That being said, let's get this thing started.
Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
People rave about Andrew Bird’s lyrics. “He’s brilliant,” and so on. I picked up his previous album (Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs), and I immediately didn’t get it. So he uses a dictionary and fits big words into his songs. Big deal. I’m not really that impressed.
So it was with slightly less enthusiasm that I listened to Armchair Apocrypha. And, much to my surprise, I liked it. A lot. And why do I like it? Because it’s a great album, filled with great songs. Forget the “brilliant lyricist” tag and just listen to the album. He could be singing the praises of the toilet bug and I would still like it. Songs like “Fiery Crash”, “Imitosis”, “The Supine”, and “Scythian Empire” showcase his tremendous instrumental talents, while “Armchairs” showcases his amazing voice (it sounds like a lost Jeff Buckley track).
The last track (“Yawny at the Apocalypse”), a dark, instrumental track that features some not-so-beautiful violin noises, could be cut off, but that’s just me. I’m also a bit confused by the music of “Heretics”, which seems a bit too similar to that of “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” (from his previous album) for my liking. Apparently he’s a bright young man, and I’m sure he did this for a reason.
Those (slight) missteps aside, it’s a very solid album that I highly recommend.
Favorite Tracks: “Imitosis”, “Dark Matter”, “Armchairs”
The White Stripes - Icky Thump
How ridiculous are The White Stripes? So ridiculous that they can make an album called Icky Thump, record a song by the same name that includes a crazy bagpipe “solo”…and they can still make it awesome. Is it strange? You bet your sweet bippy it’s strange…but it’s also so awesome you can’t help but fall in love with it.
The backbone of virtually every White Stripes album has been Jack’s guitar work, and it is no different on this album. His talents are in full swing on this album, especially on the riff-driven “Bone Broke”, the opening of which sounds like it is being played by the great Nigel Tufnel.
There is some experimentation on this album, but not nearly as much as there was on their previous album (Get Behind Me, Satan). So those of you who were wanting them to get back to their guitar driven sound…well, your wish has been granted…so long as you don’t mind the occasional nod to traditional Irish instruments.
I’m not a huge fan of “Conquest”, their huge, guitar-raging, trumpet-driven tribute to Patti Page, but that’s one slight misstep on an otherwise stellar album. They try so many different things on this album that it’s amazing that more of their ideas don’t work. I’m a big fan of their oh-so-close to rockabilly “Rag & Bone”, which follows Jack & Meg as they dig through other people’s unwanted items. It’s a kind of strange idea, but they pull it off perfectly, as very few others would be able to.
It’s not perfect, but it may be the best White Stripes album to date.
Favorite Tracks: “Icky Thump”, “Little Cream Soda”, “Rag & Bone”
Guess what? I did the same thing with this album. I got excited about a new release, listened through the album a couple of times and decided that I loved it. But then something amazing happened. The more I listened to this album, the more I realized that this actually is a good album all the way through. Those 2-4 amazing tracks? They’re just the icing on the cake. The only track that really fits into the fairly mediocre category is “Halloweenhead”, and it’s not even that bad of a song. In fact, it’s kind of catchy in its own way. It just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album. (To be fair, I pegged this song as a bad song before I even heard it, just based on the name, so maybe I didn’t give it a fair shake.)
Musically this album seems to fit right along with Heartbreaker and Jacksonville City Nights as being a generally “old country” album.
If you even kinda-sorta like the whole alt-country genre, give this album a shot, even if you’ve been burned by Ryan Adams before. It is definitely his most cohesive (and, therefore, best) album to date.
Favorite Tracks: “Two”, “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.”, “These Girls”
Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
Do you remember the Bright Eyes of old? The anger and musical rawness of Letting Off the Happiness? The more mature (yet still angry and raw) Fevers and Mirrors? The orchestration and extreme musical growth of Lifted…? Well, you can (apparently) kiss that group good-bye.
I know I know…people grow up and music evolves and yadda yadda yadda. And I’d be fine with that, if that’s what I thought happened. It appears as though young Conor Oberst has taken his “new Dylan” label – a label thrown on him by a ton of musicians and critics alike – a bit too seriously. (I won’t get into the extreme misuse of that label here, but perhaps I will at a later moment) He went from a passionate musician to “just another folk-rock” singer in the span of a couple of years…and that’s really sad to me. Did I like I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning? Yes…yes I did. But I was kind of hoping that his foray into the folk-rock genre would be short-lived, that he would reinvent himself again. Maybe take elements from the genre and mix that with some of his older work?
I know this seems like a “I really liked him until he got big” review, but that’s not it at all. If this was a good album, I’d be just as excited as the next guy. But this is not a good album…and it makes me sad.
There are some good moments. I really like “Four Winds”, “If the Brakeman Turns My Way” and “I Must Belong Somewhere”. Even “No One Would Riot for Less” ends well, but the extremely boring beginning makes it fairly impossible to make it to the end. “Soul Singer in a Session Band” is such a terrible song that I can’t even bring myself to listen to it. I can’t tell you what’s wrong with it, but I know that it’s terrible, and that’s enough for me. I feel the same way about “Classic Cars”. It just feels contrived. Then there are songs like “Make a Plan to Love Me” and “Middleman” that aren’t terrible…they’re just kind of boring. They could be playing (or not), and I really couldn’t care one way or another.
So, to summarize. There are a couple of good songs, a couple of bad ones, and the rest are just kind of boring. Let’s just hope that this trend doesn’t continue. If it does, then we can all mourn a great young talent that is going to waste.
Favorite Songs: “Four Winds”, “If the Brakeman Turns My Way”, “I Must Belong Somewhere”
Make sure to check back next week. Hopefully I'll have another Super Review (or, at the very least, a regular review) up by next Thursday.