Albums of the Week

July 18-July 24

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In this edition: Chadwick Stokes, Fink, Washed Out and Hospital Ships

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Chadwick Stokes: Simmerkane II (Ruff Shod)

This solo debut (released June 28) from the Dispatch/State Radio man Chad Stokes steps down from his soapbox to explore what is pretty classic singer-songwriter territory, the campfire birth pangs of these tunes still present but enrobed in a smart, sophisticated touches – a bit of choice reverb here, a People’s Choir there, a splash of tambourine, an unexpected, giddy bridge – married to well-sculpted story & love songs that ring true in a sap-free way. This is rousing stuff born on the road during a rail hopping adventure Stokes took with his brother and cousin, and the hum of steel wheels and the way they gobble distance and leave one free to contemplate things murmurs beneath the music. Always dispassionate about Dispatch and hot ‘n’ cold on State Radio, this happy surprise brings the agit-prop leaning humanist into the realm of young torchbearers like Chris Stills, Brock Butler and Teddy Thompson who are carrying on the good work begun by James Taylor, Paul Simon and the rest of the 70s Golden Age. Produced by The Submarines’ John Dragonetti, guests include Carly Simon, Rx Bandits’ Matt Embree, The White Buffalo and The Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars on a trio of bonus tracks. It may not be as hip or youth directed as Stokes other work but it his most mature, deeply enjoyable music to date, a record one starts singing along with during the very first spin and then keeps discovering new pleasures with each visit. In no small way one is reminded of the bravura and sure-footed talent of Ryan Adams’ Gold, though presented with way more folkie soul. Despite being a guy whose bands can sell out Madison Square Garden and Red Rocks, Stokes comes off as a man of the proletariat here, albeit one with great pools of melody and poetry inside his fertile imagination. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Fink: Perfect Darkness (Ninja Tune)

A dead sexy voice, insistently strummed acoustic guitars, a wooing way with words and an intuitive feel for late night ready sounds all add up to really impressive fifth album (arriving July 19). There’s lovemaking by the fire on the first cut and an easy way with slang throughout keeps things earthy – “’Til it’s all good, yeah” has never sounded more musical, not to mention the way he sells “you’re like a fuckin’ rainbow” as a bedroom come-on. If one stripped away the bombast and industry slickness of Sade or even Fink admirer John Legend you might get what Bristol’s Fin Greenall, Fink’s real name, lays down here, though he shows a deeper admiration for key soul-tinged singer-songwriters like Terry Callier and Richie Havens than his mainstream contemporaries. Every track here is kept clear of excesses, leaving Greenall’s voice exposed above the fleshy squeak of guitar strings. This is a top-shelf seduction soundtrack that’s so good you don’t need company to fall under its husky sway. Better still, Fink introduces some menacing black smoke into the proceedings (“Fear is like fire/ You can warm your hands on it/ Fear is like fire/ You can burn house down with it”). When drums and other instruments besides sympathetic strings enter, it’s always with utmost impact, each element placed with care, bold when they need to be or just the brush of fingertips required. All in all, Perfect Darkness might just make the underground a thing of the past for this Brit. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Washed Out: Within and Without (Sub Pop)

It was a wise move on the part of Ernest Greene to wait out the whole chillwave hype fit that went down online for a few months there to release his debut LP. Now, Within and Without (released July 12) stands tall on its own, unabated by any kind of incidental urge to compete with his contemporaries (though the Memory Tapes do have a new album out as well, but I think we all know who the more worthwhile listen is, don’t we?). And boy is it a beaut, especially if you are currently enjoying the ride of 80s nostalgia going down across the USA these days. For his inaugural launch as a member of the Sub Pop family, Washed Out transcends into the greatest lost 80s synth-pop act that never existed. Fully reveling in a professional studio (down the hall from where the Goodie Mob were recording their comeback), Greene sounds like his aim was to pick up right where the Human League’s Dare was physiologically transmitted from the record player into the cocktail of Darvon, Valium and Nyquil Lester Bangs ingested the night he died on April 30, 1982. Within and Without is a far cry from Greene’s humble beginnings as a country boy with digital dreams growing up in Perry, Georgia and recording on his parents’ deck. This is a full-on celebration of the early days of MTV through a gauze of subtle nods to the likes of Pete Rock and Madlib that sounds like nothing of its kind. And that is what makes it so great. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Hospital Ships: Lonely Twin (Graveface)

Jordan Geiger is a former member of such underrated 00s acts as Shearwater and The Appleseed Cast. However, as Hospital Ships he stands his own ground as a formidable artist in his own right. Following up on their 2008 debut Oh Ramona, the equally intrepid Lonely Twin (released June 7) continues to find Geiger taking greater strides as a songwriter and singer. Songs like album opener Love or Death, Honey Please, Old Skin and Little Dead Leaf conjure the illusion of Runt-era Todd Rundgren recording Clouds Taste Metallic with The Flaming Lips. Like Ernest Greene and Washed Out, Geiger and his Hospital Ships have risen above the tight quarters of their bedroom engineering past and closer to achieving the potential their enormous sound suggests. (RH)