Albums of the Week

June 8-June 14

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In this edition: Manchester Orchestra, The Phoenix Foundation, Boris and The Vaccines.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Manchester Orchestra: Simple Math (Favorite Gentlemen/Columbia)

All of us get down sometimes, reaching low spots on life’s road where we lash out at ourselves and those around us, striving in our confusion to find the upward path but clouded by fear and doubt. It’s an uncomfortable position, to say the least, but it can also be one of the densest sources for art that actually informs our lives. Simple Math (released May 10), the third album from this intense Georgia band, is, by turns, harrowing and uplifting, a reflective surface for vitriol and hurt that’s ultimately tenderizing, humanizing and exhilarating. Opening cut Deer declares, “Dear everyone I ever really knew/ I acted like an asshole so I could keep my edge on you/ Ended up abusing even those I thought immune/ I killed the kingdom with one move and now it’s time to move.” Manchester’s head honcho Andy Hull (vocals, guitar, songwriting) comes into his own here, approaches the rarified ranks of Kurt Cobain and Joe Strummer with a unified song cycle that’s relentlessly insightful and honest AND a fine bit of rock ‘n’ roll, too. Hull literally finds his voice on Simple Math, curbing his previous tendency to shriek and wail, using those pungent spices much more effectively and mainly singing with clarity and emotional nakedness. Hull says the album is “the reaction to my marital, physical and mental failures. But for the first time, I’m not blaming anyone but myself.” Tough goal but accomplished expertly here, and as such, an inspiration to the rest of us to curl back our pointer finger and face down our own failings. The journey through Hull’s self-examination isn’t devoid of humor and sing-along charm, but everything is edged in black ink and shaded in interesting ways. The band as a whole has never been sharper or more immediately engaging, aided by the production team of Dan Hannon and Joe Chiccarelli, who pinpoint and accent all the right things. Comparisons to Nirvana’s Nevermind seem not only NOT hyperbole but apt on a bunch of levels, especially the general sway of roar and heart-bruised intimacy within the framework of melodic, punk-tinged rock. There’s a hint of 70s Pink Floyd, too, especially on Pale Black Eye and Virgin. Simple Math is simply one of the heaviest, most worthwhile rides available to listeners this year. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
The Phoenix Foundation: Buffalo (Memphis Industries)

Beginning with a stoned, surfy warble, Buffalo (released in the U.S. in February) is endless charming, a luxuriant atmosphere peppered with songs that grow in quality and impact the longer one bobs on their waves. This New Zealand band creates an expansive mood full of interesting textures but doesn’t forget to throw in hooks and choruses full of lingering imagery. Not since The Monkees’ Porpoise Song has a band taken us under the waves with such easygoing aplomb on the title cut, but elsewhere they drop the psych-bent and exhibit a skiffle-ish knack for pop akin to The Housmartins, fellow countrymen Split Enz and the sweet side of The Flaming Lips. What’s even more successful than any one cut is how the whole shebang moves and rises, falls and splashes with complete, organic togetherness. One really feels they are visiting a band’s own country with Buffalo, a space of sunshine, surf, heady gravity and happy-making sounds. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Boris: Attention Please/Heavy Rocks (Sargent House)

On their first American-issued full-length project since 2008′s Smile, Tokyo power trio Boris follow in the early 90s footsteps of Guns ‘n’ Roses and Bruce Springsteen by releasing two albums simultaneously (both released May 24) – one offering a creative reprisal of one of their all-time classics and the other taking the metal greats a bold step beyond the caustic heaviness of their past accomplishments. Attention Please finds the group exploring the realms of electronic music and experimental pop to bring forth their most accessible work yet. These ten songs, highlighted by such numbers as the synth-tastic Hope and the Breeders-esque Les Paul Custom ’86, also marks the debut of guitarist Wata as lead vocalist. Her angelic, atmospheric vocals are quite effective in adding elements of calm in the parts of a Boris song where there would normally be chaos, while the icy grooves provide an eye-opening alternative to the series of explosions that are featured ever so prominently on its companion collection.

Heavy Rocks, a raw riff juggernaut of loudness, includes guest spots from such prolific pals as The Cult’s Ian Astbury, former Isis frontman Aaron Turner and Mamiffer’s Faith Coloccia, and longtime collaborator Ghost guitarist Michio Kurihara. This purple-powered update of the group’s 2002 LP of the same name might not harbor the consistency of the stoner punk ferocity inhabited by its orange-tinted cosmic twin, but it certainly contains some mind-bending psych-metal action ranging from a pair of moody, 12-plus-minute epics (Missing Pieces and Aileron) to tracks like Jackson Head and Window Shopping that succeed in Boris’s aim to “redefine heavy music” with this most excellent upgrade. If you can appreciate Boris beyond the face ripping factor, you will be able to appreciate both of these disparate titles with equal enthusiasm. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
The Vaccines: What Do You Expect From The Vaccines? (Columbia)

A cursory scanning of the recent press garnered upon the debut album (released May 31 in U.S.) from London’s new NME darlings The Vaccines reveals a scathing dislike from high falutin’ music snobs, who slag off this quartet of youngsters as derivative and simplistic. But from where I’m standing, these UK youngsters sound pretty good. Mashing up punk rock anthemics, early 90s Brit-pop romanticism and JAMC fuzzboxing, they might not be rivaling the likes of Radiohead and Battles in terms of breaking new ground, but given the panache and detached passion with which these kids deliver songs like Blow It Up and Post Break-Up Sex is so enjoyable, who really gives a shit how secondhand their style is? Was anyone crying foul on Led Zeppelin when they were hacking off huge chunks of the Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson songbooks and calling them their own? The Vaccines are barely out of their teens, so at this stage in their lives Kaiser Chiefs, Editors and Interpol are the old school for them. Only thing is, I’d rather listen to What Do You Expect From The Vaccines? than any LP from those aforementioned acts at this very moment, so they must be doing something right. (RH)