Thursday, May 22, 2008

More May Reviews

Consider this my effort at catching up after only one review in April...

Scarlett Johansson / "Anywhere I Lay My Head" - When I first heard of the concept behind the "Lost in Translation" starlet's debut album - that if would consist almost entirely of Tom Waits covers, with one Johansson-penned original - I rolled my eyes and anticipated the worst. However, when I heard Dave Sitek (of TV on the Radio) would be producing, visions of "Province" and hope were generated. Turns out both reactions were justified. "Anywhere I Lay My Head" is not nearly as bad as it could have been. Sitek's production brings a fresh take on a number of Waits' signature songs, and almost saves the album from Johansson's vocals or lack thereof. If you've ever listened to Waits' version of these songs, Johansson stands no chance of impressing you. The point of a covers album is to reinvent the songs in your own signature style. Johansson gets halfway there. She's got a good producer, now she just needs a musical personality or a vocal instructor.
(video of title track)
Rating: 4.8

Fuck Buttons / "Street Horrrsing" - I featured Fuck Buttons in a post awhile ago for their song "Sweet Love for Planet Earth," where I wrote the song had left me "speechless". Now that I've had the entire album for some time, I can draw two conclusions: 1) "Sweet Love for Planet Earth" is still damn near as good I thought is was, and 2) The rest of the album can never quite match the precedent the opening track sets. "Sweet Love for Planet Earth" opens the album beautifully. Beginning with a serene series of chimes, the fuzz and distortion bubble beneath the surface and slowly take over the song as it progresses. It's an ambient masterpiece, miraculously functioning as a relaxing piece even as the screamed, barely-coherent vocals enter the mix at the 5:30 mark. By the time the song concluded, I was ready to declare this the album of the year under the assumption Fuck Buttons would be able to retain this kind of quality and balance throughout the album. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The entire album functions as one giant track, one with an incredible commencement, but also one which gets less and less impressive as it moves forward. "Ribs Out" is an interesting ambient track, anchored by tribal drums and heavily distorted vocals. "Okay, Let's Talk About Magic" attempts to find a similar noise/ambient balance to that which was displayed in the opening track, with mixed results. "Race You to My Bedroom / Spirit Rise" is more noise-rock than anything else on the album, but is too redundant to validate its over 9-minute run time. "Bright Tomorrow" approaches dance music, and serves as the record's second peak, though like every other song on the album it can't match "Sweet Love for Planet Earth". "Colors Move" is 8-and-a-half minutes of combining elements of "Ribs Out" and "Race You to My Bedroom / Spirit Rise". On its own, it's a fine song, but by the time it's halfway done it becomes redundant. It's compelling to see Fuck Buttons doing something new with noise music on their debut album. It's disappointing that they don't do anything new with their own music on two-thirds of the album.
Note: The video of "Bright Tomorrow" is only 4:12, while the album track is 7:41)
Rating: 7.7

Destroyer / "Trouble in Dreams" - I love Dan Bejar. I love him in Swan Lake; I love him in the New Pornographers; I love him most of all as Destroyer. His last album, "Destroyer's Rubies", was arguably his best to date (among other contenders are "City of Daughters" and "Streethawk: A Seduction") and received ample critical acclaim as a result. As "Trouble in Dreams" approached, I waited for it in anticipation. However, it's left me conflicted. While it has all the trademarks of a Destroyer album - roots in classic rock melody, frequent sonic shifts, labyrinthine and enigmatic lyrics, and Bejar's love-it-or-hate-it vocals - it almost has too much of what one would expect from a Destroyer album, and it sounds too much like "Destroyer's Rubies" to ignore. Like Beck's "Guero" in 2004, it's an album that sounds great, but at the same time sounds like it has been recycled from better material (in Beck's case, "Odelay"). Lyrically, it's more straightforward than "Rubies", but is still songwriting of the kind of caliber, mystique, and originality that fans have come to expect from Bejar. The strength of the lyrics is really the saving grace of the album. They require and reward careful listening, and make the album stand apart from its close companions in Bejar's discography. Ultimately, even though instrumentally it isn't as original as past albums have been, it still has everything I look for in a Destroyer album, as well as one of the best songs in the entire catalogue in "Shooting Rockets (from the Desk of Night's Ape)". Besides, if anyone has earned the benefit of the doubt with my literary side, it's Bejar.
(video of "Foam Hands")
Rating: 8.2

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