Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Series of Quick Reviews

Too many albums, too little time. Situation calls for another "Series of Quick Reviews".

The Dodos / "Visiter":
"Visiter", the Dodos' second album, might be the most easily recommended album so far this year. It might not be album of the year material, but I'd find it hard to believe any fan of rock or pop music would fail to enjoy it. The album is largely drum-driven, and the guitars go from acoustic to electric even within the same song with ease. The musical creativity on "Jodi" alone is more than I've see on entire albums this year (cough-Weezer-cough). The lyrics are straight-forward but work well within the context of their songs. This is clearly a band with a great deal of talent, who is just beginning to tap into it. Sure, not every track is a winner, but the high moments ("Fools" and "Winter", among others) cancel out skippable songs such as "It's That Time Again". You'll want to get "Visiter" now, so as The Dodos popularity swells you can proudly boast you were there early. I can't guarantee you'll like or love this album, but I can guarantee if you don't that you and I have vastly different tastes in music.
Rating: 8.3

Silver Jews / "Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea":
It's been three years since we heard from Dave Berman and the Silver Jews, the band best known for on-again, off-again member Stephen Malkmus and their 9.9-Pitchfork-rated LP "American Water". On "Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea", which arrives in stores June 17th, the band hasn't changed much since 2005's "Tanglewood Numbers" (although this time out Stephen Malkmus is absent), but unfortunately the changes which have occurred have left the band worse off. The most noticeable change is the frequent use of Berman's wife Cassie as a background singer. Her contributions are noticeable, but not in a good way since surprisingly her voice doesn't work well with Berman's gruff baritone. Berman's lyrics are his usual fare of witty Americana and storytelling, but musically the album never really takes off. I actually found myself yawning about halfway though it. Berman can write lyrics, no question, but I still think without Stephen Malkmus to provide the punch and guitar which made "Starlite Walker" and "American Water" so enjoyable he's not nearly as much fun to listen to as he is to read.
Rating: 6.5

Elbow / "The Seldom Seen Kid":
Here's an album that caught me off-guard. I'd never thought Elbow would really develop into much, seeing as none of their first three albums were particularly strong. However, having read glowing reviews of their fourth full-length, "The Seldom Seen Kid", I thought I would give them another listen. Obviously, I'm glad I did. From the opening crashes of "Starlings" this is much more than just another British indie-rock affair. The songs all move slowly, but the compositions are solid and guided gently, but surely, along by lead singer Guy Garvey's vocals. While the band may not be doing anything too radical with their compositions, they're certainly more original than most, and have improved greatly beyond just following the mold laid out by other British artists such as Coldplay and Travis. In between highlights such as "Mirrorball" and "Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver", the songs are largely strong enough to avoid lag and not only put Elbow back in critical favor, but also make this arguably the best rock release to come out of the United Kingdom so far this year.
Rating: 8.0

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