SIDE DISHES

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS — Whiteout Conditions
THE GOOD: Indie rock supergroup New Pornographers come back with its seventh.
THE BAD: This is the first NP record without key member Dan Bejar. He was wrapped up in recording the forthcoming Destroyer album. The man’s presence is missed, but his absence is not enough to derail “Whiteout.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: Singer/songwriter A.C. Newman comes through with 11 new sparkling and catchy indie pop gems. Neko Case is in fine voice as usual, further showing her ability to not just handle the slow stuff, but skillfully belt out the big bouncy melodies, too. The bright electronics found across 2014’s “Brill Bruisers” add color once again, although guitars regain some of their strength this time out.
Highlights include the punchy male-female back-and-forth on lead single “High Ticket Attractions,” the seamless ear candy chugging throughout “This is the World of the Theater” and the swirling yet haunting duet “We’ve Been Here Before.” But there isn’t a bad track in the bunch.
BUY IT?: Yes.

DAMS OF THE WEST — Youngish American
THE GOOD: Vampire Weekend drummer Chris Tomson releases his solo debut as Dams of the West.
THE BAD: Side projects always have the possibility of being hit-and-miss affairs. Side projects by drummers have twice that possibility, because drummers are rarely the songwriting force behind any band. Dams kind of falls into this trap. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Produced by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, the album sounds rich enough; the overall drive and vibes not thin in the least bit. Tomson plays just about everything himself, other than the occasional string flourishes. And some of these songs immediately pull you in with their catchy melodies (or at least their thumping grooves).
Too bad the lyrics are a tad trite or too damn self-indulgent at times. “When I sit down to write a record/Can I be more than just another sad white man.” The set also loses some of its sharpness across the second half; the songs slightly less intriguing.
BUY IT?: Your call.

CRAIG FINN — We All Want the Same Things
THE GOOD: Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn comes back with his third solo effort within five years.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Some solo outings sound radically different from the artist’s work with his or her respective band. Not so much in Finn’s case. Although the guy does tend to be more of a direct storyteller on his own sets, creating wonderfully defined characters and spinning many detailed yarns.
This time, we meet the middle-aged divorced guy with a user for a new girlfriend in “Tangletown.” Two acquaintances on a post-funeral road trip hook up in the Windy City during “God in Chicago.” “Jester & June” stars two outlaws way past their prime, left behind by any sort of criminal underworld. Practically every track is a little vignette with a hapless cast playing out their sorry events over a rich backdrop.
Finn also helps the listener become lost in the narratives; his vocals more expressive (desperate?) this time around. “The Same Things” steps out from behind the Hold Steady’s shadow.
BUY IT?: Surely.

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