TURN UP YOUR STEREO, NOW!
The Apples in Stereo: New Magnetic Wonder (Yep Roc, 2007).
“Uh oh uh oh, uh oh uh oh, turn up your ster-e-o-o, uh oh uh oh, uh oh uh oh, I feel electric when the meter starts to glow,” Robert Schneider belts out in “Can You Feel It,” the opening track on this, his latest and best Beatles-like album. After a five-year layoff he’s finally nailed it. I disagree with the ELO connection though; I’m thinking more Housemartins minus the political overtones. I’ve always suspected Schneider for a Paul Heaton fan anyway. As for the rest of the album, the tone, as in earlier efforts, defies categorization. Not quite indie, but definitely not pop; I’d call them bubble gum punk, which I guess is as close as anyone is likely to come. Whatever your preference, there’s no denying the charm of the lyrics and the vocals, among the best of the year. The one sad note, the departure of Hilarie Sidney, who wrote and sang "Sunndal Song" and “Sunday Sounds,” two of the best songs on the album. Otherwise sit back in your way back chair, put up your feet, and “feel the magic when the speaker starts to blow.” A
Bright Eyes: Cassadaga (Saddle Creek, 2007).
Far from being the child prodigy rock crits hailed him as only five years ago – he did turn 27 on February 15! – Conor Oberst was more a spoiled brat who couldn’t stop whining long enough to allow himself a chance to transcend the pain that was in his soul. That was then, this is now. Following up on 2005’s pleasantly surprising I’m Wide Awake, And It’s Morning, Cassadaga is his best and most clearly defined effort to date. And if the album title’s reference to a spiritualist community in Florida has you concerned, don’t be. Really, did every one get Jim Morrison’s psychedelic rantings in the ‘60s? Unlike Morrison or Ryan Adams, who still hasn’t shit but refuses to get off the pot, Oberst at least goes somewhere with his self-indulgence. The promise everyone saw in 2002 finally gets delivered here. Gone is Emmylou Harris, replaced by an assortment of mostly anonymous harmony singers (the exception being Gillian Welch on “Classic Cars”), which is probably a good thing; Oberst never did like sharing the spotlight. He still isn’t Dyan incarnate, but, given the current crop of indie frontrunners, he does more with his talent than most. A minus
brakesbrakesbrakes: The Beatific Visions (Rough Trade, 2007).
The album title denotes innocence, which I suppose is their way of being ironic. Like most English auteurs who grew up on the British new wave explosion of the ‘80s, but who cut their teeth on the original British invasion of the ‘60s, Eamon Hamilton had some reconciling to do. So, with the assistance of Thomas and Alex Wright (of Electric Soft Parade) he cut one of the most eclectic albums of the year, spanning the gamut between post punk (“Porcupine or Pineapple” and "Hold Me in the River") to alt-country (“If I Should Die Tonight” and "On Your Side") to adult alternative ("Mobile Communication" and "Isabel"). Every song a winner, even the eight and a half minute ending, which needlessly has about a minute of dead air. I told you they were ironic. Bumper sticker of the decade: “Who Won The War? Was It Worth Fighting For?” They should get the grammy just for that! That being said, I’d settle for a couple of plays at WFUV. A minus
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Some Loud Thunder (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, 2007).
Having released the indie sensation of 2005, it stood to reason that Part Deux would be a disappointment, right? Wrong. Notwithstanding the annoying distortion that plagues the title track – no Robert it isn’t a cracked ceramic cartridge sound; more a saturated tape player sound, which, knowing their love affair with lo-fi, makes more sense – this actually is a more even album than version one. My favorite songs are “Satan Said Dance” and “Underwater (You and Me)”, the former proof that Alec Ounsworth really does have a sense of humor, the latter that he has the instinct and ear for the hit single that one of these days this band will score. Don’t believe the hype from the indie naysayers. Listen for yourself. A minus