Sun Kil Moon
Caldo Verde Records
From the opening chords of April, it's evident that Mark Kozelek isn't interested in the concept of redefinition (thank God).
Kozelek, the frontman and founder of Sun Kil Moon (and, previously, Red House Painters), has carved out a unique niche for himself over the last 15 years as a versatile songwriter who combines folk and rock elements to create monstrously emotional albums full of eight minute (and longer) epics that bask in a nostalgic longing for the simplicity of childhood and the revisionist idealism of love long gone.
As a lyricist, Kozelek paints vivid pictures of romanticized imperfection consuming restless characters who roam a plane of existence somewhere between the corrupted Americana of Charles Bukowski and the blind optimism of Earl Hamner, Jr.
It's a potent, dichotomous blend of innocence and experience that's complemented by emotive, guitar-driven arrangements that act as Kozelek's emotional barometer.
Much like Ghosts of the Great Highway, April is most comfortable as an acoustic album, but is frequently punctuated by distorted guitar digressions and solos that can last minutes and occur in the beginning, middle or end of a song. The first track "Lost Verses" begins as vintage Kozelek, with a traditional, strummed acoustic opening that Kozelek sings over until five minutes into the song a crunchy, electric solo acts as a two-minute outro. It's overwhelming and requires patience, but in the end you're left with a euphoric afterglow. As always, Kozelek leaves you feeling as if you've just spent a summer evening sitting on the back porch with your boozy best friend, reminiscing over lost love, missed opportunities, and a childhood long gone. --Josh Kline
More of the Same
Attack and Release
The Black Keys
After The Black Keys reached the apex of their minimalist blues-rock potential with Rubber Factory, their follow-up Magic Potion appeared to be the beginning of an inevitable decline into stale repetition and eventual irrelevance.
For three records, the Akron duo repeated the same tricks with the same riffs, all in the name of their self-produced garage-rock independence. Rubber Factory was an exciting, loose-limbed romp that basked in the tropes of lo-fi indie and blues, while enticing listeners with the possibilities of what two people can do with a guitar and drum kit in much the same way that The White Stripes redefined what was acceptable for contemporary Top Forty radio.
Unlike the Stripes though, The Black Keys didn't seem capable of re-invention, a suspicion that was all but confirmed with the lackluster Potion. Without the guide of an outside producer, the Keys seemed destined to linger in people's minds as that band that used to be exciting before they started covering themselves.
That being said, the Danger Mouse-produced Attack and Release is a revelation. The band's '70s analog aesthetic remains firmly in tact, but Mouse, the uber-producer of the moment who's lent his talent and direction to projects as diverse as Gorillaz, Sparklehorse, The Rapture and the upcoming Beck album, injects energy and charisma into the proceedings. The result is an album that pops with mischief ("Psychotic Girl"), spookiness ("Strange Times") and a newfound aggression (most notably in "I Got Mine" and "Remember When (Side B)")that's unmatched by any of the band's previous material.
Calm the Nerves
Devotion, the sophomore effort of this guy/girl duo from Baltimore, is a spacey dream pop journey that's as quirky and precious as it is solemn. A hazy, swooning ambience permeates 11 tracks of blissfully laid-back, reverb-soaked Nyquil for the ears, and it's not hard to imagine the band battling narcolepsy throughout the recording process.
Songs bleed in and out of each other in slow motion, with minimal percussion keeping time for Alex Scally's slide guitar and various synth incarnations, as Victoria Legrand's ethereal vocals layer the foreground of each song with mystery and longing.
The album as a whole can't be taken as much more than a mood-setting background ornament to some other equally sedate activity (sleeping comes to mind), but the world will always need music to calm the nerves, and it doesn't get much calmer than Beach House. --J.K.
Big Ego, Bad Album
Snoop Dogg's ninth album begins with the telling intro "The World Witchya!," wherein Snoop quite literally introduces the album to the listener. Over a stale beat, the goofy hip hop elder awkwardly delivers a veiled plea for relevance ("I know ya'll be trippin' off how I be doin' my club thing on TV, but I ain't never forget about what I love the most, and that's makin' music, so, uh, I hope y'all enjoy this shit right here, I took my time on this one"), before jumping into the album's first proper track.
Right off the bat, "Press Play" betrays Snoop's newfound homogeny as the rapper is drowned in a sea of horns and backing vocals straight outta Late Registration. The remaining 19 tracks fair no better, even with a smattering of hip hop's new guard working desperately to elevate the waning legend.
Snoop's flamboyant, charismatic personality is all but completely absent throughout, giving way to production tricks that ape Kanye-stealing-inspiration-from-Daft Punk. This twice-removed derivation is unacceptable for such an established artist, but he brings about his own punishment with a mediocre album that's as uninspired as it is unoriginal. --J.K.
Consolers of the Lonely
The second album from Jack White's commercially successful side project once again satisfies the curiosity of those wondering what a well-produced, full band version of the White Stripes might sound like. Unfortunately, with White's quirky, purist blues-rock philosophy set aside for more traditional rock 'n roll, the otherwise forceful personality of the Stripes volatile front man is rendered somewhat impotent.
Consolers is not boring by any means; it's packed to the gills with the rootsy, stylistic flourishes (horns, strings, keys, etc.) one might expect of a White set free from his own Dogma-like adherence to lo-fi simplicity. But it's all a bit muddled and confused; many of the songs feel like elaborate productions of White Stripes B-sides filtered through the commercial considerations of White and co-frontman Brendan Benson, and the result is a watered-down portrait of wasted talent.
The existence of Kings of Leon, the Black Keys and, finally, the White Stripes themselves renders The Raconteurs completely unnecessary, but if this is what it takes to keep White from burning out, so be it. --J.K.
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