Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Tune Tuesday (4.24.12): Passing the Ketchup (catch-up) with Dr. Dog, Jack White, Justin Townes Earle, Fun, Deer Tick and more...

It's been a while since I threw out a New Tune Tuesday article letting you know what fresh ear bud is out at your local record store waiting for your ears to enjoy, so we're gonna pass the ketchup and play a little catch-up with some albums that have come out in recent weeks. Some good, some bad, all with someone out there listening to it right now with the thoughts that it's the greatest album they've ever heard, event he bad ones, and that's the beauty of music: Even stupid people can enjoy it. Anyhow, let's dig in...
Be the Void - Dr. Dog
My goodness this is a pop-album. When I saw this is a pop-album, what I meant to say, is this is a great friggin' pop-rock album. Dr. Dog is a sound all their own, perhaps a bit more indie rock and slightly less bluesy than the Black Keys (the REAL Black Keys), might be a good way to describe the sound. Lyrically, their crazy good wordplay is miles above that band though (notice I said wordplay, not songwriting) and in fact the absurd word games Dr. Dog plays would make our old friend Beck clap his hands (get it, get it?). Here we have an album that has a jangly, loose and rambunctious feel that gives it almost a "we only did one take" feel to it, yet at the same time we have some amazing harmonies, hooks and deep production behind this loose approach. This is a carefully put together piece of work, controlled perfect pop chaos might be the best way to describe it. From the back porch twang that backs the romp and stomp opening tune "Lonesome," with our singer asking the simple question of "what does it take to be lonesome?" as he waits to catch his train (a review described this as "perfect as folky indie gets," and he was right), through the ramshackle closing tale "Turning the Century," the album is not only good, but it actually gets better as it rumbles on. I won't lie, it can be a weird album, it flips off Top-40 radio every once in a while, but if you can get into it, yore in for a rewarding ride. At this point, Be the Void is my favorite album of 2012. 
Key Tracks: "Lonesome," "That Old Black Hole," "These Days," "How Long Must I wait," "Do the Trick," "Warrior Man," "Turning the Century"
Overall: 4.5/5
Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About me Now - Justin Townes Earle
I've said it before and I'll say it again, when you're the son of Steve Earle and named after Townes Van Zandt, you're born for music. One of my favorite recent interviews with Earle is, while talking about a critic who disavowed this album because it wasn't another Harlem River Blues, Earle basically called him a twat and said "I'm a singer-songwriter, which I think means I don't have to pigeonhole myself in blues or in country, but that I can do whatever I want." Thank the good lord of that. Earle has taken his talents for songwriting and heavy personal vices through folk ballads, old-school styles country storytelling, Americana, the blues and now we land here, at the foot of Memphis Soul and just a taste here and there of Buddy Holly styled rockabilly rock n' roll,w which isn't surprising when we remember his rather well down Buddy Holly cover from the Rave On tribute from last year. Familiar themes are all around, such as the rather futile relationship he has with his famous Papa, the album opens up with Earle questioning the amount of his loneliness in that he wishes his father would call so he could hear his voice. We continue down other themes Earle finds near and dear to him, his vices are still strong ("It Won't be the Last Time"), running away from everything only to see it's us that need to change to fit a world that will never be right for some of us ("Unfortunately Anna"), girls that are so good because their bad ("Baby's Got a Bad Idea") and reminds us of his solo picking days with "So Different Blues." It's not all perfect though, there MIGHT be a bit too much in the horn section on this album, and it doesn't flow as well as some of his previous efforts. No album he's done yet have captured how REAL he can be as a performer like his live shows can, compare the studio version here of "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way you Feel about me Now" and then listen to the version he did on Letterman, perfect example. I'm still partial to his self-done Yuma EP, and while this is not his best, it's still worth a listen through it's brisk 32 minutes.
Key Tracks: "Am I That Lonely Tonight," "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way you Feel about me Now," "Lower East Side," "Won't Be the last Time," "Unfortunately Anna"
Overall: 3.5/5
Wrecking Ball - Bruce Springsteen
Let's be flat honest for a second. Bruce Springsteen has reached a point in his career longevity and reputation (not to mention readily available funds in the marketing department aka "we'll trade a cover story interview for a perfect review") that when he releases something new, certain publications (that's right Rolling Stone, I'm point my middle finger at you) are going to give it journalistic fellatio as the best thing since Jesus walking on water. Springsteen's last album, Working on a Dream, is a perfect example. High on the recent election of Obama, Springsteen crafted one of the most scatterbrained, pretentious and fluffy pieces of rock ever. But I'm not anti-Springsteen person, when he's good, he's flat out great. While I often find myself more fond of solo works such as Nebraska, Devils & Dust and We Shall Overcome, the E-Street has been MUCH better than Dream, case in point? Born to Run, The River or Magic. So how about Sprinsgteen's newest solo effort? Is it worth the (shocker alert!) 5-Stars Rolling Stone gave it? Well, no, but it's closer than Working on a Dream to one, for sure. First off, Springsteen thankfully ditched fluff-master-flash producer Brendan O'Brien, and second, he's a whole lost angrier. The sound and lyrics are more vital to our time and more intense, the songwriting is better, and he's experimenting with some interesting sounds, Irish working-song folk elements to some loops and electronic percussion you may find on a hip-hop record before you'd think it would show up here. Well, what are the problems then? Well, some of those experiments in sound work, some don't. Also, occasionally the lyrics slip into repetitive-ville, no better example than opening track "We Take Care of Our Own." The other problem is Springsteen's working-class- New Jersey vocal accent seems a little fake and forced at time, which can occasionally make the Irish folk sounds come off as pretentious rather than sincere, but thankfully, that's rarely the case. Besides, trying too hard (which he does in a variety of ways on this record) shouldn't be a letter of condemnation. The only other problem I have is we have Springsteen again schilling for the working class and in interviews going on about the 99% and occupy wall street, and yet anyone who's paid to see him in concert (I have) or seen the price of The Promise deluxe set, knows this is a bit far-fetched. This is the guy who, behind fire-breathing manager Jon Landau, turned, more-so than any other artist, rock n' roll into a business plan than an art form. However, despite elements of the pot calling the kettle black, Springsteen's on fire for most of this record and I'm a sucker for any of his versions of Immigration-ballad "American Land."
Key Tracks: "American Land," "Shackled and Drawn," "Death to my Hometown," "We are Alive," "Wrecking Ball," "We Take Care of our Own" (though not because it's good, because it's a single)
Overall: 3.75/5
Blunderbuss - Jack White
There are those who will love anything Jack White releases, worshipping the man as a music God, there are those who will hate on anything he touches, because he was the indie darling ten years ago. I'm in the middle these days, when he does something good, I'll praise it, but when he does something pretentious (a divorce party, really? The kids should love that) or quantity over quality (MOST of his 45" releases from Third Man) I'll rip it to shreds. This is an album that may split even his hardcore fans down the middle. At first glance this sounds like Jack White in the vein of the Black Keys after Danger Mouse strangled their sound to death. The difference is? While smoother and more produced, White can actually produce well, and so it's not badly done in this regard. It's more piano based than guitar based than most might expect, with some sounds that may callback to The White Stripes Get Behind me Satan or some of the Raconteurs work even. If you can get over this fact, that this isn't garage band White 2.0, you'll find this to be a very solid album. I wasn't impressed with the first single that was released, but despite some throwaway tracks, this is a very good album. 
Key Tracks: "Love Interruption," "Blunderbuss," "I'm Shakin'," "Missing Pieces," "Sixteen Saltines," "I Guess I should go to Sleep," "Take me with you when you Go."
Overall: 4/5
Tim - Deer Tick
Deer Tick once again showcase their inspiration from and admiration for The Replacements by naming this EP after the legendary 1985 'Mats album Tim. Besides the "Portland" cover in one of McCauley's "other bands," Middle Brother, this deserves it more than anything else McCauley's done as this short little EP does have a more Westerberg-ian approach to this. There's a little bit more fun and even dare I saw range in between the melancholy of these tunes. The twang is still there in the acoustic version of "Main Street," but it's not really present in the other 4 tunes. I have a hard time giving an EP too high of a rating, but as they go, this is a nice "in-between" release from these boys. If you haven't checked them out, pick up Tim and maybe The Black Dirt Session, I don't think you'll be disappointed. 
Key Tracks: It's a 5-song EP folks, let's be honest here...
Overall: 3.75/5
Some Nights - Fun.
Okay, let's get some things out of the way. From my little joke at Fun. in my Record Store Day article, you might think I hate this band. No, I do not. Going back in Nate Ruess' career, I liked the Format a lot, in fact I probably liked them before anyone reading this right now. I also doubt anyone reading this right now drive a number of hours to see the band live. Ruess is no poet and never will be, but he can write a really good little pop song, both lyrically and the instrumentation's he puts in these things. After the Format broke up and wrote his "FU" letter to the music industry, left AZ and headed out to New York to become a big label hipster. From the break-up came such bands as Steel Train (not any good, sorry, I've seen them live as well and it was a waste) and the main dog, Fun. The First album, Aim and Ignite was a rather consistent and, dare I say, fun album. This follow-up? Marred with problems, let's get to them: This is not a cohesive album, I'm not talking about going from a fast song to a slow song, I'm talking about a cohesive sound and approach to making a batch of songs a cohesive group of songs. The production is far overdone, too much goop all over this thing, pop music means a lot more production, but when you goop up an album this much you're simultaneously stripping a song of it's heart and ultimately setting your album up to sound dated about 5 minutes after it's release. A few years from now, people will look back and say Some Nights "sounds like the early 2010's." The other problem is the use of the Pro Tools auto-tune-esque Vocoder EQ tool. Auto-Tune and Vocoder are over-used and made fun of so much with artists using it as a "creative element" that you'd wonder why anyone would still use it this way, as it will leave your album to only be considered cool by 11 and 12 year olds. Trust me on this, Lady Hawk is a teacher, and the 11 and 12 year olds love them some Fun. I'm really being too harsh here, I'm not gonna rip them for sounding like Queen like some, because the influence is obvious and not an imitation, nor will I rip the songwriting. Yes Ruess, we get it, you're in your 30's now and your fun-loving (pun intended) still youthful life in sweet ol' New York has been built around long nights partying and pretending drinking makes you relevant. We get it...once again, I'm not going to rip this, because he can still build a solid pop song. Manny may have said it best, this album more than any other in recent memory NEEDS the Beatles Let it Be - Naked treatment. There's good stuff here. I swear. However as the album and songs are NOW, well, it would have worked better taking the best songs and doing this as a single and B/W or EP. 
Key Tracks: "Some Nights," "We are Young," "Carry On," "Why am I the One"
Overall: 2.75/5
Underwater Sunshine - Counting Crows
The Crows are back with their first ever independent self-release, and of all things, it's a covers album. No one should begrudge these, and I think everyone should do a cover album at some point. Here the covers range from Bob Dylan to Alex Chilton to Gram Parsons to the Faces to Norman Blake. I think Adam Durwitz, at his best, is a really solid songwriter, and I do hope one day they put out something original again, though I doubt they'll ever touch their mid-90's work again. Here there is nothing extraordinary, there's nothing that out-does the original versions, but there's plenty of good stuff here. The Crows do put their signature sound on some good songs, and fans should be pleased. 
Key Tracks: "Untitled (Love Song)," "Start Again," "Ooh la La," "Return of the Grievous Angels," "The Ballad of el Goodo," "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"
Overall: 3/5

Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection - Katy Perry
The big time element of the music industry is hurting, big-time. That's what happens when you screw customers for years on over-priced CD prices and are left hoping people download that sweet $.99 cent song. So the answer? Huge, expensive "deluxe" editions of albums and special edition releases after an albums sales have dried up, throw on some b-sides, outtakes and re-mixes and call it a chance to make some more money. Katy Perry pulls the double-dip trick here with her mega-selling Teenage Dream album. Her voice isn't great, her lyrics are mostly childish and full of innuendo (though I do give her credit for being involved in the writing process of these things), I doubt there's a real musician playing on this thing, and yet...I like it. There I said it...maybe it's the fact that it's a hot girl singing childish lyrics full of innuendo. It's not great, but it's a guilty pleasure. Still, guilty pleasure or not, it's not exactly hard to put these songs together, a clown could write these tunes...she's set a record for most #1 singles off an album, and it's really an easier formula than an Indiana Jones picture, the slow, steady beat start off, then kick it off, all while around tongue in cheek lyrics and a sweet innuendo hook. 
Key Tracks: The one with innuendo. I also like the song "Not like the Movies," it has a good message to the young girls she corrupts with every other song she sings. 
Overall: 2.25/5
Oh, did you just say "if writing those songs was so easy, why don't YOU do it Hawk?" Challenge accepted! Here, I leave you with this song I put together in a whole 30-seconds, Katy Perry's next #1 hit, I call it "Merry Go-Round (Up and Down)"....
(Start off with a slow, steady and hip electronic percussion beat, let Katy come in slow and sweet)
Let's be honest, my t*ts are where it's at,
Like the Mona Lisa, always starin' back,
Cute as cupcakes, they're all you ever saw,
But their not so big, I'm wearing a push-up bra,
We start a-kissin', kissing the night on through,
When we get done, your balls will be painted blue-eu-ooh-ooh-oh
(Kick that sweet beat and voice into high gear folks!)
Our loves like a Merry-Go Round,
Mary-go-round-then up and down,
Up and down, ooohhh, up and down,
By the time I'm thirty,
My career and boobs will be sagging to the ground!
Round and Round, 
My bodies your play-ay-ay-ground,
Mary-go-round-then up and down,
Oh Merry Go Round-oh-oh-ound, Merry Go Round,
By the time I'm thirty,
My career and boobs will be sagging to the ground!
(Hand my my Grammy and ASCAP awards now please)

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