult to make comparison, perhaps maybe there could be something in condensing Les Savy Fav's live show onto disk, and replacing Tim Harrington with some sugar-rush adolescent? At times, they recall art brat ensembles such as Be Your Own Pet or Help She Can't Swim. The former are too bubblegumly smug for useful comparison however, and the latter too esoteric. Dananananaykroyd are fairly one off in today's market. And in so much as that oxymoron works, so do they. Hey Everyone announces their arrival in some style and like the prize fighters on the cover of Sissy Hits, there is not an ounce of flab on it.
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