Not All Fun and Games
by Mike Evans
FUN — Some Nights
THE GOOD: New York indie outfit Fun dodges the sophomore doldrums.
THE BAD: Listening to Some Nights, I hear a richer fuller version of Owl City; that is, feel-good disposable mush custom made for high school proms. Their biggest hit yet, “We Are Young” (included here) was even covered on an episode of Glee! That’s doesn’t exactly scream “indie cred.” I should hate this album.
THE NITTY GRITTY: … But I don’t. Nights immediately grabs the listener with the low-key “Some Nights Intro,” a theatrical piece that would sound just ducky on a Rufus Wainwright record. From there, we receive instant gratification over and over again as frothy string arrangements, hip-hop influenced rhythms, the occasional wailing guitar, and big bold melodies come at us from all directions.
Try to resist the aforementioned hit that was even used in a Chevy spot during the Super Bowl.
“Why Am I the One” turns bad luck in love into irresistible pop while the baroque tendencies of “All Alone” bring a cathartic tear to the eye. Don’t over think it. Just call Some Nights a necessary “guilty pleasure” and embrace the fun!
BUY IT?: Yep.
CLOUD NOTHINGS — Attack on Memory
THE GOOD: Cloud Nothings’ second studio album finds them as a proper band leaving more up to chance in the hands of legendary producer (even though the guy hates that word) Steve Albini.
THE BAD: Memory recalls some of its predecessor’s more accessible bits. But this new record has a lot of grit and grime beneath its rough surface. One should expect a more “difficult” listen, but it’s worth the effort.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Cloud Nothings began as a solo multi-track project of vocalist/guitarist Dylan Baldi but has since morphed into an uncompromising trio. A permanent rhythm section in place, the band sets their sights on works both bold and intricate (the slowly building, intense epic “Wasted Days”) and direct and still seemingly infectious (“Fall In” and “Stay Useless”).
Layered, thunderous and unpredictable, Memory finds a group of musicians still getting to know each other yet with a fully formed sound; a sound encompassing everything from indie rock to post-punk to mid 90s progressive. The end results come off as one stimulating moment in time that had to be recorded before being lost forever.
BUY IT?: Yes.
XIU XIU — Always
THE GOOD: California collective Xiu Xiu release another ugly record. That’s what they do best.
THE BAD: Always explores new territories, but also revisits past demons. Some long time fans might occasionally find themselves in “been there, done that” mode.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Forever the brainchild of singer/songwriter Jamie Stewart (son of record producer Michael Stewart and nephew of legendary folkie John Stewart), Xiu Xiu has always been about smashing musical boundaries (especially in the electronic world) and spewing brutally honest lyrics.
The new album sees Stewart once again collaborating with keyboardist/programmer Angela Seo and production duties handled for a third time by Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier. Lyrical themes cover everything from the exploitation of working women in foreign countries (“Factory Girl”) to the pro-choice rant “I Luv Abortion.” Backdrops run the gamut from dark and brooding to heavily abrasive.
Throughout the album, I was sometimes reminded of David Bowie during his late 70s “Berlin” period (Stewart’s rich voice can be eerily similar) and a few of Joy Division’s most atmospheric moments. Doom and gloom permeates the record, but there are times when it’s downright catchy.
BUY IT?: Yes. Wild mood swings can satisfy.
NEW RELEASES — CD
COUNTING CROWS — Underwater Sunshine
M. WARD — A WASTELAND COMPANION
NEW RELEASES — DVD
THE DARKEST HOUR
with Emile Hirsch and Elizabeth Thirlby
THE IRON LADY with Meryl Streep
and Jim Broadbent