Albums of the Week

March 18-March 24

Comments Off on Albums of the Week |March 18-March 24

In this edition: Bruce Cockburn, The Dirtbombs, Radiohead, R.E.M., Buffalo Tom, Twilight Singers, The Dears, Toro y Moi, Vinicius Cantuaria & Bill Frisell and The Forms

Dennis’ Pick of the Week: Bruce Cockburn: Small Source of Comfort (True North)

“I’m good at catching rainbows/ Not so good at catching trout/ I’m good at blowing holes in things and ranting in self-doubt/ I’ve got a way with time and space/ But numbers freak me out,” sings Bruce Cockburn on opener Iris of the World. One constant in this long-lived Canadian’s highly varied career is how he constantly elevates the conversation. Nothing is ever dumbed down, and one gets the sense that he doesn’t much care for ignorance, pettiness or the many other niggling, ugly traits that drag humanity down. This vibe is particularly audible on Small Source of Comfort, his 31st album and one of his very finest (released March 8). Source balances matters of state with matters of the heart & soul in a truly graceful way. The arrangements and largely acoustic foundation of this set harks back to his cult making classics In The Falling Dark, Joy Will Find A Way and Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaws, right down to the lovely, compelling little instrumentals that dot Source. It’s his most satisfying studio song cycle in many moons, utilizing a judiciously deployed group sound that’s different from his heavily solo oriented material of late. This album does what Cockburn does best – tap into our shared humanity in all its light and dark implications – this time crying, “Screw the rule of law/ We want the rule of love,” and reminding us, “Each one lost is everyone’s loss/ Each one lost is a vital part of you and me.” Vital is the right word for Bruce Cockburn in 2011, a musical lifer who’s lost nothing and gained much in his decades. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week: The Dirtbombs: Party Store (In The Red)

Straight up ballsy move to tackle iconic Detroit House Music classics with a rock band, but The Dirtbombs have never shied away from a bold move or leftfield concept. The results of this experiment on Party Store (released February 1) are nothing short of a modern answer to Can in their heyday – ebullient, alien, groovy, adamantly modern. The ferocious musicianship on display is breathtaking AND fun, and even if one isn’t familiar with the original versions it’s near impossible to resist a pulse-stirring explosion like “Good Life” or “Tear The Club Up.” However, the most ambitious piece here a lengthy reworking of Carl Craig’s Bug In The Bass Bin that stretches it to album side length, an elongated ramble akin to Pink Floyd’s Echoes or Can’s Halleluhwah. On Party Store, a Detroit original makes others’ creations their own and cements their place in that great music city’s pantheon. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week: Radiohead: The King of Limbs (TBD Records)

When Radiohead announced the release of its eighth album, The King of Limbs (released February 18), the news was made public less than a week prior to the band’s scheduled unveiling of the LP on the website they designed especially for the event. In a time when virtually nothing seems to be able to fly under the radar without the fear or concern of it becoming leaked by the parasitic blogging masses trolling the Internet like bedbugs on a dirty mattress, Oxfordshire’s finest managed to pull off one hell of a trick, in that they successfully kept the news of Limbs‘ creation under wraps until they saw fit to announce its arrival. But the impromptu news of its existence isn’t the only surprising aspect of this exceptionally great recording. There are several contributing factors that make King so unique to the Radiohead canon. Clocking in at a scant 37 minutes, it is by far their shortest title to date, flirting dangerously close to EP territory by today’s standards. It is also the group’s most electronic album yet, one that cuts far closer to the cloth of frontman Thom Yorke’s groundbreaking 2006 solo debut The Eraser than OK Computer or even Kid A. Yes, Jonny Greenwood’s guitar does get cast in a starring role, but it is used as more of a rhythmic element than a textural one, evident in the way by which he transforms his acoustic into a percussion tool on Give Up The Ghost and rides along the contour of the electro-gamelan groove on Little by Little. Elsewhere, Yorke’s haunting piano work imbues tracks like the IDM-esque opening cut Bloom and the shimmering ballad Codex, which sounds like the comely sequel to The Pyramid Song from 2001’s perennially underrated Amnesiac, especially when augmented by string arrangements from the London Telefilmonic Orchestra. But the true breakout in the production of The King of Limbs is drummer Phil Selway, who fully atones for that mind numbingly dull solo LP he put out last year with some of the most innovative, fearless beats he’s thrown down in all of Radiohead’s 25 years together, particularly the space funk workout Morning Mr. Magpie and the dubstep-inspired Feral. Some have ragged on this album for its brevity or for sounding “too Radiohead-y,” as one clueless reviewer put it. In reality, what The King of Limbs signifies is England’s best rock band reaching its comfort zone after spending the last 15 years in a steady process of reinvention. And from where I’m standing, it sounds like a perfect fit. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week: R.E.M.: Collapse Into Now (Warner Bros.)

Approximately 20 years ago, R.E.M. made a seismic shift in the nature of its trademark sound with Out of Time, a drastic juxtaposition in the polemics of their distinct jangle that saw them employing string sections, mandolins, melodica and cameo appearances from KRS-One and The B-52s’ Kate Pierson to bring the pure pop out of their college rock vibe more than anything they had done before. It was a drastic shift in artistic integrity that ushered them into an ocean of mainstream acceptance accented by a string of number one hits, Grammys, MTV Moonmen and the love and appreciation of soccer moms from Bakersfield to Bellmore. Two decades later, the venerated Athens, GA outfit reaches another career milestone following a rocky past decade that saw the band try to carry on in the wake of original drummer Bill Berry’s retirement from the band following a life threatening brain aneurysm in 1995. 2008’s Accelerate found Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck reviving the energy of their 1994 glam-grunge barnburner Monster in the aftermath of a string of unremarkable works as a three-piece that barely held a candle to their Reagan-era glory days. But with Collapse Into Now (released March 8), R.E.M. reminds us why they were one of our favorites in the first place. In 1991, the band expanded the scope of their definition of pop in order to break into the mainstream. In 2011, they make a similar move, only this time to return to the sound from which they were escaping in the first place. You would have to go back to Automatic for the People to find an album as varied melodically, texturally and emotionally as Collapse, a fine tuned balance of rockers and ballads. Some songs are embellished by their prolific rolodex (Eddie Vedder sings back-up on It Happened Today, while Peaches and Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye punch up the power pop sugar rush Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter. Ms. Smith herself makes a noteworthy return to the fold by picking up where she left off on the New Adventures in Hi-Fi single E-Bow The Letter on the Country Feedback-gone-no-wave closing number Blue. Meanwhile, other moments are colored by semblances of the past, notably the album’s quieter moments like the Drive redux Uberlin and Every Day Is Yours To Win,” a heavenly ballad as enchanting as anything the boys have ever done in 30 years. “Let’s show the kids how to do it fine,” Stipe declares on “All The Best,” perhaps the best second track on an R.E.M. record since Green’s “Get Up.” With Collapse Into Now, they illustrate to youngsters the way to not only age gracefully in the world of modern pop but how to have fun doing so in the process of reclaiming their status as America’s best rock ‘n’ roll band. (RH)

Buffalo Tom: Skins (Scrawny Records)

Boston didn’t produce many better rock bands in the late 80s than Buffalo Tom, who always knew their way around a hook but threw in enough complications and juicy tweaks to keep the conversation lively. Their first studio work in five years, Skins (released March 8), shows that if anything they’ve only gotten stronger with time. The core trio of singer-guitarist Bill Janovitz, bassist Chris Colbourn and drummer Tom Maginnis moves as one on Skins, each track working alone but even more so when taken shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest. This is what VH1 and AOR-radio should be embracing if true talent and broad appeal were really what drove the mainstream’s engine. As it stands, Buffalo Tom now slots in nicely with under-sung quality outfits like Assembly of Dust, Meat Puppets and The Smithereens. Skins hums on a gut level frequency delivered with a sound perfect for racing down the road with the windows down – just plain good rock ‘n’ roll in every respect. (DC)

Twilight Singers: Dynamite Steps (Sub Pop)

“Whenever you’re here, you’re alive,” proclaims Greg Dulli in the opening strains of his longtime outfit The Twilight Singers’ fifth and finest album, not to mention the band’s first collection recorded for Sub Pop, a label Dulli has jumped in and out of bed with over the course of the last 21 years. On Dynamite Steps (released February 15), Dulli delivers his most soulful, epic work since the fall of The Afghan Whigs, assisted by the strongest Singers lineup yet, a crew that includes longtime members guitarist Dave Rosser and bassist Scott Ford, Eagles of Death Metal/Queens of the Stone Age drummer Gene Trautmann, beatmaker Steve Nalepa from Los Angeles’ venerated Low End Theory scene, and a bevy of prolific female backup singers that includes Carina Round, Leta Lucy, Petra Haden and Ani DiFranco. And though Dulli has made it abundantly clear that the Whigs will never record together again, diehard fans of such 90s masterpieces as Gentlemen and Black Love can revel in the gothic R&B brilliance that spirals up the sonic stairwell of these Dynamite Steps. (RH)

The Dears: Degeneration Street (Dangerbird)

On Degeneration Street (released February 15), The Dears embrace rock’s potential to be BIG and IMPORTANT instead of the me, me, me navel gazing in vogue today. That’s not to say these tracks aren’t personal. The Dears’ leader/mastermind Murray Lightburn belts ‘em out like a man desperate to convey the whole panoply of emotion inside him, and he’s got an awesome voice to boot. This is only the fifth album in the band’s 16 year history, so it’s clear Lightburn takes his time getting the details right, and that’s what ultimately seals the deal with Degeneration Street. This is so, so, so well put together, the crescendos and swells coming at all the right moments in a sound that carries echoes of Muse and the 80s New Romantics but never genuflects to any particular source in what feels like a quest for modern rock that matters. (DC)

Toro y Moi: Underneath The Pine (Carpark)

Toro y Moi’s Chaz Budnick has been hailed as the Brian Wilson of chillwave. On the follow-up to his 2010 debut Causers of This, this South Carolina native switches from electronic production to live instrumentation. The changeup does wonders for the Toro sound, offering a complex vibrancy that is just as informed by the funky orchestrations of David Axelrod as it is the electro-fied catchiness of vintage Scritti Politti. Underneath The Pine (released February 22) is a wonderfully intrinsic tapestry of Budnick’s unique fusions of melody and groove that exhibit growth as a composer and songwriter that spreads far beyond his humble bedroom beginnings. (RH)

Vinicius Cantuaria & Bill Frisell : Lagrimas Mexicanas (E1)

Two of the most inventive guitarists on the world stage come together in tribute to the beauty of Latino culture on Lagrimas Mexicanas (released January 25), the debut collaboration of Bill Frisell and Vinicius Cantuaria. Inspired by the Bossa Nova movement of Cantuaria’s homeland of Brazil, this intriguing pairing fuses together traditional Spanish rhythms, Portuguese songwriting, electronic looping techniques and experimental jazz vibes to craft a truly beguiling collection of songs accented by Vinicius’ calming voice and acoustic finger picking and Frisell’s six-string fearlessness, cumulating in some of the finest music either men have ever brought forth to the public ear. (RH)

The Forms: Derealization EP (Ernest Jenning Record Co.)

An accidental shift in the RPM speed on the turntable during a screening of their last album inspired this exciting new EP from one of the New York City rock scene’s best kept secrets. On Derealization (released February 15), the duo of Alex Tween and Matt Walsh reimagine six of their favorite songs from their two LP cache of askew art pop, fleshing out the minimalist harmonies with the imaginative production techniques of veteran indie auteur Scott Solter and some quality guest appearances from the likes of St. Vincent’s Daniel Hart, Nat Baldwin from The Dirty Projectors, Pattern Is Movement’s Andrew Thiboldeaux, Matt Beringer from The National and the legendary Craig Wedren from Shudder to Think. The result is the twosome’s most realized performance to date, one that will hopefully carry over to the next Forms full-length. (RH)