Friday five: mini reviews of five CDs Still officially on hiatus, by the way. But I thought I'd get this out of my system. Here are five CDs on my sidebar that are worth a listen. (Click the title or album cover to read more and hear samples, via eMusic.)
Ben Kweller: Ben Kweller Look at this kid. What is he, twelve? Actually, he was 12 when he fronted the alt-grunge band Radish. He's got to be in his 20s by now. But, man, he looks young. With this self-titled album, Ben falls into the wunderkind category. He plays all the instruments, he wrote all the songs, and he sings them. Groovy stuff that reminds me of some of the best pop-rock of the '70s.
The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America Yeah, yeah. We've already heard it. Hold Steady lead singer Craig Finn's a Springsteen clone, and not a very good one at that. They said the same thing about Mark Knopfler being a Dylan clone when Dire Straits arrived on the scene in the mid-70s. True, Finn does have those rambling, mumbling, Springsteen-esque vocals, and the likeness may be more pronounced on this, Hold Steady's third album, than on the previous two. But this is the band's magnum opus, and it's an homage to much more than the Boss. I hear echoes of southern rock (especially the Allman Brothers) and the lyrics remind me more of Patti Smith than anyone else. If you get tired of Craig Finn's voice, try to tune him out and take in the guitars and background vocals.
Asobi Seksu: Citrus Asobi Seksu (Japanese for "joyful sex") specializes in that slender branch of alt-rock known as shoegaze, which is characterized by "a self-deprecating, introspective, non-confrontational feel," subdued vocals, and "distortion and fuzzbox, droning riffs and a Phil Spector-esque wall of sound from noisy guitars." I guess that definition fits Citrus well. If you don't understand Japanese, don't worry. Half of the tunes are sung in English. But it doesn't matter. With Asobi Seksu, it's more about the atmosphere they create with their instruments and lilting vocals of lead singer Yuki Chikudate. Joyful stuff.
Bobby Bare Jr.: The Longest Meow" Bobby Bare Jr. and his Young Criminals Starvation League cut this album in 11 hours last spring in an old church in Nashville. As if that weren't a cool enough reason to listen to this work, they recorded it all on some old, unused reel-to-reel tape Bare found in his dad's attic (Bare's dad, Bobby Bare, was a "hard" country legend of the '60s and '70s along the lines of Merle Haggard). An old church, old tape, and the son of an old country legend came together to create a delicious, grungish pop-rock with a funky southern and blues flavor. Bare had plenty of help from some talented name-drop-worthy Young Criminals, including guitarist Carl Broemel and drummer Patrick Hallahan, both of My Morning Jacket; Doni Schroader from ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead on vibes, keyboards and percussion; Jim James of My Morning Jacket on vocals and harmonica; Deanna Varagona from Lambchop on vocals and saxophone; and Ben Martin of Clem Snide on percussion.
The Pipettes: We Are the Pipettes Calling out from somewhere in the early '60s, cut from the mold of the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las and all those other Phil Spector girl groups, come the Pipettes. (That first syllable is "pip," as in "Gladys Knight and the," not "pipe.") The Pipettes know their style is cookie-cutter doorang doorang girl group, but they revel in it. They have fun with it. And so should you.