Gnarls Barkley | The Odd Couple | Downtown/Atlantic
(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
By all calculations, the Gnarls Barkley sophomore slump was inevitable. While the surprising St. Elsewhere was a high-speed, genre-smashing affair, The Odd Couple is strikingly reverent. From Motown and Nuggets-style psych-rock to ’60s sunshine pop, any angle offering the opportunity for excessively soulful vocals (an arena in which Cee-Lo seems to be peerless) and plenty of handclaps (sorry, Danger Mouse, one needn’t be an “auteur” for that) is fair game. But this isn’t to say every song is uninventive, or as misguided as the pile-of-butchered-strings-and-beat that is “Open Book.” DM’s work on “Would Be Killer” recalls the noirish beat of production masters Dan the Automator and Prince Paul, and wherever the tempo is pushed, most notably with “Going On” and the single, “Run,” Cee-Lo’s performance nearly resurrects the feeling of hearing “Hey Ya!” for the first time — or, actually, the first Gnarls Barkley album.
Evangelista | Hello Voyager | Constellation
There’s a kind of music that gets made but rarely, whose chief impact is ambiguous but searingly direct, more a rush of emotional graspings meant to pull something out of you — the implication being that feeling itself is both underrated and elsewhere superficially explored. This, along with actually inventing a new tonality, is what rich and raspy singer-composer Carla Bozulich has kept aiming at in her various incarnations via Geraldine Fibbers, Scarnella and the recent Evangelista albums. Hello Voyager, both ectoplasmically sprawling and tightly pruned, skewed toward the prickly and dissonant and between-notes resonant, was recorded in Montreal with improvisation-adept musicians, including Thee Silver Mt. Zion, a big slew of drummers, regular bandmates Tara Barnes and Shahzad Ismaily, an interesting organ player named Nadia Moss, and Carla’s Scarnella pal Nels Cline on one track, “The Blue Room”; that cut is a crystallization of Evangelista, a sort of ballad for a musically enlightened 21st century where all beauty and ugliness long ago rolled together in one mysterious ball to reveal punk rock, chamber music, country sounds and avantish jazz shaking hands with the devil. This music is out, out as in all the way in, and quite extraordinary.
No Age | “Eraser” 7-inch | Sub Pop
One minute and 29 seconds into No Age’s “Eraser,” profundity strikes. Randy Randall’s fuzzy guitars are holding steady, when the volume nearly doubles, the strumming kinda falls behind the kick, and cymbals start crashing through the speakers, with Dean Spunt singing something unintelligible about death. It feels beyond spare — prehistoric, even — but it feels good. And somewhere in there, inside of three guitars, a two-piece drum kit and one garbled voice, are vital strains of My Bloody Valentine, the K Records’ roster, Minutemen, and even the Strokes. A minute later, it’s over. Such is the M.O. of Downtown L.A.’s rising art-house stars, whose creative breadth defies the should-be-simple logic of their songs’ brevity. The B-side collects three drastically altered covers of Angeleno origin, including an ambient-punk rendition of the Nerves’ power-pop classic “When You Find Out.” A cold sweat just broke over Brooklyn.
Destroyer | Trouble in Dreams | Merge Records
The much-revered and incessantly analyzed Destroyer is spearheaded by Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, who’s perhaps best known for cofounding the New Pornographers. Bejar began Destroyer in the mid-’90s as a solitary home-studio endeavor, though it has gradually morphed into something of a proper rock band, and Trouble in Dreams should further solidify Bejar’s status as the reigning bard of the ultra-literary-minded indie-rock intelligent-sia. Musically, Bejar mixes intimate, lo-fi folk rock with big-beat glam anthems, but it’s employed almost entirely in the service of the singer and his gifted wordplay. His voice is often compared to David Bowie’s, but his precise pronunciations and dry wit more accurately recall Lou Reed or Robyn Hitchcock. And with lyrics written in an impressionistic prose style, combined with the occasional snippet of dialogue, his output on Dreams is a far cry from the simplified phrasing of most pop music — but then, it’s not intended as such. In fact, on the album’s opening song, “Blue Flower/Blue Flame,” Bejar delivers the line “I’ll tell you what I mean by that. Maybe not in seconds flat, maybe not today …” It’s a pretty fair assessment of what’s to come.
The Knux | “Cappuccino” single | Interscope
Forget that $8, 6-ounce cup of organic fair trade at L.A. Mill; Los Angeles doesn’t have great coffee. Not like New Orleans, specifically Café du Monde, where for that bloated price, you can stuff yourself full of delicious, chocolatey café au laits and several plates of powdered-sugar-iced beignets. The Knux, recent transplants from the Crescent City, understand this, shouting out the famed coffee chain in the hook of their debut Interscope single. The bass line cannonballs out of your speakers, snares bounce like trampolines, and the unfortunately named duo of Krispy Kream and Rah Al Millio trade flows with a playful ease reminiscent of De La Soul. Indeed, the video for “Cappuccino” takes that theme and runs with it, complete with anachronistic costume: fat gold chains, Adidas, Run-DMC specs. The Knux land somewhere between “Me Myself and I” and Class Act. Call it hipster rap, call it golden-age revivalism, ultimately what matters is that, like cappuccino itself, this song is hot.
Ghost on the Highway: A Portrait of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and The Gun Club DVD | French Fan Club
Wow, this DVD is a drag. First of all, it’s hard to even pop it on considering the huge disclaimer on the package that says, “This film contains no Gun Club music.” Bummer, because why would you want to watch a feature-length documentary on one of L.A.’s greatest post-punk bands, knowing full well that not one lick of Gun Club music is contained therein? Surely not for the snippets of Pierce, who died a bloated, drug-addicted mess in 1996, blowing on a trumpet or glaring at the camera. Nor for the countless interviews with former Gun Clubbers Jim Duckworth and Ward Dotson explaining in specific detail how much of an asshole Pierce was to them. Nor for the odd kitchen-sink documentary style of director Alex Voss, who does his best to present the story of Pierce and the Gun Club without, ahem, retaining the rights to include the music. But there are good things within. Kid Congo Powers seems cool, and it’s nice to get to know him a little better. And it’s good to devote time to the Gun Club in general. But this DVD is only for the die-hards; the rest should just go buy Fire of Love and listen close.
The Little Ones | Terry Tales & Fallen Gates EP | Branches Recording Collective
The Little Ones aren’t much for sulking. Despite being freshly released from Astralwerks a month before their debut album was due, the notoriously cheery Silver Lake fivesome sustain a smile throughout their self-released latest EP, Terry Tales & Fallen Gates. “Uncle Lee’s Rule of Feet” is clearly in effect — the band maxim requires 10 of 10 Little shoes a-shuffling for a track to make the cut — evidenced by the clean, tropical pop of “Boracay” and sing-along daydream “Unlock the Door!” But while a song like “Forgive Yourself” neatly imbues an Apples in Stereo–like levity with the insistence of the Walkmen and the yen of Death Cab, the Little Ones still lack edge. They’ve mastered the art of “Ordinary Song” (the title of the single that’s brought them this far), but until they reach for something more, ordinary is what they chance to become. There’s always room in Indieville for the local band that writes great pop tunes.