Panic at the Disco
Decaydance, Fueled by Ramen
This brain-dead Vegas outfit that came off as Killers-lite with the hit single "I Write Sins, Not Tragedies" (even aping the new romantic kitsch of the "Mr. Brightside" video) is back with the obligatory "mature" sophomore effort Pretty. Odd.
The band makes a laughable bid for artistic respect by toning down the adolescent theatrics (notice the missing exclamation point after "Panic"; these guys obviously mean business) and avoiding the now passé Killers reference points. Instead, they go for something a bit more eternal- namely, the Beatles.
Like many respect-starved musicians before them, Panic reaches for instant pop cred by crafting an album full of shameless school-of-Spector production tricks that attempt to divert attention away from the band's utter lack of talent.
It's been mentioned that Pretty. Odd.'s main debt of influence comes from the Beach Boys and ELO, but frontman Brendon Urie lacks both the vocal charisma and the lyrical prowess to competently match any of his obvious influences. The single "Nine in the Afternoon" demonstrates the capacity of Urie's ability with the infantile chorus rhyme, "It's nine in the afternoon/ your eyes are the size of the moon/ you could 'cause you can so you do/ we're feeling so good/ just the way that we do".
You do/ we too/ good for you. Whatever.
To be fair, the band's target demographic is more tween than twenty-something, and it's mostly harmless, middle-of-the-road entertainment, but unless you're anxiously anticipating the next episode of "One Tree Hill," you'll probably agree that Pretty. Odd. is Pretty. Stupid. --Josh Kline
Nine Inch Nails
The Null Corporation
Trent Reznor's first album as a label-less free agent is an appropriately extreme divestment of commercial consideration--nearly two hours long, containing 36 unnamed tracks divided arbitrarily into four separate nine-track segments, and completely instrumental.
Recorded over a short 10 weeks (especially brief considering Reznor's usual snail-like pace of production) and released by Reznor himself via the internet (in a pay-optional format similar to Radiohead's In Rainbows release strategy), Ghosts is a vivid minimalist soundscape of quiet, haunting piano melodies, complex percussive elements (both organic and synthetic), and sinister low-end electronic dissonance.
It's not a particularly surprising departure; Reznor's always had a preoccupation with positing instrumental interludes between radio-friendly singles (see: "The Fragile").
The most surprising thing about the whole endeavor is just how well it works, and how benevolent Reznor seems to be this time around.
By refusing to record vocals, he's allowed himself to make music that, for the first time in his 20-year career, doesn't seethe with rage and ne'er-do-well misanthropy. Instead, he's crafted an evocative exploration of texture and mood that allows the listener to float in a state of emotional stream of consciousness. It's as if Reznor's created the soundtrack to a techno thriller that's replaced car chases with existential contemplation; it's a Bourne movie as directed by Terrence Malick. --J.K.
Since Portishead's self-titled sophomore effort was released nearly 11 years ago, the trailblazing trip-hop group has been missing in action. The trio's 1994 debut Dummy is a digital spook-fest for the millennium, an album that was ahead of it's time 13 years ago, and even now sounds as if it hasn't aged a day. Their 1997 follow-up was an equally haunting descent into fear, depression and anxiety that continued the band's exploration of atmospheric soundscapes to genius results.
Unlike their contemporaries Massive Attack, Portishead somehow managed to maintain relevance well after their sound was co-opted and bastardized by lesser imitators, mostly due to the fact that they avoided the obligation of continuing to produce albums regularly, despite world-wide success and a large, rabid fan base that grew more and more discontent with each passing album-less year. After the 1998 release of Roseland, NYC Live, the group completely disappeared, leaving in their wake speculation, frustration and disappointment.
Now, miraculously, the band has emerged from whatever cave they were occupying for the last decade to release Third, a quiet re-establishment of the band's presence. After ten years of waiting, the pleasant surprise of Third is that it sounds like the Portishead we remember. It's dark, twisted and beautiful-the sound of genius and perfection intermingled with schizoid instability and paranoia, and another gorgeous soundtrack to the death of happiness.
Anchored by the muted anguish of Beth Gibbons' quiet, desperate vocals, Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley continue to experiment with unconventional rhythms, electronic ambience and self-sampling, but this time around there's an emphasis on the organic vs. synthetic, with a more pronounced collision between acoustic guitar and electronic melody and dissonance. The song "Deep Water" is comprised of just Gibbons' vocals and a strummed mandolin, and could conceivably be called a folk song. That song is immediately followed by its mirror opposite, "Machine Gun," a song that features only Gibbons and the harsh, repeated "rat-tat-tat" of a drum machine. The disparity between the two tracks is alarming, and by placing them next to each other, it's as if Portishead is reminding us of who's in charge. Like Radiohead, they're now in a position that allows them complete freedom and control, regardless of audience and critic expectations. And like Radiohead, they've proven through their latest album that they're in that position with good reason. --J.K.
Moby is getting old. He's also become obsessed with betraying his flaky, space-cadet view of the world by blogging about his life and the mundane details of celebrity existence (for example: "I like coffee a lot. not as much as beer. or different, rather. differently? different?" Ohmigod, he's, like, so down to earth.). His particular brand of mainstream electronica has never been my cup of tea, and his alien-like public persona makes it even more difficult to approach his music with an open mind.
That being said, I'm not quite sure why I can't take his latest album Last Night seriously, because it's actually quite good. Allegedly conceived as a love letter to New York nightlife, it's a tasteful collection of predictable but well-executed dance-floor diversions that showcase the hugely popular DJ at the top of his game. It's fun, catchy, and consistent, but it also seems goofy as hell for some reason. Chalk it up to a case of being unable to separate the art from the artist-- if it was revealed that Moby ghostwrote Sigur Ros' last album, I'd probably think that was stupid too.
The bottom line, I suppose, is that if you like Moby, you'll dig it. If you're like me and think he's a weirdo, Last Night won't change your mind. --J.K.
The fever-pitch level of sauntering brashness displayed on The Kills' Midnight Boom is something to behold. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince represent what can only be described as a kind of new garage chic-- they play scummy minimalist post-punk that's high on energy and low on fidelity, but somehow still friendly to the mainstream ear. Like their successful predecessors The White Stripes, The Kills are a guy-girl duo who possess an excess of theatrical badassery that sometimes overshadows the quality of the music. Unlike the Stripes, the vocals are dominated primarily by the female of the duo, with the male very frequently joining her for bouts of quick-witted "he said, she said" word wars that possess an excitement that ultimately surpasses that of their contemporaries. In many ways the Kills represent the logical next step forward after the Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with both the cool factor and the expectations of the songwriting raised significantly. Fortunately for them (and us), The Kills possess both the talent and the attitude, and Midnight Boom is one of the better of its genre. --J.K.
Share this article: