Sights & Sounds
By Mike Evans
THE WONDERFUL ACOUSTIC/ELECTRIC CLASH
GOTYE — Making Mirrors
THE GOOD: Australian singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Wouter De Backer (stage name Gotye) returns with his third full-length and first significant international release.
THE BAD: No gripes. Please realize this guy is a hell of a lot better than most “flavors of the month.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: I only say that because his duet with Kimbra, “Somebody That I Used To Know” has been slowly climbing up various charts across the globe for nearly a year. I went into Mirrors with low expectations myself (always leery of the mainstream) and was pleasantly surprised by a multi-layered mix of obscure samples, keyboard wizardry, hushed vocals and rock solid songwriting. Songs like the aforementioned hit and the more forceful “Smoke and Mirrors” are accomplished enough to hold their own in more stripped down settings, but Gotye’s production only makes all the compositions that much more enticing.
The record’s most distinct moment though is the quirky “State of the Art,” a subtle funk piece praising a vintage Lowrey organ, complete with features like “Genie Bass” and “Magic Swing Piano.” My parents actually had one of those in the late ’70s. (How uncool is that?)
BUY IT?: Yes.
THE SHINS — Port of Morrow
THE GOOD: Indie rock’s Shins have regrouped, shuffled their line-up, and signed a distribution deal with a major label. But how’s their first album in five years?
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After taking a break and messing around with producer Danger Mouse on the side project Broken Bells, frontman and songwriter James Mercer is back home. And home feels good.
Teaming up with producer Greg Kurstin (the Bird and the Bee, Lily Allen) and a bunch of collaborators both old and new, Mercer (the guy is the Shins) delivers a record that touches upon elements from the previous three albums while boldly forging ahead.
Mercer has a rather eclectic bag of tricks this time. Looking for haunting delicate pop with acoustic leanings and ghostly backing vocals? You have “September” and the title cut. How about something more direct, upbeat and wildly catchy? Groove on first single “Simple Song” or “No Way Down.”
Whatever you liked about the band’s other outings, you’ll find in some capacity here. Mercer dodged the “comeback” bullet by actually producing something that lives up to our five-year expectations.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
M WARD — A Wasteland Companion
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter M Ward is back with his
THE BAD: Companion is a tad “hit and miss,”
but satisfies overall.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Ward’s voice is part weather-beaten, part soothing. His work can seem either cryptic or whimsical (depending on the tune). And the man excels in both intimate settings (just a lone acoustic guitar) and full-blown splashy pop arrangements (his collaborations with Zooey Deschanel under the moniker She and Him).
Companion sees all of these different styles and settings coming together in a set that works at least 80 percent of the time. There’s the ringing pop bliss of “Primitive Girl” played against the smoky jazz-like “The First Time I Ran Away.” The noisy dirge of dissatisfaction “Watch the Show” is the exact opposite to Ward’s modern take on the classic tango “I Get Ideas.”
It’s the usual M Ward mish-mash that somehow remains harmonious, giving us a modern folk-infused album that never feels oppressive or takes itself too seriously. And a more than pleasurable listening experience makes up for any potential lack of substance (although more than a few cuts give us plenty to ponder).
BUY IT?: Sure.
NEW RELEASES – CD
HERE WE GO MAGIC – A Different Ship
KEANE – Strangeland
SILVERUN PICKUPS – Neck of the Woods