Hello Music Fans! For this week’s entry I have decided to present a few brief reviews of albums I’ve gotten my hands on recently. Some have not come out yet and some are just new to me. In addition, there is an MP3 with each album so you can get a wee little taste of what to expect.
Camera Obscura “My Maudlin Career” (April 13, 2009 on 4AD)
Kudos to Camera Obscura for putting out another incredibly whimsical album. Each song is full of uncertainty and love. Tracyanne Campbell does an excellent job of inserting a degree of vocal innocence into each song. “Swans” has an extremely familiar melody (“Mr. Clean…Mr. Clean”?) and made my head bop back and forth on the subway. “James” seems like a direct letter to the one who she “thought [she] knew well” but instead “broke” her. The violins soar and the drums hum along with the melodies. It is lovely and makes the listener feel like spring is on the horizon.
Cursive “Mama, I’m Swollen” (2009 on Saddle Creek)
I started to listen to this album at about 8:20 AM. Big mistake. I am not saying it is not a good album but what I mean is that it is way too loud for a morning commute. Tim Kasher’s vocals are as raw as ever. The melodies rise and fall in a sort-of Pixies fashion. The same battle topics present in Cursive’s previous albums are still apparent: doubt, growing old and a dash of political awareness. “From the Hips” is the battle between being at one’s best and at one’s worst (a normative battle in the land of Cursive) while “Caveman” is all about the battle between moving on up in the world and staying put. As a whole, the album is a typical Cursive record and a good one at that.
The Decemberists “Hazards of Love” (March 24, 2009 on Capitol)
G-d Dammit, Decemberists, what are you doing with yourselves? In this release, the band tries to pick up where they left off with “The Crane Wife” (an album I am not too fond of besides a few high points-“Sons and Daughters,” “O! Valencia” and “Summersong“). Instead of constructing an album with catchy melodies, like seen in the “Always a Bridesmaid” singles series, they shoot for the stars and fall short. All of these “preludes” and “interludes” read more like an ornate rock opera than a solid rock record. “The Rake Song” (the song released as a free download) is the only tune that does not falter off. But background melodies and “Alright”s are just too much. The next track “Annan Water” has really lovely guitars.
I am sorry Colin Meloy, I love your music (and your accent that I can never really place). But stop trying so hard. It would be much better if you would put out shorter records with a solid group of witty songs. Instead of a 17 song album half good songs and half filler tracks. Make an album like “Her Majesty” or “Picaresque” again. I know you can do it. Thank you.
Note 3/30/09: I listened to this album several more times recently and the truth is that I really like it. It is an album of mostly high points and only a few low points. I am not going to edit the content of my original review, I just wanted to make a note of my change of heart. So to the readers: Check out this album, give it more than one listen. Don’t be so quick to judge, like I was.
Jessica Lea Mayfield “With Blasphemy So Heartfelt” (2008 on Polymer)
I have heard so much about this 20-year old singer-songwriter from Ohio on KEXP and WRSI (93.9 The River). But I always dismissed her because, of course, I rarely like female vocalists. But the other day I gave in and realized that Mayfield has something different to offer. Her songs are, as one reading the album title would imagine, incredibly heartfelt. Even the G-ds at Pitchfork liked this album – giving it a 8.2/10. It starts off soft with “Kiss Me Again.” Her voice has a raw drawl, especially in “I Can’t Lie to You, Love” and “The One That I Love Best.” “We’ve Never Lied” is a tune about trying to correct and deal with a relationship that has gone sour. “You’ve Won Me Over” is a strong acoustic song outlining being around that person who knows all the right thing to say. But you are never sure if they are sincere or just has a tendency to ” kiss all the girlies [he] know[s].” Each song on this album is perfectly suited for a different type of mix cd (ie. unrequited love, new love, friendship, broken relationships, etc).
M. Ward “Hold Time” (February 17, 2009 on Merge/4AD)
M. Ward strikes again with another heartfelt record and a great follow up to 2006’s “Post War.” His voice is raspy. His guitars are strum-tastic. The harmonies are reminiscent of camp-fire bliss. The single, “Never Had Nobody Like You” features Zooey Deschanel in all of her troubadour glory. In “Rave On,” a Buddy Holly cover, Ward, as expected, injects his own special charm into the words and melody. “Stars of Leo” is another gem that discusses “pick me ups” and “bring me downs” in this crazy world. “Fisher of Men” is just the type of mountain-living song we would expect from M. Ward.
Keep the hits on coming, M. Ward. We love it.