HEART FULL OF SOUL THE DECEMBERISTS — ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’
THE GOOD: Northwest indie rockers the Decemberists continue to morph and progress on their eighth.
THE BAD: “Girl” brings about mixed emotions.
THE NITTY GRITTY: If you discovered the band during its humble beginnings, you were no doubt attracted to frontman Colin Meloy’s deft storytelling. The man could spin a Victorian era tragedy or pirate tale like no one else fronting a rock band. Sadly, the Decemberists have been drifting away from those character studies for a few years. “Girl” continues that drift.
They’re experimenting with more pronounced beats, some synthetic sounds and ambiguous lyrics. So you can’t accuse the band of being stuck in a musical rut. Yet the earlier stuff is still more intriguing.
But the grand melodies and captivating arrangements remain intact. So whether it’s the foreboding pop of “Your Ghost,” the catchy cynicism spread across “Everything Is Awful” or the playful intimacy on the title cut, we’re given more than a few good reasons to come back.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS — ‘Tearing at the Seams’
THE GOOD: Modern R&B/blue-eyed soul dudes Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats dodge the sophomore slump while cranking out more funky, authentic jams.
THE BAD: Since the guys crossed over BIG TIME with what was kind of a novelty hit (“S.O.B.” even prominently used in “Bar Rescue” promos), Rateliff and company run the risk of being deemed a “one-hit wonder.” The mainstream be damned! This band deserves better.
THE NITTY GRITTY: So it would be wise NOT to pass up “Tearing,” a record just as fun and gritty as its predecessor. From soulful pop tracks such as “A Little Honey” to ripping stompers such as “Intro” to more emotional bits like the title track, the new album rarely falters.
It’s a smoky session with influences hailing from Memphis to Chicago, full of songs cut from the same cloth but varied enough to keep our moods swinging. No tampering with this tried-and-true formula required — Rateliff gives us more good stuff that’s essentially timeless.
BUY IT?: Yeah!!
UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA — ‘Sex & Food’
THE GOOD: New Zealand indie rock outfit Unknown Mortal Orchestra (mostly singer/songwriter/guitarist Ruban Nielson) comes back with a soul-speckled fourth.
THE BAD: “Sex & Food” is a record of highs and lows.
THE NITTY GRITTY: UMO has never made a GREAT album. It’s always been about halfway-decent collections containing some GREAT songs. “Sex & Food” is no different; its greatest strength is not the tunes but rather the unpredictable changes in mood and tempo. This is a highly varied collection.
Nielson moves effortlessly from the catchy thrash of “Major League Chemicals” to the bluesy “Ministry of Alienation” to the bouncy, bubbly syrup making up “Hunnybee.” “American Guilt” is punchy and direct; “This Doomsday,” low-key and mysterious. You get the idea.
Sure, the aggressive parts aren’t really THAT aggressive, and the soulful bits can resemble warmed-over Lenny Kravitz at times. However, Nielson always manages to find the happy medium that’s just pleasurable enough to keep us desiring more. “Sex & Food” does satisfy.
BUY IT?: Sure.