Sights and Sounds
by Mike Evans
MORE TUNES THAT STICK
RAH RAH — The Poet’s Dead
THE GOOD: Canadian indie outfit Rah Rah releases an excellent third.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Rah Rah has already created quite a buzz in their native land. And if this crew is now looking to score some points south of their own border, Poet’s Dead should do the trick. This album is tight, but hardly predictable.
The band’s music boasts plenty of male/female vocal interplay, not unlike fellow countrymen Stars. There’s a cinematic quality to the tunes; describing Rah Rah as the Decembrists with more guitar noise wouldn’t be too far off the mark. And Poet’s Dead is sequenced perfectly, the songs themselves becoming more and more enticing as the record plays on. The one-two-three punch of the title cut, “I’m A Killer” and “Run” that blasts right through the middle of the album is especially infectious.
Even lesser cuts like the meandering “Dead Men” and “20’s” with its hints of desperation are not without their charms; pure passion more than making up for any musical shortcomings. That’s why Poet’s Dead satisfies. The collection never loses focus and its momentum doesn’t let up.
BUY IT?: Surely.
THE VACCINES — Come of Age
THE GOOD: Britain’s Vaccines dodge the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: There’s no real innovation here, but sometimes you simply crave something too damn catchy for your own good.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Following up 2011’s equally infectious What Did You Expect from the Vaccines, the new album finds the boys in slightly slicker surroundings. Yes, unfortunately a bit of the previous record’s urgency is gone, replaced by a thin coat of studio gloss. Thankfully though, the songs themselves are so instantly gratifying, any shortcomings are immediately forgiven (or at least temporarily forgotten).
Tracks like “No Hope” and “Aftershave Ocean” recall the “very English” melodic punch of the Libertines while keeping matters up to date. Slower bits such as the melancholy “Lonely World” are equally pleasing even if the mood tends to dampen one’s spirits.
Age’s only flaw might be a sheer lack of substance; we gobble up one giant batch of great tasting empty calories. And no one could ever accuse frontman Justin Young of being the voice of a generation. But there’s nothing wrong with indulging in some mindless guitar pop every now and then.
BUY IT?: Oh yeah!
A.C. NEWMAN — Shut Down the Streets
THE GOOD: New Pornographers frontman A.C. Newman gets slightly autobiographical on his third solo outing.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: On the surface, Streets sounds very much like a New Pornographers record, closest to 2007’s low-key Challengers. The hooks are there, and NP collaborator Neko Case handles the bulk of the harmonies.
But Newman is at that age where priorities are shifting and outlooks are different. The guy is in his mid ’40s, his mother recently passed, and he has a new daughter. So for the first time in a long and varied career, Newman is taking buckets of inspiration from his own life.
Not unlike last spring’s Walkmen album Heaven, Streets is an opportunity to reflect and write about home and family. But Newman keeps it subtle and relatable; avoiding the trappings of the overly sappy or saccharine. And the music, as usual, is truly striking. Cuts like “I’m Not Talking” and “There’s Money in New Wave” are slow builds; majestic melodies peeking out from behind the next corner. And the Neko Case harmonies simply drive all that goodness home.
BUY IT?: Yep.