Retakes and Redefinitions
CONOR OBERST – “Salutations”
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Conor Oberst comes back with his second album in six months.
THE BAD: Prolific? Kind of. A rerun? Sort of.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Last fall, Oberst released the unplugged and intimate “Ruminations,” a ten-song collection featuring the man accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica. “Salutations” is that record’s companion piece, featuring all ten of those tunes given the full band treatment plus an additional seven new compositions.
So “Salutations” is more complex and fleshed out, the songs and their rich arrangements ringing true. Yet the new record also is less distinct than its predecessor. There’s something to be said for raw emotion — songs being all the more powerful when stripped to their bare essence. And when ten cuts become 17, there’s bound to be a few weaker links in the chain.
“Salutations” at times comes off as just another latter-day Bright Eyes release. Not bad, but lacking in the passionate sting found on last year’s set.
BUY IT?: Sure.
MINUS THE BEAR – “Voids”
THE GOOD: Seattle indie rock outfit Minus the Bear goes back to Suicide Squeeze Records for their sixth full-length.
THE BAD: Just like every other Minus record, “Voids” has great moments and meandering ones. The band likes its intricate arrangements and prog-rock inclinations. You always have to work a little.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Permanent long-time drummer Erin Tate has bailed, and the self-produced “Voids” finds touring drummer Kiefer Matthias sitting in. Other than that, the set finds no great changes within the band or their sound. This is typical Minus. Longtime fans should feel just fine in their comfort zone; “Voids” hits all the desired sweet spots.
Vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider leads the crew through a set of tracks both straight-forward (the shimmering “Last Kiss” and churning “Invisible”) and more broad in scope (the dramatic “What About the Boat” and forever-building “Lighthouse”). Sure, “Voids” is slightly interchangeable with other Minus sets, but the record never drags or wears out its welcome.
BUY IT?: As usual, your choice.
SPOON – “Hot Thoughts”
THE GOOD: Texas indie rockers Spoon give us their ninth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman Britt Daniel and the guys stick with the well-oiled Spoon formula, but add just enough color and sonic textures to give “Hot Thoughts” its own personality. Producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, OK GO) is back, but first impressions make the set feel more like a James Murphy record. Seriously, “Thoughts” is sprinkled with more electronic elements than usual and most of these songs are all about a fierce dedicated groove. Very LCD Soundsystem indeed.
But “Thoughts” doesn’t lock itself into any particular flavor for too long. The lilting “I Ain’t the One” is quite possibly the prettiest song Daniel has ever composed. And extended cuts “Pink Up” and “Us” go off into unchartered funk and jazz territories. Plus Spoon manages to embrace these sounds without coming off as self-indulgent. We end up with another gem in a “reliable” catalog that’s been progressing nicely for two decades.
BUY IT?: Definitely.