Misery Is a Butterfly
Swirling, breathy vocals, shimmering guitars, slow death, newfound depths to melancholy — welcome to Blonde Redhead's winter-tinged world. Misery Is a Butterfly, their first effort on venerable indie imprint 4AD, finds the group (Italian expats/twins Amedeo and Simone Pace, Japanese chanteuse Kazu Makino) honing a unified sound throughout.
While Misery isn't a "concept album," it certainly does follow a sober, coherent theme, both instrumentally and lyrically. It's a theme that is, like the enigmatic band members themselves, kind of complicated. Makino's disaffected, tempered wail is chilling from the opening lines of "Elephant Woman," a song that immediately sets Blonde Redhead apart from both their past efforts and the band they're most often compared to (namely, Sonic Youth).
This album proves they can be just as noisy and intense, but without losing any of the seductiveness that was their stock-in-trade in the first place.
Fans of their 2000 masterpiece, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, may be turned off initially by the refined, crisper tones and images on Misery, but anyone who's up for the challenge is richly rewarded by the album's end. Amedeo, with lead vocals on five of the album's 11 tracks, sings equally as eerily as Makino — a high-pitched, glossy chirp that may be one of the most distinctive in art school-influenced indie rock today (a feat, that).
Half-live, half-synthetic drumming and cellos also figure prominently in Blonde Redhead's sultry, despondent sound, reminiscent of earlier Radiohead or Godspeed You Black Emperor — two bands that, like Blonde Redhead, regard pain as an icon of something not only inevitable, but beautiful as well.
Over the last few years and releases, British cult-rocker Graham Parker has moved away from the acerbic post-New Wave that initially attracted his core fans. He was once an Elvis Costello who knew far fewer chords and got sarcastically indignant rather than poetically maudlin. Lately, his emphasis has been on Americana. Your Country, his first disc for Bloodshot, ostensibly serves notice that the transition is complete. It's a lean, straightforward alt-roots affair in the vein of John Hiatt — jangly, shuffling and saturated with self-consciously clever lyrical concepts. But while one might assume that Parker's insightful songwriting persona would take to the genre easily and adroitly, it's the lyrics that really disappoint here (though the somewhat generic chord progressions and arrangements don't help). Parker seems hesitant to apply himself wholeheartedly, instead relying on some of the style's most hack archetypes, looking through the eyes of characters we've seen time and time again, rather than using his own. Nowhere is this more apparent than on "Fairground." We get it: The carnival is full of oddballs who never had a chance, and can be viewed as the "real America." But you don't need to write a verse about every fuckin' one of 'em. Your Country is an average, predictable y'allternative listen, made that much more of a letdown given Parker's back catalog, which is packed with pungent turns of phrase.
The three young men who "MmmBopped" their way into childhood success seven years ago have bounced back with a surprisingly deep and emotional record. Hanson's alternative rock sound has matured, as has the trio's songwriting. The group's instrumental skills have improved through the years as well, but the catchy-yet-annoying vocals that made the brothers famous are still evident. This is apparent in "Strong Enough to Break," which elicits memories of an adolescent Hanson circa 1997. But not everything has that cloying quality. "Crazy Beautiful" is an excellent song with a strong melody and a powerful brass arrangement. "When You're Gone," "Misery" and "Broken Angel" are soft, sedative tracks that contrast with the upbeat sounds of "Lost Without Each Other" and "Deeper." Underneath suggests that Hanson has evolved beyond its teen image into a group with a real future.
desperate youth, bloodthirsty babes
TV ON THE RADIO
Touch & Go
Don't assume indie rock has any more integrity than most mainstream radio pap you hear these days; these guys are scheming assholes, just like any TV producer unscrupulous enough to rip off Survivor, The Bachelor or any of those other shows that are the guilty pleasure of millions. The "feeding frenzy" MO is alive and well, even in a music scene that thrives on innovation (or at least the appearance thereof). Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes is thus a welcome exception, sounding every bit as fresh as its title implies. This isn't a fluke either, if last year's Young Liars EP is any indication. Singer Tunde Adebimpe's thoroughly heartfelt, intelligent and poetic lyrics are evident throughout both releases, but on Desperate Youth, he (along with producer David Andrew Sitek and guitarist Kyp Malone) finds new depths to his soulful, post-rock melancholy. Any group that can assimilate the disparate sounds of the Drifters, Tortoise and Massive Attack deserves some attention, if not our outright respect. TV on the Radio does exactly that, and damned eloquently, by slipping Sitek's cut-and-paste drum and synth samples under Adebimpe's honey-smooth vocals. The result is staggering, creating a sonic pastiche that is similar to Massive Attack's Protection, something both sinister and deeply sensual.
After all these years, D.C.-based trio Trans Am finally has something to say. Liberation, the eighth studio offering by these paranoid cousins of the post-rock legacy, embraces Trans Am's M.O. of fusing conceptual cock- and Kraut-rock flare with quasi-electronica, but finds the recording built around a stylish agenda of Orwellian anxiety. A timid vocal presence occasionally takes shape in the bass-heavy grind, but getting a point across by way of words has never been Trans Am's bag. Liberation follows suit, but as the constrictive cadence of opener "Outmoder" bleeds into "Uninvited Guest," the group proves that a concise political rant isn't the only means of saying what it means. As a doctored sample of the commander-in-chief boasts of "destroying hospitals and schools in Iraq," the song serves as would-be comic relief, if it weren't for the subject matter. "Divine Invasion Pt. 2," "Washington D.C." and "Total Information Awareness" flow seamlessly into each other as somber tones transform into a nightmarish rumble, evoking the sadness and hysteria that gripped America in the wake of 9-11. As residents of the nation's capital, Trans Am had a front-row seat to the business end of a terror attack. The fear, anger and resentment that binds Liberation is a deliberate emotional response to the event from a group of otherwise detached noodlers. 1/2