Album Picks: Cat Power, The Fresh & Onlys, Jens Lekman, Deerhoof; Plus Albums and Movies Released Today

Posted by Billy Gil, September 4, 2012 03:35pm | Post a Comment
OK, too much amazing music was released today, but for me, the new albums by Cat Power, The Fresh & Onlys, Jens Lekman and Deerhoof shined above the rest. However, don’t sleep on great new albums by Animal Collective, Stars, Bob Mould, Two Door Cinema Club and Two Gallants, plus Blu-rays of Arachnophobia, Child’s Play, The Five-Year Engagement, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Hocus Pocus, Man on a Swing, Piranha 3DD, Safe and Umberto D., among others.
cat power sunCat Power Sun
Cat Power’s personal life — her admitted alcoholism, her erratic live shows — is a favorite topic of discussion such that it often threatens to overshadow talk of her brilliant music. Perhaps in an effort to curb that, Chan Marshall has created her least intimate, most globally accessible album with Sun. Marshall produced and performed almost everything on the album herself, but in lieu of the sort of austerity of an album like Moon Pix, we get a dark synth-pop record, spurred by Marshall’s desire to make something unlike anything she had done before. However, underneath the synths that spiral around the title track, for instance, this is still very much a Cat Power record — worry not, fans. In fact, the beginning of opener “Cherokee” begins in what sounds fairly typical for Cat Power — a simple, repeating guitar line, light piano touches and a steady beat — but it becomes clear that this is new territory as Marshall comes in with distorted, direct lyrics: “Never knew love like this.” However pop-oriented the song, with a beautiful synth melody making it sound a bit like ’80s Fleetwood Mac, Marshall’s meanings are still obscured: “Marry me to the sky … bury me upside down.” First single “Ruin” is similarly grabbing, but ultimately strange, unique; it’s piano lines and disco bassline dance up and down a bouncing beat while Marshall sings about various global locales like an indie rock “Kokomo,” but she’s singing about poverty, not vacation or the awesomeness of getting to travel while touring. It’s fun to hear her go pop-rock on “3,6,9,” which bounces along with chanted choruses and even sees Marshall take on the ubiquitous vocoder. Marshall can’t help but become increasingly personal as the album progresses, as live drums interrupt the digital beats of “Manhattan,” which glitters with heartfelt searching; “Silent Machine” returns to the bluesiness of her last few releases, but also has a startling computerized breakdown halfway through; and “Nothin But Time,” a duet with Iggy Pop, makes for the most beautiful, 10-minute Kraftwerkian ballad you’ll hear anywhere. The rock guitars and hip-hop delivery of “Peace and Love,” which closes the album, show Marshall is willing to go just about anywhere with her music if it provides new inspiration for her stirring voice and incisive lyrics; thankfully, on Sun, it nearly always does. She's signing copies of Sun today at 6 p.m. at Amoeba Hollywood for the first 100 people who buy the record!
The Fresh & Onlys Long Slow DanceThe Fresh & Onlys Long Slow Dance
The Fresh & Onlys were are always good, but Long Slow Dance takes the S.F. garage rockers to epic heights, with a newfound clarity to their vocals and straightforwardness of songwriting. “Yes or No” is divine romantic guitar pop, stringing a beautiful upward melody along a chugging backbeat that develops into a swooning chorus. The title track is the kind of campfire-friendly indie pop that bests the Shins at their game. “Presence of Mind” swirls around a picturesque college-rock backdrop but loops in perfect surf-rock riffs and another irresistible chorus. Every song seems to have some “how can that be new” moment, whether it’s a memorable line like “Dream girls don’t know what they’re doing/They go around doing anything they want,” or some elegant guitar riff, or laying out yet another perfect guitar ballad with “Executioner’s Song.” You just don’t want Long Slow Dance to end.

jens lekmanJens LekmanI Know What Love Isn’t
Perhaps because of its title and some of its song titles (“She Just Don’t Want to Be With You Anymore,” for example), I Know What Love Isn’t is a perfect breakup album. It features some of Jens Lekman’s bitterest and most sardonic lyrics, though still bearing the wit of his earlier material and a sound inspired by easy listening that, paired with its dark lyrics, becomes uneasy to the core. The aforementioned song is one of Lekman’s saddest, a simple breakup song that drops the shtick of earlier songs like “A Postcard to Nina” for dire directness — “There is no lover/She just don't want to be with you anymore.” It’s akin to Beck’s Sea Change, another album by an artist known for cheekiness that made heartbreak universal in its honesty. Lekman goes through all the emotions across the album — the bitter sentiment of “In my next dream I want a pair of cowboy boots/The kind that walks the straightest and the most narrow routes/Anywhere but back to you,” for instance. But an artist as lively as Lekman can’t make an album solely of affecting heartache ballads. “The World Moves On” is a beautifully rendered dancey guitar-pop song that displays Lekman’s affinity for detail (“I just lay down on the floor with a bag of frozen peas/We saw plumes of smoke rising in the distance from our balcony/I poured a glass of wine”) while still being able to declare its true sentiment unironically: “You don't get over a broken heart/You just learn to carry it gracefully.” Poor guy. But with I Know What Love Isn’t, Lekman sounds like he indeed has learned to move on gracefully, and he’s grown as an artist, too, skillfully combining truly felt, simple emotion and direct songsmithery with the snarky detail and musical flair his fans have loved over the years.

deerhoofDeerhoofBreakup Song
One of the greatest cult bands of the past decade, Deerhoof returns with an album that’s true to form with Breakup Song. Since guitarist Chris Cohen left the band a few years back, after performing on most of the band’s breakthrough records, Deerhoof has been in flux, releasing one great album (Friend Opportunity) and a couple of muddled ones. Breakup Song picks back up and finds the band full of renewed purpose, releasing a confident, 30-minute set of material that finds the band doing what they do best, pairing wild noise experimentalism with neo-classical guitars, Greg Saunier’s explosive drumming and Satomi Matsuzaki’s childlike vocals. Though still not for the unadventurous, Breakup Song is embracing. On “Zero Seconds Please,” Matsuzaki explains “Now I am going dancing/If you would care to join me,” accompanied by a freestyle keyboard line and crushing noise. That track and the fantastical “Mario’s Flaming Whiskers III” are the closest thing Deerhoof has released to dance tracks but are brutal examples of how Deerhoof eschews any convention or desire to make easy-to-please music — “Seconds” quickly changes into a subtler, lusher groove and effectively forgets its earlier portion, while “Whiskers” is too close to Tom Waits territory to light up most any nightclub any time soon. This is one of Deerhoof’s hallmarks — toying with pop convention and then completely subverting it, creating a kind of kid’s hip-hop track in the first half of “There’s That Grin” before going slightly atonal with strange horns and typically excellent guitarwork from John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez, covering muscular jazz, classic rock and harmonic math-rock. Each track reveals a new set of turns to the music, encompassing a wider swath of sound than the band’s past few albums, whether it’s bizzaro toy-pop (“Bad Kids to the Front”), syncopated synthy art-rock (“Mothball the Fleet”), a trip back to the epic, skewed rock ‘n’ roll of The Runners Four (“To Fly or Not to Fly”) or the brittle underside of party rock (“We Do Parties”). With a band like Deerhoof, it’s in the eye of the beholder to say what does and doesn’t work, but Breakup Song is such a welcome release because the band sounds wildly inspired once again. I, for one, really hope “FĂȘte d'Adieu” isn’t the band’s breakup statement. If it is, at least Breakup Song would send them off on a high note.

Also released today:
animal collective centipede hzAnimal CollectiveCentipede Hz
After the no-doubt exhausting experience of creating the band’s masterpiece, 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, Animal Collective have taken the logical next step, which is to not dive in headfirst right away, but rather release a comedown EP (Fall Be Kind), focus on side projects (Panda Bear, 2010’s “visual album” ODDSAC) before heading back for the official follow-up. With returning member Deakin, who had been absent from the band since 2007, Centipede Hz sounds like a band refinding its experimental roots after moving toward the ambient pop extreme of its sound scale, before “My Girls,” instead sounding like the Animal Collective of Strawberry Jam and even earlier albums like Campfire Songs — but with the professionalism learned from years of recording and touring. Its first three tracks are joyful, classic Animal Collective, showcasing the pretty distinguishable vocal stylings of Panda Bear and Avey Tare, in particular. “Moonjock” is full of stop-star-stutter sound, swirling radio and other noise around watery pop vocals. “Today’s Supernatural” sounds a bit like Panda Bear’s most recent album, Tomboy, with its near-danceable beat and looping electronic, but its heartfelt lead vocal tears through in a way that the headier Panda Bear material rarely does. “Rosie Oh” is a clear highlight for any fan of the band’s Beach Boys-inspired vocal harmonies, though here, among mechanical guitar lines and electro-squelches, they sound more like something from a doo-wop musical about a mad scientist. Some of Centipede Hz’ssongs get lost in a mired stew of sound collage they had recently surpassed, but even still, the album succeeds in creating its own world, something Animal Collective has done on each of its greatest albums. Traipsing through the alien sounds of the resplendent “Wide Eyed” or discovering a Peter Gabriel-style ballad in the album’s center (“Father Time”) is part of the fun of digging into an album like Centipede Hz, and though it isn’t as immediately accessible as some of their work, repeat listens reward further. They still create sounds most couldn’t dream of.
beaconTwo Door Cinema Club
Beacon is the second album from britpoppers Two Door Cinema Club. Beacon is harder, faster and bigger than their previous album, Tourist History, with the same catchy swagger they previously employed. More of an emphasis on electronics, such as the arpeggiated synths that open the album, on the morose dance track “Next Year,” are the biggest update here. “Handshake” could be the band’s breakthrough dance-rock single a la M83’s “Midnight City,” sounding au currant with big beats and synths, R&B basslines and sparkling guitarwork. “Wake Up” works a nuanced groove into another big chorus, while the band’s dreamy first single, “Sleep Alone,” is sexy enough to ensure the band rarely will be. A definite highlight is “The World is Watching (With Valentina),” featuring up-and-comer Valentina crooning a romantic hook that lands the song in dancefloor territory.

starsStarsThe North
The North is another gorgeous electro-indie-pop record from Canadian quintet and Broken Social Scene associates Stars. Opener “The Theory of Relativity” is Stars’ danciest number yet, soaring on overwhelming, surging synths and singer Torquil Campbell’s hushed, heartfelt vocal. Singer Amy Millan carries ballad “Lights Changing Colour” to torch song heights, like an update of “Time After Time.” It’s their best since 2004’s Set Yourself on Fire.

bob mouldBob MouldSilver Age
First we got a reissue of Bob Mould’s Sugar project’s Copper Blue, now we get a new Mould album in which Mould refuses to mellow with age, still playing as rough as he did with Husker Du and Sugar. “Star Machine” is roaring, classic Mould, as the godfather of alt-rock rips through a four-chord rager. The title track is even more Husker Du-ian, surfing on a jagged riff, declaring “I’m never too old to contain my rage.” What, were you expecting a boring acoustic ditty about how his knees hurt? Keep on rockin’, Bob!

bob mouldTwo GallantsThe Bloom and the Blight
Two Gallants have never sounded bigger or brighter than on this new release, bashing out heavy indie rock rooted in Americana ideals. Listen to “Ride Away” or “Halcyon Days” for great examples of their two-man gothic alt-blues.

Relevant Tags

Cat Power (17), The Fresh & Onlys (15), Jens Lekman (8), Deerhoof (14), Animal Collective (14), Two Gallants (6), Two Door Cinema Club (2), Stars (2)