Remember this face.

Concept: The second album for the second Mclusky, which is the closest you’ll get to a “real” living punk band that everyone could know about. In a world where the genreish movement is either dead or in hiding, the idea of punk is all about the blame game, and frontman Andy Falkous always plays to win.

Sound: A welcome point the band returns to with this album is that one never has to abandon a sense of melody to sound angry. The tunes might even translate well into an acoustic rendition this time around, but they’re constructed as self-conscious jingles, ringtones, advertisements, etc…not full-blown music. Imagine if Franz Ferdinand was not dried out by their hyperbolic association with postmodernism and did not have a mortal fear of showing enthusiasm.

Lyrics: Here’s the rub and pull of the album. Its appeal is parallel to that of ‘Eels’: despite occasional heavy-handedness and cliche, it’s spoken from the heart. That being said, this is the stylistic perversion and emotional antithesis. Mark Everett might pick you up with a shrug, and so Falco expects to drag you down with a grin. Each tiny track is saturated with professional grade slogans of criticism and slippery, hopeless cultural reference, altogether intent on shameless, aimless, message-less cynical humor. FOTL stay in their own skin because they’re quite certain they would be completely uncomfortable no matter what they did.

Quick And Dirty: The boys are still waiting on some masterpiece CD, but they’re already more than stocked for one of the greatest ‘Greatest Hits’ collections ever, and after five albums the punches just keep on coming. They know a thing or two about commercial chin music. (♦♦♦♦)



Concept: Somehow, freak-out specialists The Mars Volta manage to restrain themselves and crank out a jam-packed, multifaceted pop-rock album.

Sound: Keyboardist Ikey Owens is the first thing long-time listeners will notice. He bridges every track, and offers much more atmosphere throughout the album, which is generally slower than the bands’ usual fare. Vocalist Cedric-Bixler Zavala’s harmonies just keep getting better, and he’s mercifully kept his painful insectoid upper range to a minimum. Much of the Latin and free-jazz influence has been thrown aside to embrace a conventional rock style, but there are layers and layers of melody to sort through. It bears repeating that there are a handful of exquisite, spellbinding harmonies lying in the corners of this album which everyone deserves to hear, if only through imitators. What makes this album a valuable addition to TMV’s career is that it cuts out all the extensive soloing, experimental rhythm, and atony which tears the patience of most listeners to pieces, so that everyone can appreciate (or at least investigate) their unique sound.

Lyrics: Over time, the band’s lyricism becomes exposed and tiresome. For first-time listeners it might hold some novelty, but it’s been much more guarded and just plain interesting in the past. The only intimation of a storyline or theme are occassional references to the devil, as imagined by Cedric’s mother in ‘The Widow’ from their second album, Frances The Mute, and an unnamed woman that sounds like an old flame. This approach sometimes echoes their earlier proficiency for surrealist heartache, but mostly seems like adolescent pandering; the rest is as addled and frustrating as the cover art. When vocals are such a key element of a band, there is no distraction or compensation against such a garish shortcoming. The lyrics cost the album what might have been resounding praise.

Quick And Dirty: The closest to catchy this band has ever been, with a little something for everybody and a few of their signature elements on the side. (♦♦♦♦)

The best part of a Dream Theater album is the cover art.

Concept: Dream Theater produces another technically impressive but musically tired soundtrack for a movie based on a videogame, making an extra effort this time to be morbid with the aid of an autobiographical close call.

Sound: Like most…okay, all prog rock bands, Dream Theater borrows quite a bit from King Crimson and Rush. As far as I know, though, few bands make it this painfully obvious, besides perhaps Coheed & Cambria. You know what this also means: it’s almost impossible to take them seriously. Even the opening track, which attempts to recreate a traumatic car crash from lead guitarist John Petrucci’s childhood, is simply hilarious. The experience seems draped over the same gothic shtick they’ve been clinging to, and doesn’t feel like a part of the music at all. Then, in the middle of one of the band’s incessant series of breakdowns, there is the sound effect of squealing brakes and shattering glass carelessly tossed on top of everything like a member of the recording crew was watching a pertinent B-movie in the back of the studio or something. The whole album is more or less like this: double-bass, loads of standard virtuoso sweeps and widdly-wees which occasionally hit the sweet spot sheerly by the law of averages, thirty-second doses of mixed meter, stock minor keys and power chords thrown everywhere. It’s all well and good at the end of the day, and there were no big complaints to be made way back when the band could keep it instrumental, but Dream Theater doesn’t jam as much as plod nowadays, and I would attribute this to the fact that now they’re trying to accomodate a singer and an aesthetic. The vocalists need to leave. Now. They’re doing that thing where they accidentally imitate an accent, which is only tolerable when you’re decent at it and/or you’re a frilly techno Darcy boy-man like that guy from The Killers, not when you’re a middle-aged sentient beard with a body attached who picked up all his Bri-ish quoting Family Guy at the Renaissance Festival. See below for more substantial points against this menace.

Lyrics: Geddy Lee got away with painfully overt conceptual name-dropping because he could fit into whatever his band was doing and keep up the pace. Listening to this guy is a chore. He crosses his fingers and stretches each word out in hopes that it will seem epic that way. I picture a turkey jumping off the edge of a canyon in an effort to soar. It fits. I suppose that’s sort of epic. Also, one thing Lee knew to use sparingly which oft brings prog bands to a fiery doom (looking at you, Mastodon) is storytelling. A quote, if I may —

“Let me introduce my brother/
I’ve been a gentleman historian/
Sucking on his pipe/
distinguished accent/
You’re making me uptight/
no accident/
I wanna stay alive/
Everything about this place just doesn’t feel right/
I don’t wanna die/
Suddenly I’m frightened for my life.”

“Over and over, scene by scene/
like a recurring nightmare haunting my dreams/
How could you prepare for what would happen next?/
No son should ever have to see his father such a mess/
It’s a miracle he lived, it’s a blessing no one died/
By the grace of God above, everyone survived/

Quick And Dirty: Mediocre metal nostalgia that goes best with Castlevania and Doritos. (♦♦½)

It's just not what you think.

Concept: Getting produced by Don Was can still turn a lot of heads. The question — is this solo performer more like Bob Dylan or Randy Newman?

Sound: Well, the sound has a tendency towards simplicity. His voice isn’t so hot, and the songs aren’t very elaborate. The high-end production actually hurts him, adding a reediness to a throaty honk, none of which sounds so appealing individually. The bones of the music are going to have to ride the coattails of the lyrics to memorability.

Lyrics: Snider’s lyrical voice isn’t exactly distinct. His performance and subject matter insist upon the style of Tom Waits, but Snider doesn’t burrow through cultural obscurities or anachronisms. He has the crude timeliness and openness of contemporary New York sweetheart Regina Spektor, but he doesn’t flaunt wandering storybook curlicues or treat realism derisively. Unlike both Waits and Spektor, he does not make a habit of inhabiting other personas. He is a fan of simple pictures and quick jokes, and displays a crucial ability to coax bizarre modern events into the realm of tall tales. The music world is in short supply of folk rockers (rockers period) that can provoke interest without irony, romanticism, or subtext.

Quick And Dirty: Ugly, blunt, and most promising, giving Sam Beam a run for his money in the alt-country/folk rock genre. (♦♦♦♦)

Can you tell that they know Bjork?

Concept: From the label that brought you Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand comes a markedly softer and brighter pop rock album that is being lifted above its own hype, although probably not on par with the frontman’s staggering pretensions.

Sound: First things to be noted are the eccentric and derailed guitar and rhythm, that bring to mind both Captain Beefheart and a derivative of the Malian blues style, and then the trembling choral arrangements which could never be imitated by a lesser vocalist without souring and collapsing. This is all dropped onto a canvas of silence, little to no droning or backing chords to protect it. These bold combinations (skipping to 2:45), all but alien to Western preference, are the heart of the entire album, that vaults it over everything Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion wanted to be and takes the forefront for originality in composition and style so far this year. Occassionally the tracks will revert back to orchestral pop or decide to smack of Zeppelin, but the band’s innovation is never lost or shaken. The only issue is that the songs sometimes sound slapped together. This has nothing to do with the songwriting, just instrumentation, but it makes some transitions plain irritating.

Lyrics: Stupid. As you might expect from associates of vocal mastermind Bjork, the words are as corny as the syrup in your Gatorade, as you have fluffy jewelbirds that always free their hearts on rocky flames of brilliance although they could not stop for death and had to settle for suede tunics, with the few worthwhile images tripping over their own feet (I know the horizon is bright and motionless/like an EKG of a dying woman). Bitte Orca, like its title, means exactly what you think it does, and no, there’s no good reason for it; the frontman thought it sounded pretty.

Quick And Dirty: The kind of album that could only ask for more textural refinement, and even that might spoil its essence. Not so hot for casual listening or parties, but ripe with new sounds and ideas. Who knew experimental music just needed to turn down the volume? (♦♦♦♦½)

 I'm glad you went to art school, too.

Concept: Various artists, from The Strokes to The Shins to The Flaming Lips to Iggy Pop to The Pixies, lay down their personal touch for Sparklehorse’s bandwork and Dangermouse’s mixing, with David Lynch granting his visual media stylings and teasing publicity boosts, all of them composing and producing in hopes of an overhaul tearjerker. There’s no story, but the theme is self-evident, and complimented by the looming uncertainties surrounding its production.

Sound: Each contributing artist’s background can be heard on their respective track, but the foremost artists do a good job of blending in with their guests and finding the smoothest sequence between them. They all end up being worthwhile tracks, if often a little slow for most occassions. The first track, featuring Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, is perhaps the greatest success: an emotional wrecking ball that clears the way for simpler tracks to fester in the listener. The majority of the album is clean and soothing but bleak, in step with Sparklehorse’s usual fare with a few thrashing exceptions. Dangermouse does a stand-up job on his first pop album. He adds a drunken carnival backdrop, but when he cuts in front things become erratic and cold, in case we forgot the subject matter of the songs. Things aren’t all rosy for Dark Night of the Soul, though. The album isn’t quite grounded by its mood: the revolving door of vocalists can be disruptive for anyone who wasn’t sticking them in their daily playlists long beforehand.

Lyrics: For an album emphasizing a mood, the lyricism is really too specific and/or indulgent most of the time. The lyrical style and content of the guest artists may be more disjointed than their sound. We find that all the artists, by trying to take themselves to a space of misery and darkness, isolate themselves from each other. Each dark night is unique. Maybe that’s the way the album was meant to be perceived: a kaleidoscopic tour through cramped and mutilating rooms. This is not to place emphasis on the lyrics as something important to the piece, however. They are often second-rate, and certainly secondary to the songwriting.

Quick And Dirty: If you’ve been waiting for this album there’s nothing I can really say to make you feel better about the difficulty you’ll have obtaining it, but it’s not a catastrophe. Still, it is a strange and valuable statement which now hangs tattered and black on the name of each artist involved. Oh, and you may stream the album from NPR by following the link below. (♦♦♦½)