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Posted at 12:29 PM ET, 06/07/2011

Quick spins: [Expletive] Up, The Rosebuds, Black Cobain


Damian Abraham of [Expletive] Up shouts his way through one of the year’s best albums. (Josh Sisk/FTWP)
[Expletive] Up

“David Comes to Life”

“David Comes to Life” is a behemoth on multiple levels. The latest from the hyper-prolific Toronto hard-core band [Expletive] Up is an 80-minute rock opera that weaves a complicated narrative through 18 songs, all of it nearly impossible to comprehend thanks to singer Damian Abraham’s unrelenting, drill-sergeant barking. Yet somehow the album never feels overwhelming. As one song slams into the next, with piles upon piles of guitars screaming as loudly as the singer, it simply feels cathartic and never excessive. Few albums this year will ask for more of your time, but none will return as much on the investment.

As long as Abraham’s full-throated growl remains the band’s focal point, the group will never completely escape its hard-core tag. Breakneck two-minute chargers are a thing of the past, though, replaced with well-manicured, full-bodied alt-rock anthems. Even more than Abraham, it is guitarists Mike Haliechuk, Josh Zucker and Ben Cook that set the sturdy foundation for the album. The rare triple-guitar attack provides each song with a thick wall of sound built upon churning riffs, twinkling melodies and the occasional searing solo. Whether the moment calls for a blazing blur (“Queen of Hearts”) or a more majestic soundscape (“The Other Shoe”), the trio provides the proper roar.

As far as concept albums go, “David Comes to Life” is minimally pretentious. There are no atmospheric time-wasters, reprises or other indicators that usually announce an album as “epic.” Common themes of lost love and regret are universal enough to make each song work individually. “We’re running on nothing / The fumes of our dreams / At another point in my life / That was good enough for me,” Abraham shouts on “Running on Nothing.” Coming from Abraham, even that resignation is life-affirming. It’s a fist-pumping chorus set to air-guitar heroics, and there are 17 more songs just as thrilling.

— David Malitz

Recommended tracks: “Queen of Hearts,” “Running on Nothing,” “The Other Shoe”

[Expletive] Up performs at the Rock & Roll Hotel on June 27.

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The Rosebuds

“Loud Planes Fly Low”

The “Breakup Album” is a ubiquitous and arguably overplayed micro-genre within the folk-rock idiom. While stories of love gone wrong have always played a role in the popular songwriting tradition, recent history has brought to bear an endless number of heart-on-sleeve troubadours, anxious to inflict their lovesick confessionals upon the masses without the broad context that grants individual catharsis any wider meaning.

The Rosebuds’ fifth album, “Loud Planes Fly Low,” chronicles the dissolution of the marriage between main principals Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp, but it nimbly avoids the more cliched pitfalls posed by “divorce as concept record.” Awash in the heavy synth and reverb gauze that made Roxy Music irresistible to romantics of every stripe, the songs capture nostalgia’s ineffable tug without crossing into melodrama.

On the gorgeous “Go Ahead,” Howard croons, “Go ahead and be my world / and everything will be okay” with the resignation of one who knows this incantation will never happen. Crisp’s vocals shine as well. On the disturbing but somehow puckish “Come Visit Me,” she implores a companion to travel from far away (“even if it [screws] me up”) over an arrangement that recalls the light soul so effectively employed by the Eurythmics.

“Loud Planes Fly Low” isn’t an easy ride. Howard’s open-nerved “Worthwhile” speaks in nearly wince-inducing detail about the circumstances of Crisp’s and his estrangement. But the overall tone of the album is not one of bitterness, rather melancholy and acceptance of life’s unpredictable changes. File it next to Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” and Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Shoot Out the Lights” as a beautiful, difficult contemplation of how lovers once so entwined can become strangers.

— Timothy Bracy

Recommended tracks: “Go Ahead,” “Come Visit Me,” “Woods”

The Rosebuds perform at the 9:30 Club on Aug. 1 and 2, opening for Bon Iver. Both shows are sold out.

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Black Cobain

“Young Gifted & Black”

“Don’t compare me to rappers,” warns Alexandria-based rapper Black Cobain. “I’m trying to be like the Beatles.”

It would be wise to take him at his word. Cobain, a longtime Wale protege and leading member of the Board Administration crew, plainly has mainstream success on his mind. His fantastic new mix tape, “Young Gifted & Black,” which drops Tuesday, seems to have been crafted for maximum commercial impact.

Packed with hooks and old-school soul samples, “Young Gifted,” the much-more-assured companion to Cobain’s 2010 mix tape “Now,” makes wise use of his considerable pop instincts. Cobain may be the only MC in the world capable of presenting, without visible embarrassment, interpolations of the title track to Coldplay’s “X&Y” (on “Busy Now [Remix]” ) and Lesley Gore’s ’60s pop classic “It’s My Party” (“I’ll get fly as I want to”) on the track of the same name.

Cobain’s flow occasionally suggests Kanye West, and his love of hip-pop often recalls Wiz Khalifa, but “Young Gifted” makes up in sweat equity what it lacks in novelty. It’s stippled with the usual Ciroc shout-outs, savior complex indulgences (“Rap’s dehydrated / Should I Gatorade it?” he wonders on the great “Personal”) and casual misogyny, but Cobain works harder than most to find something novel in hip-hop’s usual conventions, and he doesn’t mind letting the seams show.

His girl is in graduate school, not working the pole; he’s one of the few male MCs to reference Balenciaga; and he’s generally not afraid to think big. “Of course I’m trying to be the king / That was part of my dream,” he explains on the should-be hit “4 a.m.,” and he makes it sound like the most natural thing in the world.

— Allison Stewart

Recommended tracks: “4 a.m.,” “Cook Up,” “Personal”

Black Cobain performs at U Street Music Hall on June 7.

By , Timothy Bracy and Allison Stewart  |  12:29 PM ET, 06/07/2011

Categories:  Quick spins | Tags:  [Expletive] Up, The Rosebuds, Black CObain

 
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