Quick Hits 1 | 10.06

CD reviews in brief.

 

Blackpool Lights | This Town's Disaster (Curb Appeal)

Jim Suptic's post–Get Up Kids band Blackpool Lights has had a tough time of it, losing guitarist J.D. Warnock to marriage and drummer Billy Brimblecom's leg to cancer (stunningly, he's still with the band). There are a few emo moments on the band's debut ("The king of pain, I'd wear the crown" Suptic sings on the title track), but overall, it doesn't sound like the Get Up Kids Part Deux so much as the straight-up guitar rock of latter-day Replacements or a non-shitty version of the Goo Goo Dolls. A few country-tinged moments liven up the proceedings, most notably "Cursed by Yourself," which adds ringing slide guitars onto a bouncy song straight out of the GUK songbook. | Jason Green

 

Catfish Haven | Tell Me (Secretly Canadian)

From a marketing standpoint, this Chicago trio could have chosen a much cannier band name than Catfish Haven, which suggests less latter-day white soul than Branson country buffoonery. Thankfully, the Baldknobbers they're not. What they are, though, largely remains to be determined. In the meantime, Tell Me comes from bassist Miguel Castillo, drummer Ryan Farnham, and guitarist/vocalist George Hunter, who also wrote all songs on the ten-track Secretly Canadian release. At their best, the Chitowners evoke the energy of both a cat on the prowl ("Tell Me") and an urban street corner ("All I Need Is You"). As a vocalist, unfortunately, Hunter has a limited range; beside Joe Cocker's gravel, for instance, he seems merely pebbly (though Tell Me hints Hunter already enjoys more acuity in choosing songs en masse than Cocker ever has). The flattening effect of his voice comes to the fore on "Another Late Night," a full-throttle rock number on which that voice functions like a clogged fuel filter. Hunter's vocals finally impose a sameness of both effect and affect, and by the closer, "This Time," an otherwise inoffensive track with shimmery cymbals, a hangdog uniformity obtains. | Bryan A. Hollerbach

RIYL: Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen

 

Brett Dennen | So Much More (Dualtone)

Those who pay attention to such minutia might expect the latest release from Nashville's Dualtone records to be an up-and-coming country music wannabe or another still talented country singer, past their commercial peak. Among the influences listed in Dennen's bio are Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, both better indicators of what you'll find on So Much More than a perusal of Dualtone's roster. Dennen's evocative lyrics are crafted with the same attention to detail as we expect from Dylan. Musically he uses the template perfected by Simon, building from a folk music foundation and spicing it up with non-traditional rhythms borrowed from world music. I don't know what to call it, but I like it. | Al Kunz

RIYL: Michael Franti, Ben Harper, Paul Simon

 

Tanya Donelly | This Hungry Life (Eleventhirty)

Tanya Donelly's fourth solo album finds the former Throwing Muses/Breeders/Belly singer-guitarist amping up the country influence hinted at on songs like Belly's classic "Feed the Tree." Only the clapping hands at the end of each song betray the fact that This Hungry Life was recorded live, but it's not a "live album": all songs here are making their first appearance on record, and her band, headed by husband Dean Fisher, sounds so tight you'd swear it's a studio recording. Violin and pedal steel soak into nearly every song on the album, taking center stage on opener "New England" while adding atmosphere to the clip-clop country of "World on Fire." The languid pace of the slower songs, the title track in particular, drags down the pace of the album, but Donelly's voice is so vibrant, you'll likely be too intoxicated to care. | Jason Green

RIYL: Neko Case, Tegan & Sara

 

Eltro | Velodrome (Absolutely Kosher)

These visionary Philadelphia drone-pop purveyors missed the Internet/blog-fueled hunger for inventive electronica by just a bleep-PING. Velodrome showcases lush, sparkling, multilayered grooves topped with Diana Prescott's subtly alluring vocals. "Niagara," "Escaping Flatland," and "Denver International" are just a few of the mesmerizing gems here. It coulda been a contender. | Kevin Renick

 

Fields | 7 From the Village (Black Lab)

Clocking in at a mere 27 minutes, British buzz band Fields' debut mini-album 7 From the Village does more than whet my appetite while awaiting their full-length release later this year. Blending haunting acoustic guitars with sweeping keyboards and classic electric guitar riffs, England's Fields make wonderful guitar rock music. The mini-album opens with the single "Song for the Fields." Beginning with eerie vocals and frantic acoustic guitar, it explodes with pounding drums that up the tempo until the end when the music drops off and just the vocals linger. "Brittlesticks" is a perfect Brit-pop gem and "Heretic" is hypnotic with crashing choruses. Keep your eye on Fields, as a British buzz band more than worthy of all the buzz. | Mike Tangaro

 

The Format | Dog Problems (The Vanity Label/Nettwerk)

At first listen, the Format's hyped Dog Problems is an over-crowded carnival of sounds (glockenspiel, strings, saxophone, chorus) and styles (waltz, power pop, indie, bar music). But if it's not about liking an album, it's about understanding it. And more often than not, once you've got it figured out, you end up liking it.

The variants on Dog Problems make comparisons to dozens of other bands all too easy (and comparing them to the Shins doesn't mean anything anymore). But it's pleasant, pure sing-along music. The pop rock riffs of "Pick Me Up" are basic enough, but it's the tambourine and drums that take it from basic to catchy. "I'm Actual" pleads with lyrics like "can we take the next hour and talk about me" repeated over an increasingly thick, whirling waltz that by the end is more sad than narcissistic. Although a bit heavy on harmonies and ooh-la-las, those are things listeners will lap up the most; in a word: showmanship.

I still can't tell if I like it. It might take a while. But there are plenty of rides at this carnival, one for everyone. | Kate Estwing

RIYL: The Arcade Fire, Polyphonic Spree

 

Hinkley | Estate Sale (Carbon)

Estate sales are magnetic because of the mystery involved. Malls withhold no secrets; you go knowing what you will find lining the walkway. At an estate sale, you walk into a person's home, sifting through inherited treasures and everday objects with equal measure. An apt title for the first full-length from Rochester, N.Y.'s Hinkley, Estate Sale is an album of surprise an wonder, overlapping genres and passions.

The album at times feels self-consciously daring, flirting with avant-jazz and sunny '60s fuzz-pop to supplement the band's staple Americana. Though this approach often coalesces into inspired results—as in the drum breaks in "Where the River Meets the Sea" and the tempo shifts in "Memory in My Heart"—it is just as often exasperating. At his best, on standout tracks such as "Mary Lincoln," vocalist Will Veeder could give Jeff Tweedy a run for his halo. | James McAnally

RIYL: The Wrens, Clem Snide, Wilco

 

The Ovulators | The Ovulators (Happy Mistake)

On their studio debut Eugene, Ore.'s the Ovulators explore the curious middle ground between spacey, atmospheric wandering and catchy pop hooks. Which is a good thing. The album veers toward the psychedelic at times, but never ventures too far before dual guitars find their way back to a tight, crunchy union. And the quartet lays down vocal harmonies that are equal parts beauty and angst, and sometimes just plain eerie. A few tracks may meander on a bit long, but even then they're easy to get lost in, and most definitely worth a listen. | Daniel O'Malley

RIYL: The Breeders, Sleater-Kinney

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