Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Titus Andronicus
The Monitor
XL Recordings

This is a fun concept album. Was the American Civil War won, lost or ever completed? A young man leaves New Jersey for Boston, and hopes his future is there. What does it means to be an American in 2009? And should indie rock ask all of this? Finding out the answers to these questions is great, especially when the music goes full tilt throughout the album.

Lead singer/songwriter Patrick Stickles makes fun of Conor Oberst and pays tribute to Springstein simultaneously by sounding like Conor, roaring drunk, tries to imitate Bruce, and does a great job of it. The music is raucous, rowdy, fantastic, and funny. There are lots of New Jersey in-jokes, but you don't have to get the jokes to enjoy the record.

Since this is a Jersey band, there are a lot of cool jokes about the Garden State, like “there’ll be no more cars on the Garden State Parkway.” The song titles do have something to do with the Civil War, like “Four Score and Seven Years Ago.” And the album ends with all the loose ends tied up neatly, for one thing, the union did with the Civil War, and that’s damn good, with feedback fading quietly, and respectfully, a way to bring to a close a terrific album. [
Andrea Weiss

Ted Leo
The Brutaliist Bricks
Matador Records

Leo’s Matador debut finds him making a few changes to his basic punk rock style. He sings and plays softer on some songs, which has the effect of emphasizing his messages. On others, especially “Even Heroes Have to Die” are folk/rock, and where he sounds like Billy Bragg in his prime.

Elsewhere, his music bristles with sharp guitars, which start the revolution, and end it in triumph. A nice contrast to the more singer/songwriter songs. His music makes the lyrics bite, never more so than this line on “Ativan Eyes”: “The means of production are now in the hands of the workers.” That’s an old-fashioned Communist slogan, which he’s serious about. Better a leftist revolution than a right wing one. Likewise on “Bartolomeo and the Buzzing of Bees,” he dreams of happy times after the revolution has been won.

Love is also political to him, and not as sexual politics, but as a foundation to build a new world. He knows he’s messed up with a lover, and wants her forgiveness. And love is a revelation to him, one that makes him happy and hopeful.

A clear-eyed leftist message set to fiery punk rock, and to gentle folk, is a tonic for crazy political times. It makes for a fine album, and one that makes you think about rising up, and making sure tomorrow better than today. [
Andrea Weiss

The Morning Benders
Big Echo
Rough Trade

Lead singer Christopher Chu and Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear produced this album to sound apparently like a 90s power pop album. Specifically, the sound is along the lines of the people Jon Brion worked with in the 90s, like Aimee Mann and Rufus Wainwright. The sound of the Posies and the Eels also show up in the mix. That does not mean that the music is bad or retro, just fresh, different and interesting. It is very good, grand, playful, and creative.

Lyrically, the writing is smart and witty. One example is a line in the single “Excuses,” “You tried to taste me, and I taped my tongue to the southern tip of your body.” Another is “Hand Me Downs” about death and what you’ll leave behind for others to carry on with.

This is a very good album whose pleasures hit in a rush at first, then slowly sinks in. The afterglow stays after the album is finished, lingering a long time. [
Andrea Weiss

Quarantine The Past

This career-spanning comp’s songs were selected by the band, who are currently on a reunion tour. They document a great band, that in it’s own way, was as good as Nirvana.
While they didn’t have the chart success that Nirvana had, they, and many other bands like Sebidoh to Liz Phair, were just as influential.

Pavement’s music was both a comment on and compliment to grunge, they created a sound, lyrically and musically, that showed there was more to 90s rock than grunge. They offered an alternative to grunge, especially on “Range Life” where they made fun of the Smashing Pumpkins and played a lighthearted joke on the Stone Temple Pilots.

Lighthearted irony was also a big part of Pavement’s sound, whether is was Spiral Stairs (Scott Kannberg) shredding on guitar or Steven Malkimist’s wry voice and dry wit. Joking around when everything looks hopeless is a lot of fun to listen to, and a good attitude to have. Even when they played a song that was more serious, they didn’t take themselves seriously, which was great, and adds to the fun.

“Summer Babe,” “Stereo,” and “Shady Lane” to name a few masterpieces, are all on the comp, with lesser known prizes like the REM tribute “The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence.” “Cut Your Hair,” which rang true in 1994, rings even truer today.

Quarantine The Past is a good starting point for new fans, a romp for the faithful, and a wonderful look at a band that should have been huge. It is great to have them back, and this comp is a cool way to welcome them. [
Andrea Weiss

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