The Killers, Beck, Grant-Lee Phillips, Coachwhips

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Sam's Town





These are the first two questions those tuned into the pre-hype for one of '06's most anticipated releases are likely to ask. If Las Vegas Old Wave rehashers The Killers are channeling anybody associated with Nebraska on their admittedly more ambitious sophomore effort, it's the grandly poetic Cure obsessives in Omaha's Cursive, not Brooooce. The lyrics might be more in line with singer-songwriter traditions than before, and "The River is Wild" shamelessly attempts to steal The Boss' sonic persona wholesale, but there's nothing remotely blue-collar about the music on Sam's Town, a deceptively overblown collection of life-as-musical-theater tunes that initially seems to owe more to Queen and cabaret than it does the oh-so-obvious retro-synth influences that saturated '04's insubstantial, trendsetting Hot Fuss.

Sure, Sam's Town is an improvement on its predecessor — hell, what wouldn't be? But eternally cocky frontman Brandon Flowers' mouth has been writing checks this CD never comes close to cashing. Underneath the agonized caterwauling and piled-on instrumentation of tunes like the title track, "When You Were Young," "Bling (Confession of a King)," "For Reason's Unknown," and "Bones" lie the same throbbing disco bass lines, dancy rhythms and pat nu-pop hooks that helped Hot Fuss bring in the easy money. And yeah, they can be fun. So can going to the grown-up restaurant after a couple of years of Happy Meals — so much so that you might be tempted not to notice that the food isn't quite as good as it's supposed to be.

2.5 stars —Scott Harrell

The Information



One of pop's premiere eclectic eccentrics puts an innovative spin on his latest album — The Information includes a DVD featuring homemade videos of each song on the 16-track release. Now some of you will, no doubt, get baked (or not) and watch the entire hour-plus over and again. Me, I went through most of the videos once, and by and large enjoyed their low-budget, faux trippy charm. Heretofore, though, The Information will exist for me as music only. On that count, the album is good but not great, not as buoyant as last year's Guero. The tunes are, as expected, all over the map, and manifest Beck's rep as a pop scavenger. "Cellphones Dead" appropriates the funky synth-bass lick from Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon." "Strange Apparition" cops some Stones attitude; parts of "Nausea" bring to mind The Doors; and the title track makes me think of Talking Heads. Elsewhere, there's doses of white-boy hip-hop, a couple of hippie-pop tunes and, near the end, an ample sequence of noodling filler. A swirling psychedelic patina paints many of the songs and sounds. In all, The Information is a worthy, if rarely transcendent, effort. 3 stars —Eric Snider




This collection of uniformly understated '80s covers from the former Grant Lee Buffalo frontman and Gilmore Girls cameo-busker is, in a word, gorgeous. From oft-revisited alt standards (Pixies' "Wave of Mutilation," Echo & The Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon") to familiar college-radio hits (The Church's "Under The Milky Way," a stunning take on The Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way") and quasi-obscure surprises (Robyn Hitchcock's "I Often Dream of Trains," Nick Cave's "City of Refuge"), Phillips' mellow alt-country style strips these tunes to their most evocative bare necessities. There's not a single misstep here — every tune is beautifully, ingeniously rendered. Phillips' own material has been hit-and-miss over the years, but here he's lovingly produced one of the most headphone-friendly full-lengths of 2006. 4.5 stars —SH

Double Death



If you're into gonzo garage-punk, you're probably mourning the disappearance of Coachwhips, which broke up last year. This posthumous excavation unleashes 25 rarities and cover tunes, and is tricked out with a live DVD. Fans of the wilder stuff, be warned, this band is even wilder than what you might expect, along the lines of fellow ear-murderers Guitar Wolf. Vocals are buried in fuzz, the guitar screeches like it's being tortured and only one song breaks the epic three-minute mark. I do have to admit that the Coachwhips have a sneering command of '60s garage rock melodies, but ultimately, listening to this is such a bracing experience that I don't know if I have the fortitude to put it on again. 3 stars —Cooper Levey-Baker

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