Albums of the Week

December 7-December 13

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In this edition: The Black Keys, Clem Snide, Desertshore and Himalayan Bear.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
The Black Keys: El Camino (Nonesuch)

One hesitates to jump on a bandwagon, but the latest bop-bam-a-lu-lop-a-wam-bam-boo offering from Ohio’s blues-rock saviors, El Camino (released December 6), is an irresistible, handclap driven slice of white boy soul music with plenty of grit in the gears to keep it nice ‘n’ dirty. This album affirms the Keys’ spot as one of the premiere inspirations for skirt shakin’ of our time, a child of Tony Joe White, Ike Turner, Junior Kimbrough and other saucy, dirt floor foundation good-timers that rattle around in the Keys’ sound. Dan Auerbach continues his evolution into one of the most interesting guitarists and songwriters going, and Pat Carney’s nothing-too-fancy drumming continues to fuel things in a pleasantly old school way. Like 2008’s Attack & Release, a great deal of the vibe comes from producer/co-writer Dangerous Mouse, who splatters hellaciously groovy keys and fragmented rhythm bursts all over – some mess on this thing, if you will. Another key element here is backup singers Ashley Wilcoxson, Leisa Hans and Heather Rigdon, who rise to sighing choir levels, amping up the Stax-Volt feel of some cuts. Brothers vet Tchad Blake returns to mix, so it sounds flucking fantastic – punchy and powerful and right in your lap. What’s extra nice this round is how the songs almost categorically go for the jugular, eager to choke the life out of you or toss some kink into their canoodling, hot breath close on your neck as Auerbach growls like a wounded, hungry beast and the music launches you off your feet with smiling confidence. Some jiggly, sexy stuff can happen bouncing around on a bandwagon, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing to hop on once in awhile. At least that’s how it seems with The Black Keys. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Clem Snide: Clem Snide’s Journey (snideco)

Ever come across something you didn’t know you desired with all your heart until the moment you encountered it? Clem Snide’s Journey (released August 17) may be one of those sudden pang-inducing things for certain folks, present company included. Eef Barzelay (vocals, baritone ukulele) (with a little piano help from Clem’s Tony Crow) has brilliantly arranged a six-pack of Journey nuggets, shining a fan’s light on them and transforming them without undue worry about adhering to the original forms. The overall effect is bittersweet, wistful, and dreamy – a light shuffle that actually provides the “joy of rediscovering” songs that had all but been consumed and pooped out by a pop culture. The experience is not unlike what Mark Kozelek produced in his still-strange-yet-wonderful interpretations of AC/DC on What’s Next To The Moon. It’s nifty to have old loves show up in a swell new outfit, eager to take us out for one more spin on a red brick floor. Clem Snide accomplishes this move with style and wit here, and if the snicker-factor and mainstream lure of Journey tunes turns a few folks onto Barzelay’s work in a larger sense then it’s nothing but good – the guy is one of the unsung lyricist/tunesmiths in contemporary rock. Order this EP here and take it out on a sparkly, chilly night walk while Christmas lights are up – it’s a pretty magical experience. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Desertshore: Drawing of Threes (Caldo Verde)

For over 15 years, guitarist Phil Carney has performed beside sad-core kingpin Mark Kozelek in both the Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon. His unique strain of solemn, atmospheric playing has resonated across the landscape of modern music with his influential work on such classic releases as the Painters’ 1996 album Songs for a Blue Guitar and Sun Kil’s 2008 epic April. Now the two old friends reconvene once again with the release of the second LP by Carney’s own instrumental group Desertshore with pianist Chris Connolly. Recorded at the legendary Hyde Street Studio in their native San Francisco, where such essential recordings as The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, Santana’s Abraxas and Neil Young’s eponymous solo debut were cut, Drawing of Threes (released November 22) finds the group incorporating vocals for the very first time, with Kozelek singing on six of the ten tracks in addition to sitting in the production chair and playing bass on the entire thing. The end result is as shimmering and atmospheric as anything the combination of Kozelek and Carney have done to date, anchored by Connolly’s hushed, classically trained playing which brings a strong sense of resonant modality to the unique slow pop formula presented here. Whether or not Kozelek continues as an active member of Desertshore remains to be seen. However, if the band wants to make more records as affecting as Drawing of Threes they might not want to lose his number any time soon. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Himalayan Bear: Hard Times (Absolutely Kosher)

One of the most important labels of the 00s indie rock wave made 2011 its final year in operation as Absolutely Kosher Records shuts its doors after 13 years of quality releases, including two genuine American classics in 2000’s The Coroner’s Gambit by The Mountain Goats and The Wrens’ 2003 masterpiece The Meadowlands. But at least Cory Brown moves on in style, releasing one of his imprint’s most impressive titles with Hard Times (released October 11), the third album from Frog Eyes guitarist Ryan Beattie’s solo project Himalayan Bear. Across seven lengthy tracks, Beattie races past his peers in the doo-gaze movement, oozing old school 4AD coolness and Flamingoes-evoking coo. It’s a wholly unique hybrid of new rock that’s more croon than caterwaul. Absolutely Kosher should proudly hold their head up high knowing they bowed out with such a great LP, which is a lot more than many labels who have shuttered their doors in the past five years can say. (RH)