Thursday, June 08, 2006

album reviews

some recent album reviews...

Pretty Girls Make Graves - Élan Vital

The band’s second album on Matador Records loses the loud screams, replacing them for focused, lyrically biting vocals. They concentrate on diversifying their sound on each track: from the pop sing-song rally cry “Parade”, to the subtle dance-punk undertones of “Domino”, to the accordion tinged sea shanty “Selling the Wind” (punk Decemberists, anyone?). Early fans will find of moments of force/strength in “The Magic Hour” or “Wildcat”, but nothing as rowdy as can be found on their first LP Good Health. They even make way for calm-yet-anxious male vocals on “Pictures of a Night Scene”, a slow-building tune complete with moody drums and horns. With the addition of keyboardist Leona Marrs (who doubles as a complimentary second vocalist to singer Andrea Zollo), Pretty Girls Make Graves experiment with a range of sound that prevents them from becoming one of those “just boring and old acts”. Their new mature and refined outlook suits them well.

The Walkmen - A Hundred Miles Off

A Hundred Miles Off finds The Walkmen going for a faster tempo in comparison to their earlier intermittent bursts of energy. Hamilton Leithauser still carries his raw, raspy voice well (when you can actually decipher his slurred lyrics), as his bandmates help to test out some exotic rhythms (mariachi stylings on the opener “Louisiana”; steel drum or bongos pounding on “Brandy Alexander”). Highlights include “Lost In Boston” which sounds polished in stereo (as opposed to the lo-fi garage flair the Walkmen are known for) and the rollicking drum heavy “Tenleytown”. They also present a successful closer, a cover of Mazarin’s “Another One Goes By”. The most surprising element to the album is that the band stays upbeat while still maintaining a laid back vibe. A promising effort.

Irving - Death In The Garden, Blood On The Flowers

I’ve been following this band since their first album and this is by far their most sophisticated release. Starting as a modest Los Angeles pop band with songs that placed them into the same category as those in the Elephant 6 collective, Irving have unleashed smart, sassy lyrics and engaging harmonies to boot. Is this the same band that released Good Morning Beautiful? They haven’t abandoned their pop sensibilities but instead have created a blossoming sound incorporating indie rock (heavier guitars on “She’s Not Shy” and pounding drums with faint background screaming on “Situation”) and electronic influences (keyboards on “Jen, Nothing Matters to Me”, “I’ll Write the Song, You Sing for Me”, and “If You Say Jump, I Will Say No”). The lyrics deal more explicitly with sex and relationships than their previous releases – yet, remember kids, they’re foremost a POP band, they keep it clean! With these changes, it’s clear that Irving are trying to appeal to a wider audience, while still keeping their original (and local) fan base satisfied.