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KRCC’s Delvin Neugebauer reviews new releases from Acrylics, Beady Eye, Cut Copy, DeVotchKa, Noah & the Whale and R.E.M. All the albums reviewed are recent additions to KRCC’s music library. If you’d like to hear something from one of these new releases, feel free to call KRCC during any of the music-mix shows and make a request!
Lives and Treasure
(Hot Sand/Friendly Fire Recordings)
The Brooklyn-based duo Acrylics offers ten instantly appealing songs on its debut album, Lives and Treasure. “Counting Sheep” and “Sparrow Song” are blissful, shimmering synth-pop tunes; “Molly’s Vertigo,” “Nightwatch” and the moody, vaguely funk-inflected title track are done with more traditional rock & roll arrangements and firmer beats. Hints of country and folk music appear in “Tortoise Shell” (a tribute to the classic Wayfarer style) and “It’s Cool Here”; the latter track presents the duo at its most spare and languid, right down to the lyric: “It’s cool here sitting by the riverside talking to you/Watch the river flow.” Molly Shea’s girlish voice is immediately charming; Jason Klauber’s singing is more plain, but blends well with Shea’s on their duets. Klauber and Shea are accomplished musical miniaturists; nothing on Lives and Treasure is overwhelming, yet all of the CD’s songs draw the listener in closer. On the disc’s final track, “The Catacombs,” Shea sings, “I’ve been cut loose with nowhere to go.” On Lives and Treasure, Shea and Klauber invite the listener to join them on the trip ahead, and they offer plenty of pop-music pleasure in return for the company.
Different Gear, Still Speeding
If Beady Eye sounds familiar from the get-go, it’s with good reason. The British quartet includes all the members of Oasis except for guitarist Noel Gallagher, who left that group in 2009. Although Noel had been the principal songwriter for Oasis, his bandmates had made increasingly significant contributions to the group’s last three albums. On Beady Eye’s debut CD, Different Gear, Still Speeding, guitarist Gem Archer, bassist Andy Bell and singer Liam Gallagher collaborate on the songs, and come up with a pretty enjoyable batch. Not surprisingly, Beady Eye flaunts its influences as overtly as Oasis ever did. “Four Letter Word” leads off the CD with a dramatic riff that vaguely recalls Wings’ “Live and Let Die,” and the verses of “The Roller” lift more than a little from John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.” “Wind Up Dream,” “Bring the Light,” “Three Ring Circus” and “Standing on the Edge of the Noise” offer plenty of Oasis-style melody, enthusiasm and rock & roll swagger. In fact, with its strummed acoustic guitar, echoey vocal, and opening seagulls-and-water sound effects, the album’s closing track, “The Morning Son,” sounds more than a little like the Oasis hit “Champagne Supernova.” The album is well-paced, with songs like the rustic “Millionaire” and the folk-pop “For Anyone” offering some breathing room between the more rocking numbers. “Kill for a Dream” might be read as Liam’s note of reconciliation to his estranged brother: “Life’s too short not to forgive/You can carry regrets, but they won’t let you live/I’m here if you want to call.” Noel’s departure, though, doesn’t appear to have diminished Liam’s confidence. Just as the singer exclaimed, “Tonight, I’m a rock & roll star!” on the first Oasis album, on this disc he asserts, “I’m gonna stand the test of time/Like Beatles and Stones!” Arrogant? Maybe. But looking back at all the self-indulgence problems and internal conflicts that Oasis dealt with, it’s remarkable that the group lasted more than 15 years before finally going supernova. So I wouldn’t bet against Beady Eye’s staying power.
On its third album, the Melbourne-based quartet Cut Copy offers more of its “Strange Nostalgia for the Future” (to use the title of one of Zonoscope‘s songs). Every song on this disc offers touches that will resonate with fans of Eighties dance music and synth-pop (including keyboardist Dan Whitford’s swoony singing voice), yet those touches are couched in overall grooves that sound up to the minute. The group weaves shimmery synths into its dance-funk in “Take Me Over,” and lays clipped guitar riffs and a doo-doo-doo melodic chorus over a firm disco beat in “Alisa.” That disco groove shows up again on “Corner of the Sky,” along with some very playful percussion. The band piles on its instruments and vocals in the chorus of “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat” with an almost baroque feel. And “Where I’m Going” features layered vocal harmonies that make Cut Copy sound almost like a 21st-century Beach Boys. The only real misstep is the closing track, “Sun God,” which, at 15 minutes, is too much of a good thing. (Actually, even at a third the length, the song wouldn’t be so good that it’d stand out from the rest of the album.) Apart from that, Zonoscope is an enjoyable set from a band that, for all its emphasis on grooves, rarely loses track of its songs.
DeVotchKa’s sixth full-length album (seventh if you count the soundtrack to the 2007 film Little Miss Sunshine) is perhaps its most consistently tuneful release to date. As it has on preceding releases, the Denver-based quartet blends a wide variety of Mediterranean and Eastern European musical styles into its pop. “The Common Good” features scraping violin over bouzouki and handclaps. “The Man from San Sebastian” opens with gypsy accordion over nimble percussion before leading into its electric guitar riff. “Exhaustible” blends a whistling hook and surprisingly cheery-sounding theremin over a rustic acoustic guitar. The group even gives “Bad Luck Heels” the mariachi treatment (complete with horns). Guitarist Nick Urata sings tales of romance that’s either gone wrong (“All the things I will believe/And all the hundred lovers you’ve got hidden up your sleeve/The words come easily, and they sound so lovely/I guess it’s just as easy if you lie to me”) or seems likely to (“If this is love, I’m gonna lose/There is no doubt/You’re gonna chew me up and spit me out/Ahhh, but isn’t it good?”). The quavery high end of his tenor occasionally makes Urata sound like a Mediterranean version of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. The band ends up applying all of its instrumental tricks to the album’s last two tracks, “Contrabanda” and the instrumental “Sunshine,” building them both to towering heights that somehow never threaten to tip over. Thanks to the uniformly high quality of the band’s songwriting, DeVotchKa never sounds like a group of dilettantes trying on various musical styles for size. All the exotic instrumentation and genre-blending adds up to a sound that’s distinctly … well, DeVotchKa. 100 Lovers is a great CD, especially for newcomers wanting to check out what that sound is all about.
Noah & the Whale
Last Night on Earth
In the song “Give It All Back,” Charlie Fink sings a tale that any Bryan Adams fan surely will recognize: “The world never seemed bigger/Than the summer of ’98/Living out in the suburbs/Planning my escape/I grew my hair to my shoulders/Formed a band with a couple of friends/Yeah, we called ourselves The Devil’s Playhouse/Influences like Bruce and The Band/And we’d sing and play/Simple three-chord rock & roll.” Assuming the story is his own, well, Charlie apparently decided to ditch those musical role models from the Seventies. His current band, Noah & the Whale, takes its cues directly from Eighties pop on its new CD, Last Night on Earth. Songs like “Life Is Life,” “Tonight’s the Kind of Night” (which actually does feature some classic E-Street-style piano) and “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.” would have fit comfortably on one of The Cars’ classic albums. (Come to think of it, there’s a hint of Cars vocalist Ric Ocasek in Fink’s vocal style, too.) Even when violinist Tom Hobden provides the principal hook, as he does on “Just Before We Met” (a song about showing old photos to a new romantic interest) and “Waiting for My Chance to Come,” the classic MTV-era sound is never very far away. But Last Night on Earth is more than just a retro/repo job. From start to finish, the band offers plenty of hooks, and never fails to deliver the melodies. The album closes with “Old Joy,” a stately piano ballad with gospel choir and Fink signing off with the lines, “Forget the things that get away/Don’t dream of yesterday” — and it’s pretty clear that he means it sincerely.
Collapse Into Now
Having gradually lost its edge (and much of its fan base) over the past couple of decades, R.E.M. decided three years ago to re-assert itself as a rock & roll band. The result, 2008’s Accelerate, was widely hailed as a welcome return to form, even though the disc’s unremitting drive made the veterans from Athens, Georgia seem a little desperate. Securing their comeback so decisively, though, clearly bolstered the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers’ confidence. The new R.E.M. album, Collapse Into Now, sounds more of a piece with the late-Eighties albums Document and Green. The band came up with a set of good songs, and took the time to find the right musical approach for each one, rather than forcing any of the songs to fit into a style. “Discoverer” and “All the Best” start the album off vigorously; “Walk It Back,” “Mine Smell Like Honey” (now that’s an irritating title) and the beautiful chorus of “Überlin” ease back a bit and let their melodies shine through. Guitarist Peter Buck dusts off his mandolin for “Oh My Heart” and “It Happened Today.” “That Someone Is You” comes across as an update of “It’s the End of the World As We Know It.” And the noirish “Blue,” in which Stipe mutters like the detective character in an old black-and-white film, could pass for an out-take from R.E.M.’s 1995 album New Adventures in Hi-Fi (right down to Patti Smith’s guest vocal). On the other hand, Accelerate did include some of Stipe’s most focused lyrics ever, and Collapse Into Now could’ve benefitted from some of that focus. He still possesses a distinctive, expressive voice, but he doesn’t have a lot to say this time around. On songs like “Every Day Is Yours to Win” (“I cannot tell a lie/It’s not all cherry pie/But it’s all there waiting for you/Yeah, you”) and the rollicking but silly “Alligator, Aviator, Autopilot, Antimatter,” he doesn’t even manage to say nothing gracefully. Overall, though, even if Collapse Into Now isn’t as immediately attention-getting as Accelerate, it sounds more like R.E.M. trusted its collective instinct — which is what made the band one of rock’s greatest in the first place.
Contact the reviewer at firstname.lastname@example.org.