Getting name-checked by Seth Cohen on “The O.C.” was the second greatest thing that happened to Death Cab this year. Their fourth album is stunning, filled with a tasteful wall of guitars and the occasional wash of synths to go with Ben Gibbard’s aching lyrics about long distance relationships and the awkwardness of youth. (He is easily the Robert Smith of his generation, without the self pity.) The title track, an eight-minute epic with the unforgettable refrain of “I need you so much closer,” will be blasted via boom box outside many a college girl’s window in the next year.
Finally, British rock is starting to rock again. UK’s music scene has been bustling of late, thanks to surges by Coldplay and Travis, but it’s surging rather softly. Don’t the Brits rock in a meaningful way anymore? (The word ‘meaningful’ officially disqualifies The Darkness, since they do nothing in a meaningful way.) Hastings’ Steadman answers with an emphatic yes. The songs are big, powerful Oasis-style sing-a-longs, sung by a guy (band namesake Simon Steadman) with the kind of high, soaring voice the Gallaghers have wet dreams about. Glorious.
It figures that the first band to make a low key but meaningful album about 9/11 would be a bunch of Canadians. Montreal’s Stills may sound like a New York band – imagine Interpol doing a tribute album to Echo & The Bunnymen – but hailing from the Great White North have helped them avoid the ridiculous hype machines that have surrounded all of the New York bands (and killed half of them). If Interpol left you cold and the Strokes strike you as affected, give the Stills a ride.
Red Rocker e-mails me last week and asks what I know about Josh Rouse. I say very little, except that he did an exceptional cover of the Kinks’ “Well Respected Man” for a tribute album last year. Then I check out the press for his newest, 1972, and I’m sold. After a few spins, I can tell you, the good press is justified. The date refers both to the year in which Rouse is born as well as a time Rouse looks upon nostalgically, since it was a boomtown for singer/songwriters like him. The album is steeped in strings, flutes and other sorted 1970s trademarks, and the songs are top-notch soft pop. Any fan of the Pernice Brothers, well, probably already has this. But if they don’t, they should get it, now.
Also, read Mike Farley's review of 1972 by Josh Rouse.
Simply put, quite possibly the best compilation ever. This is not your typical “hits” collection, where the label picks out a band’s singles and might list them out of chronological order if they’re feeling zany. No, GbV’s Robert Pollard assembled Human Amusements himself, and if anything, he goes for the obscure. He eschews the Ric Ocasek-produced version of semi-hit “Teenage FBI” for his own lo-fi version. In fact, very little of their truly well produced material makes the final cut. But the song was all that ever mattered, even if it’s the 23 seconds of “Hit,” or “Glad Girls,” which would make Pete Townshend seethe with envy. It’s priced as a mid-line album, too, so if you’ve ever been mildly curious about Guided by Voices, get this, then set some more room aside in the ‘G’ section of your CD collection, because you’ll want to hear more.
Here’s one that appeals to the Pop Boy in me. The second album from Scotland’s Electric Music AKA (they added the AKA after a legal run-in with a member of Kraftwerk) is this gorgeous blend of Brian Wilson-style vocals, weirdo Brian Eno electronic experimentation, all put to the beat of some lost album from The Blue Nile or Prefab Sprout. It’s cold, yes, but beautiful, sort of like Gwyneth Paltrow. This won’t quite make my Top Ten Albums list, but “Something Up With The Stars” will definitely make the singles list.
This is the kind of album someone should start a support group for. It’s absolutely unlike anything out there, though the common description of Flaming Lips crossed with the Beach Boys is close, provided that the album those two bands made together was Godspell. A “choral symphonic pop” band that boasts nearly 30 members, the Spree are less a band than a movement, and quite possibly a cult, with each member wearing white robes and each song overflowing with enough spiritual babble to shame Michael W. Smith. “Soldier Girl” is a standout, with a touch of ELO in its intro, and you may have heard “Reach for the Sun” in a recent VW ad. Many songs, however, are undone by a complete lack of a chorus, or even a second verse. Rather, they just pile their followers on top of the same refrain, which gets repetitive. And yet, I can’t stop playing it. That’s where the support group comes in. Annoying, but equally fascinating.