I wrote some album reviews for Graffiti a few months ago, and I thought I’d share them here.
The Kooks – Konk – 2008 – Virgin/Astralwerks
The poor Kooks have gone and sabotaged themselves. Cribbing their name from a David Bowie tune and snuggling extra close to the Kinks’ Ray Davies in his own studio (whence the album titles also comes), a listener can’t help but expect a little more innovation and quirk than the Kooks are prepared to offer right now. Though hardly lacking in basic skill, the band still isn’t stepping up with the idiosyncratic qualities needed not only to live up to their idols but to stand out among also-ran Britpop darlings Babyshambles and the Arctic Monkeys, too. Konk is a fair album, but until they’re ready to step up their game, fear no British Invasion anytime soon.
Randy Newman – Harps And Angels – 2008 – Nonesuch
Randy Newman has at times advocated with varying degrees of seriousness the social ostracism of short people, the long-term benefits of the slave trade, and nuclear solutions to international relations. So it’s difficult to discern where the wryness ends and the woes begin when in “A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country” the aging Academy Award-winning composer backhandedly assures us that, sure, George W. Bush is the worst leader we’ve ever had, but at least he’s not Hitler. Harps And Angels is hardly a departure for a man whose singer/songwriter chops are built on withering commentary and an at-arm’s-length attitude toward mankind, but its jazzy New Orleans arrangements and mellow tone make for one of Newman’s best since his classic early ‘70s period.
The Eels – Useless Trinkets (1996-2006) – 2008 – Universal Records
What makes a b-sides compilation like Useless Trinkets fantastic also makes it a bit sad. The 50 tracks presented here are the secret fruit of a long, artistically rewarding career, but the average rock fan might scarcely recognize the Eels’ 1996 debut hit “Novocaine For The Soul”. The Eels have been much maligned as “boo-hoo rock”, a moniker perhaps justly earned by 1998’s conceptual masterpiece Electro-Shock Blues. But as can be heard in stylistically varied tracks like “Skywriting” and “Vice President Fruitley”, there’s as much joy as sorrow. Useless Trinkets would reward a casual listener’s curiosity, though its companion release Meet The Eels would be the preferred choice for anyone looking to discover one of the greatest bands yet to occupy the periphery of the mainstream.
Sigur Rós – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust – 2008 – EMI
Is being inscrutable a prerequisite for being an Icelandic rock star? Does being so far north create some sort of national brain freeze that affects the arts? Granted, I’m not complaining—definitely not. The same surreal, trippy qualities that make Björk such a compellingly perplex artist are found in abundance on Sigur Rós’s Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (and you’re damn right I had to cut and paste that). Melodies arc and waft, transcending the language barrier with cinematic spectacle that compensates capably for the listener’s lack of comprehension. Much like the best of Elliott Smith albums, this release adds an element of motion picture dreaminess to even the most hum-drum of days.
Stereolab – Chemical Chords – 2008 – Duophonic
Chemical Chords: The best confluence of xylophone, Moog and piccolo trumpet of 2008. For those who still pray for newly unearthed Zombies and Bruce Haack tapes, a new Stereolab album is a good enough excuse to celebrate. Blending sleek Euro-pop with ‘60s psychedelia and funky grooves, Chemical Chords is colorful ear candy from master studio craftsmen. While not as innovative as perennial fan favorite Emperor Tomato Ketchup—the album neatly flirts with some of the same old same old—it still offers a beautifully clean, toe-tapping soundtrack for any day accompanied by copious amounts of sunshine.