Sunday, July 29, 2007


John Vanderslice

Hey, mopey indie-rock types: still searching for that perfect summer vacation spot? No more stalking Morrissey in your Winnebago -- his tour just ended. And all those outdoor festivals are so . . . sunny. Thankfully, there's still time to book a trip to John Vanderslice's gloomy "Emerald City."

"I'm staying now in a vacation house / It's off season / There's no reason to leave," Vanderslice warbles from "The Tower," one of the better cuts from the California singer's sixth album. Like many of his most compelling tunes, it evokes a brawnier Neutral Milk Hotel, draping acoustic guitar over muscular drum beats.

All nine songs on this disc sound just as exquisite (the album was recorded at the singer/producer's Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco), but when Vanderslice ventures into new soundscapes, his tunes lose focus. "Tablespoon of Codeine" is a paranoid foray into indie-tronica that feels like a clumsy Portishead homage, while the digital timbres of "Numbered Lithograph" fail to set a discernible mood. "I've never been lonelier," Vanderslice sobs, wandering through the glitchery.

Those songs are for the birds, but the album's highlights are named after the birds. "Kookaburra" makes for a marvelously brooding opening track, while "White Dove" tells the story of a couple mourning their murdered child. Tragic narratives and doleful melodies like these aren't typical selling points, but they certainly make "Emerald City" worth a visit.

-- Chris Richards

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Kookaburra," "White Dove"


Mexican Institute of Sound

Camilo Lara, cooking on his computer and flipping through one of the continent's finest vinyl collections, knows exactly how to break beats, sauce up samples and create one delicious platter. On his sophomore effort, Lara -- he's the whole Mexican Institute of Sound -- follows up the frequently tongue-in-cheek "Méjico Máxico," which played with TV soundtracks, Latin classics, bits of piano, braying brass, shuffling cymbals and Colombian, Brazilian and Cuban rhythms. "Piñata" follows the same basic recipe. This time, a much more assured Lara works with DJ Holger Beier, half of the German electronica duo Le Hammond Inferno. Beier co-wrote five of the album's 13 songs, including "Para No Vivir Desesperado," a dense little cumbia chock-full of delightful irony, both lyrically and musically. (Also making cameos on the album are Adrián Dárgelos of Babasónicos and Chris Frantz, formerly of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club.) But this is Lara's record, no matter how many guest stars, and this guy's taste and knowledge of Latin dance music is uncanny -- he evokes older musical styles in an edgy, fun way.

-- Achy Obejas

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Mirando a las Muchachas," "La Kebradita," "Katia, Tania, Paulina y La Kim"

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