What Am I Listening To? – March 2014

2014_BrokenBells_AftertheDiscoBroken Bells – After the Disco
A little more hit and less miss than the duo’s debut. Burton’s keyboards and production do an excellent job of keeping Mercer from sounding too sullen, while Mercer’s down-to-earth approach keeps Burton from drifting too far off into sonic Candyland.

2014_TheFarewellDrifters_TomorrowForeverThe Farewell Drifters – Tomorrow Forever
This band does a bluegrass-inflected take on folk/rock music, which isn’t terribly original, but the instruments they play are always welcome sounds to my ears. Their lyrics can be naive at times, but they are also compelling in their yearning for the more innocent times we all have distant memories of handing around in the backs of our minds. I have a feeling they’ll grow on me, like The Lone Bellow did at around this time last year. (Edit: They didn’t, really. Every halfway clever lyrics seems to get sabotaged by an underbaked musical arrangement, and every inspired melodic or instrumental turn seems to get weighed down by sub-par songwriting.)

2013_LinkinPark_RechargedLinkin Park – Recharged
New single “A Light that Never Comes” is strong. The rest of this remix project is a bit of an exercise in endurance, applying modern dance music trends and various guest raps spots to the songs originally found on 2012’s Living Things. Even though I liked their first remix album Reanimation, I feel like a mistake was made here by repeating and emphasizing a lot of the wrong things. Part of Living Things‘ appeal was that it was short and sweet, like early Linkin Park albums were, but also tried a lot of diverse things like later LP albums did. The remixes, on the other hand, just don’t know when to quit, and what should be an energetic and stimulating experience just becomes an exhausting and irritating one guaranteed to have you checking iTunes over and over again to see just how much of it is left for you to endure.

2014_Elbow_TheTakeoffandLandingofEverythingElbow – The Takeoff and Landing of Everything
First impression: Slooooooooow and really difficult to get into. After further listening: A bit more languid than Elbow’s usual, but not without its grand, anthemic moments, and its subtler bits that soothe the savage beast once they manage to get their hooks into you. Probably not a great place to start for new listeners, but a worthy addition to Elbow’s discography nonetheless.

2013_ValerieJune_PushinAgainstaStoneValerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone
A bit of soul/Gospel with a strong hint of bluegrass. This woman takes all the elements of her Southern upbringing and puts them into one big, unpredictable, tossed salad of sassy sounds. It reminds me of how I felt when I first discovered Nicole C. Mullen several years ago… though hopefully in this case my interest will last longer than a couple of albums.

2013_DriveByTruckers_EnglishOceansDrive-By Truckers – English Oceans
I’ve only ever really liked the Truckers on a single album – 2008’s overly long, but still intriguing Brighter than Creation’s Dark, which balanced the seediness of life in the trailer trashiest parts of America with deeper questions of morality and mortality and so forth. The albums since then seem to have slid back into a pattern of exploiting the trashiness just for its own sake, and while Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley can turn a clever phrase here and there, I just sort of feel trapped outside of their work most of the time. The departure of bassist and sometimes lead-vocalist Shonna Tucker really hurts, too – she was responsible for a few of my favorite moments on Brighter.

2014_NickelCreek_ADottedLineNickel Creek – A Dotted Line
Nickel Creek is back after a 7-year hiatus with a new album which covers a lot of ground in only 10 tracks, re-establishing them as an instrumental, vocal, and lyrical force to be reckoned with.

2014_GhostBeach_BlondeGhost Beach – Blonde
Pure, unadulterated 80s synthpop nostalgia. I’m not even gonna pretend there’s a huge amount of depth to it. But these guys use their arsenal of samples and synthesized sounds in creative and highly addictive ways.

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