Monthly Archives: September 2010
Radiohead – OK Computer
A key album of the 1990s, Radiohead’s OK Computer is something of a miracle: a truly complex, experimental rock album that was appreciated by the masses upon its release. Of course, this is mainly because the band tucks all of its unconventional time signatures, complicated syncopations, and electronic and instrumental hip-hop influences below the surface, unveiling new layers and hidden elements with each listen. But if it were just a clump of easily-digestible experimentation, the album wouldn’t have achieved the acclaim or influence it did. Instead, OK Computer merged these innovations with some of Radiohead’s most memorable and evocative work yet, including the multi-segmented “Paranoid Android,” the painfully resigned “No Surprises,” and the cathartic pop of “Let Down.” Massively influential upon its release, OK Computer‘s sweeping melancholy put a definitive end to the declining Britpop movement, galvanizing a new wave of British (and American) alternative bands who also traded in falsetto-sung alienation, albeit in a much more radio-friendly way.
Weezer – Hurley
Since Weezer’s third self-titled outing (a.k.a. The Red Album), Rivers Cuomo has tried his best to avoid his age, a sort of mid-life crisis via pop music. On Raditude, he even donned the persona of a party-hardy frat boy, something that didn’t always wear too well. Yet, 2010’s Hurley, named for Jorge Garcia’s character on sci-fi show Lost, takes a bit of a different approach. Cuomo is still mainly concerned with writing the perfect, fun three-minute pop song but there is a nostalgic feel to Hurley. Opening up with the great “Memories,” whose squealing guitars consciously recall Pinkerton, Cuomo yearns for his past (albeit semi-jokingly). “Brave New World” and “Time Flies,” the latter of which hovers about on a delightful acoustic riff, share similar sentiments of growing up and moving on. Though this suggests that the album is personal and introspective—or perhaps an attempt to recapture the glory of their early work—Hurley is a modern Weezer record through and through, stuffed to the brim with pop hooks, romantic dysfunction, and songwriting collaborations. Luckily, many of these partnerships result in pleasant additions to the band’s catalog. “Ruling Me” and “Smart Girls” are effortlessly catchy, while “Run Away” and “Hang On” are surprisingly sweet. Not all of these songs work though: the one-joke “Where’s My Sex?”, while fun, borders on novelty, and the insistent “Trainwrecks” just becomes repetitive. Hurley isn’t a knockout and is unlikely to win back any fans disenchanted with the direction Weezer has chosen lately, but it is a rather solid collection of songs and far from an embarrassment.
Lost In The Trees – All Alone In An Empty House
Lost In The Trees is the moniker of Ari Parker, a Berklee College of Music graduate who dabbles in an assortment of musical projects. All Alone In An Empty House was actually released as an EP in 2008 but was re-released in 2010 with new songs padding it out to a full-length album, essentially making this, for all intents and purposes, its de facto release. As it happens, All Alone is a collection of folk and classical-tinged pop songs that strongly recall the work of everyone from Owen Pallett and Joanna Newsom to Bright Eyes (even Parker’s voice evokes Conor Oberst’s occasionally). But even if much of this album doesn’t make great claims to originality, it is still altogether enjoyable. Opener “All Alone In An Empty House” cycles between swirling orchestration and hushed, hand-plucked guitars; “Song For The Painter” and “For Leah And Chloe” are charming folk-pop; and “A Room Where You Paintings Hang” is a jaunty acoustic jam. Yet when Parker, being that classically trained musician that he is, intertwines orchestrated sections with his songs, he really distinguishes himself from his contemporaries. He even leaves two instrumental interludes (“Mvt. I Sketch,” “Mvt. II Sketch”) to flex his composing muscles. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, no, but it is a set of pretty, melodic songs, made better with compelling classical arrangements, and fans of any of the above mentioned artists should find something on here to enjoy.
Interpol – Interpol
Whenever a band releases an eponymous album, the idea is that the record is definitive of the band’s sound. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best album in a band’s discography but one that gives a good example of what they are all about. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Interpol ends up being a bit of summation of Interpol’s career so far, touching upon everything the band has done in the past. They even moved back to their old label, Matador, to release the record. The intoxicating urgency of Turn On The Bright Lights, the upbeat, danceable rhythms incorporated into Antics, and the sonic ambitions of Our Love To Admire take their shape here in one form or another. Some of the sleek but sub-par songwriting that marred Our Love also affects some of the tracks here, but fortunately this is an altogether tighter and more focused listen. “Barricade,” with its anthemic chorus, could easily fit into either of the band’s first two albums, and opener “Success” also lives up to its name, taking advantage of Interpol’s knack for dark elegance. Yet, for every success is a tuneful but forgettable song like “Summer Well” and “Safe Without.” The problem with these songs—and with Interpol in general—is that, because the band traces back over their older work, they offer nothing new. Instead, they only serve as an example of the band’s sonic blueprint but don’t have the memorable songwriting to make them worthwhile. It is only when Interpol try something different that the album becomes more interesting than a retrospective. The insistent “Lights,” which gradually builds to a stomping chant of “That’s why I hold you, dear,” is just about the best moment on the album. The keyboard loop on “Try It On” and “The Undoing”‘s mourning brass and Spanish-language verses point toward other directions Interpol could go in the future. Considering the retrospective feel of the album and the departure of founding bassist Carlos Dengler, self-titling the album may also signal that the band are ready to move on to pursue the new sounds hinted at here. Interpol may please fans as it showcases something familiar, but it gives the overall impression that it is the end of an era. It’s quite frankly a relief, though, as Interpol don’t really seem to have their hearts in mining the same sounds they used to.
Big Troubles – Worry
Big Troubles are certainly not the first recent band to revive the shoegaze and noise pop sounds of the late 80s and early 90s. Hell, they’re not even the first recent band to come out of Ridgewood, New Jersey. (There must be something in the water there.) But while their contemporaries often wrap otherwise innocuous pop songs in sheets of fuzz and feed back à la Black Tambourine and The Jesus And Mary Chain, Big Troubles’ sound is a little less cut and dry. Bandmates Ian Drennan and Alex Craig also throw in My Blood Valentine’s fondness for burying vocals into the unpredictable and melodic noise that saturates the music. This doesn’t sink Worry‘s poppier moments though. The buoyant “Freudian Slips” bounces along on an addictive guitar riff, while “Slouch” and “Drastic and Difficult” both have an infectious energy that shines through the fuzz. But while the first half of the album is consistent and memorable, nearly every song on the second half is unmemorable and unfocused. The arrangements on these songs are notably much more spare than the songs that preceded them, and rather than use the space effectively, Drennan and Craig indulge in hazy atmospherics without much distinctive surfacing from the murk. It’s really a letdown too because, though it doesn’t offer much new, the first half of Worry shows real potential for the band. As it stands, Big Troubles only have enough material to manage an excellent EP.