Tuesday, June 23, 2009
MURDERING OSCAR (AND OTHER LOVE SONGS)
Patterson Hood has the rare ability to make even the shadiest, simplest first-person character interesting if not sympathetic. That is the heart of the Drive-By Truckers, his Athens, Ga., rock band.
Hood penned the songs on this album, his second solo effort, as far back as 1991, but this release sounds like a modern Truckers album without songwriting partner Mike Cooley riding shotgun. Surprisingly, it's more consistent than the Truckers' 2008 record, "Brighter Than Creation's Dark." Piano and pedal steel envelop melodies like fog seeping into dense forest. Hood's limited vocals ooze raspy sincerity, even when lyrics sometimes feel unfinished or remedial. Despite a throwaway line about an apple ("They say one a day will keep the doctor away/and that's okay," he sings straight-faced), acoustic ditty "Granddaddy" is an endearing, fiddle-laced charmer about old age. Hood even plans to keep candy in the house so "all the little ones will come and see me."
Brilliantly, he juxtaposes that sweet image against a creep-out session called "Belvedere." Singing quietly over weeping steel and growling electric guitar, Hood confesses a dream (or nightmare?) about running away with a high school girl, "long-legged and fine." Like so many disturbing Truckers tales, this one does not end well, but it's a gripping ride.
Patterson Hood performs Thursday at the Black Cat.
-- Michael Deeds
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Heavy and Hanging," "Belvedere," "Pride of the Yankees"
TRAVELS WITH MYSELF AND ANOTHER
Future of the Left
Most bands are lucky to have one defining trait. Future of the Left has many, and the Welsh trio puts them all on display on its thrilling second album, "Travels With Myself and Another." There is Andy Falkous's thunderous guitar, as sharp as it is thick, which hits with the impact of a cannonball fired from close range on "Lapsed Catholics." There's the ruthless efficiency of the rhythm section, able to carry a song such as "Chin Music" without sacrificing any volume or menace. There's the fact the band manages to make a synthesizer -- you know, that instrument the Pet Shop Boys use -- sound truly evil on "You Need Satan More Than He Needs You." And even within that earthquake of noise -- think the Jesus Lizard or the Pixies -- the songs still overflow with hooks, peppy backing vocals and sing- (well, shout-) along choruses.
But it's the words Falkous spews that most give the band its identity. With eyeball-bulging intensity, he spits out lyrics that are equally absurd, angry and hilarious. Nihilistic one-liners ("Re-imagine God as just a mental illness") mix with tales of barroom madness ("I know it only happened 'cause I couldn't stop drinking/It only happened 'cause I couldn't drink more") and non sequiturs about Ethiopian colonies ("But if we arm Eritrea, then we won't have to pay her/And everyone can go home"). As vicious as the music is, Falkous's words are often the most brutal element in play. Instead of making a listener choose between pummeling power, sharp wit or memorable songcraft, Future of the Left has provided all of those elements in a concise 33-minute package. And the result is simply one of the best rock albums of the year.
Future of the Left performs at DC9 on July 19.
-- David Malitz
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Lapsed Catholics," "Arming Eritrea," "Throwing Bricks at Trains"
If 2006's "Begin to Hope" distanced Spektor from the anti-folk scene that nurtured her early career, this out-and-out pop follow-up makes a persuasive case, with smarts, chops and grace, for how ill-fitting that tag was to begin with. Working with a series of notable producers, including Mike Elizondo and former ELO frontman Jeff Lynne, the Russian-born singer-songwriter gets a little something different from each, while nevertheless managing to stitch her album's 13 tracks into a seamless, piano-centric whole.
She waxes theological at several points, refreshingly asserting, to the gorgeous strings of "Laughing With," that God has a sense of humor. Several lines later she wryly dismisses portrayals of the divine as Santa Claus. In "Blue Lips" she admits, "We stumbled into faith and followed," while to the dissonant chords of "Two Birds" she insists, "I'll believe it all/There's nothing I won't understand."
Such metaphysical considerations notwithstanding, the album's main concern is with what it means to be human, as witnessed by the baroque-pop likes of "Blue Lips," "Human of the Year" and "Machine," a meditation on finitude and free will.
"Far," however, is hardly all big concepts and no fun. There might be fewer rock guitar flourishes and -- sigh -- no glottal stops here, but the music is as ebullient and percussive as it was on Spektor's previous record, with plenty of rising and falling piano runs and playful vocalizations. There's as much musical whimsy and enchantment, in fact, as there is lyrical heft, a combination befitting an ascendant pop heavyweight.
-- Bill Friskics-Warren
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Machine," "Laughing With," "Human of the Year"