Albums of the week: New records from Air, Dr. Dog, Van Halen and more
Wow. Tough week. I mean that in a good way. There are a lot of worthwhile releases hitting stores. New ones from Frankie Rose, Royal Baths, Sharon Van Etten, Mark Lanegan and Ben Kweller—even Paul McCartney's pleasant excursion down Tin Pan Alley—all have their merits. But here are my top five.
The band name screams chillwave, right? Nope, this is the project of erstwhile Feist guitarist Afie Jurvanen. Barchords (that's "Bar chords," as in songs for getting lost in a bottle, not "Barre chords," as in Green Day riffs) shares the starkness and space of Feist's records. "Lost in the Light" and "Never Again" could fit right on her albums. There's a bit of that casual, shoes-that-look-like-feet vibe you'd expect from a guy on Jack Johnson's label, but then a beautiful downer like "Snow Plow" comes along to gut you.
Air Le Voyage Dans la Lune
I realize it's rather gear-head of me to geek out over how ideal a snare sounds, or how precisely a Moog sits in the mix—but goddam, no records sounds as good as Air's. Those punches of horns on "Astronomic Club," the crisp breaks on "Cosmic Trip"—it is all perfectly recorded. Inspired by George Méliès (I love getting a press release with blurbs from Terry Gilliam and George Lucas), this quasi-soundtrack shows the duo back in the mode of The Virgin Suicides. The brief trip is jazzy, kooky and kitchy-cool, but deep down I think the Frenchmen are hungry to prove they can psych-out with the best of them. Why is this classified as electronica, again?
Dr. Dog Be the Void
If its dumb name didn't read like a band of Muppets, how big would Dr. Dog be? The group has a new punch on its second record for Anti-, having added a couple fresh percussionists and returned to the comforts of its Meth Beach studio. Ah, Meth Beach. These Philly guys arrange rock & roll in unexpected ways, like a jam band with the anal compositional skills of the early Strokes. Bongos and toms might dominate the mix, as on "Heavy Light," while electronics bubble up "Warrior Man." Guitars and drums are applied as texture. But what matters is the bounty of upbeat tunes. Void brings to mind another beloved Brotherly Love band, Mazarin. Though, come to think of it, the lyrics would work rather well for Kermit and Dr. Teeth, too.
The Twilight Sad No One Can Ever Know
Check the song titles for the charred mood—"Dead City," "Sick" and "Nil." Yeah, these guys have been listening to Public Image Ltd. (as "Kill It in the Morning" would have me believe) and the Banshees, but the Twilight Sad can turn bleak post-punk into something beautiful. That's largely due to singer James Graham. I'm a sucker for a thick Scottish burr, and Graham has one of the great ones. His voice is chest-warming whiskey against the subzero sythesizers. This is not goth. His demons are far more romantic and domestic than fantastic. Fans of Radiohead (check "Sick") and recent Portishead (ditto "Nil") take note.
Lindstrøm Six Cups of Rebel
From cathedral arpeggios to deep disco, Six Cups balances prog and pulse. The Norwegian comes back from outer space to hit the dancefloor. Hard. "Quiet Place to Live" is Basement Jaxx lost in a k-hole, and "No Release" opens the affair with a church-organ curveball. Aside from that and a little Autechrish fiddling in the title track, the other five cuts dazzle and grind with no-nonsense boogie.
Reissue of the week:
The Plimsouls Beach Town Confidential
Peter Case is a king of power-pop. The Nerves are legend thanks to two perfect songs. They flamed out fast. His next band, the Plimsouls, built a rep on live shows. But unless you're nearing 50, there was no evidence of this power until Alive Records started digging up live tapes for reissue. This full gig comes from 1983. On albums, the Plims sounded plastic, but here the band rips and roars like the Replacements (Case even looks like Westerberg on the cover). Well, with more sugar and less alcohol.
Stinker of the week:
Van Halen A Different Kind of Truth
I went back and forth between Of Montreal and David Lee Roth in overalls. The difficulty of getting through the former's Paralytic Stalks comes from Kevin Barnes's unbridled experimentation and vein-letting. It's a dark, zany mess, but too emotionally honest and ambitious for me to hate in the end.
Van Halen's comeback is not awful, but hardly worth the praise it's receiving. Yes, Eddie Van Halen can still finger-tap and hammer his whammy like lightning. However, last I checked, he's 1/4 of the equation. (Hmm, too much math for Halenites?) Speedball noodling does not an album make.
At least three songs too long, Truth is content to slip into "Hot For Teacher" bustle over and over. Minus Michael Anthony's pop smarts, it's repetitive wank. DLR is a clown—nothing new there. But if you can't hear time's cruel wear and tear on his voice, you're squinting with your ears. The dated, '90s production sucks, too. To those who defend this: Would you care if Pauly Shore and Steve Vai cut a record?