Strawberry Weed

After changing their name and culling their back catalog for their first Stateside release with major distribution, the Caesars finally broke the U.S. market in 2005 the best way a band can these days–through advertising. Landing a coveted iPod commercial for “Jerk It Out,” the Caesars’ ‘60s inflected jam became the soundtrack for those ubiquitous silhouettes’ get-down.

Two albums later it’s safe to say the band is still following the beat of their own drummer. While to these ears’ the band has yet to top “Sort It Out,” a raucous laundry listing of all the illicit substances singer Cesar Vidal was going to do to mend his broken heart from their first album, Youth Is Wasted on the Young, the band continues to successfully mine a retro vibe divined from Nuggets comps and R&B sides.

But at first, leadoff track “Fools Parade,” the Caesars give the impression of going in a new direction, boring into crunchy guitars and howling reverie. It’s a poor (and thankfully) false start, though, with subsequent cut, “Waking Up,” sounding more like the band’s bread and butter, although they vamp it up a bit more than in the past. The remainder of Strawbeery Weed follows suit, with the familiar Farfisa whine and snappy beat that has become the Caesars’ calling card permeating the record. Not really repeating themselves but not going too far astray, the Caesars strike an infectious balance. The Painted Black backbeat of “Turn It Off” provides the foundation for shapeshifting. fuzzboxed pop, while “In Orbit” is awash in a suitably spacey melody. The Ceasars, like many of their Swedish brethren, are masters at making the old sound new again, so there’s never really any reason to start afresh.
Stephen Slaybaugh

Jennifer O’Connor
Here With Me

This is music to play in the car while you’re driving the highway between home and your ex’s place. Preferably, it’s kind of cold outside and you’ve got the windows open a little. It’s very dark outside–and inside. “At least that’s how it feels” (that’s a repeated lyric on the record) listening to Brooklyn-based songwriter Jennifer O’Connor draw you slowly in on the album’s patient and potent opener “The Church and the River.” It sounds like someone didn’t just break her heart; they shattered it, stuffed the pieces in a suitcase and hurtled it out a car door at 90 mph. Now we get to listen as she drags herself up off the floor.

Most of the songs on Here With Me are directed at someone who left. “You can go off to a distance place” is the line that starts “Always In Your Mind.” “Valley Road 86” concerns “what you lost today and what you have to give away.” And on another road song, “Highway Miles,” she protests the futility as “everyone goes running for the door.” As you might imagine, these songs aren’t exactly jubilant.

The title track, meanwhile, must be part of O’Connor’s stated plan to make a more band-oriented record. Indeed, “Here With Me,” as well as “Daylight Out” and “Xmas Party,” could have been written for the Old 97s, melodic and southern-tinged as they are. Unfortunately, O’Connor’s band isn’t quite as tight as that outfit and it may be the record’s failing. They play it almost uniformly straight and standard, despite the presence of her well-regarded producer John Agnello (Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady, Dinosaur Jr.) and guests like the Hold Steady’s Franz Nicolay. With rare exceptions (the opening track) there’s hardly an unexpected gesture in the whole 45 minutes of music.

Even more plaintive tunes, like “Landmine” and “Days Become Months,” round out the album. They’re deeply felt and well sung, for sure, but they lack the grace of the album’s prettiest song, “End of the Hall,” which stands out for its delicacy and the change of pace it provides. Apparantly the album was produced in a mere 12 days. In its blander moments, the rush shows. Perhaps a little more time and a bit more restraint could have produced an album as thoroughly engaging and heartbreaking as its opening moments.
Matt Slaybaugh

MP3: “Here With Me”

The Stills
Oceans Will Rise
Arts & Crafts

It’s been five years since the Stills came to the public’s attention with the haunting “Still In Love Song,” from their debut album, Logic Will Break Your Heart. Without Feathers followed in 2006. The latest release, Oceans Will Rise, shows how much the band has matured in such a short time, taking it in a more intricate direction, both lyrically and sonically. Yet the Stills maintain many elements of their sound, making the band’s name very apropos. Vocalist Tim Fletcher still effortlessly emotes over the intricate, yet subtle guitar of Dave Hamelin and the pop-sensible melodies of drummer Julian Blais, bassist Oliver Crowe and keyboardist Liam O’Neil.

This third release also sees a departure from Vice Records to Arts & Crafts, based in the band’s native Canada. Somehow the Stills are the same band, but more so, with a sound as vastly encompassing as their homeland. Opening with the poppy “Don’t Talk Down,” the album progresses to “Snow in California,” where intricate melodies swell and fade to complement the lyrics detailing of an apocolyptic, yet hopeful journey: “O the world is changing. Mayan calendar ends... Bring things back to life now.” The Eastern-tinged, drum-heavy “Snakecharming the Masses” takes a darker turn, a contrast to the energetic “Eastern Europe.” However, the band eventually loses momentum and slides comfortably into cruise control with “Hands on Fire” and the sticks-in-your-head “Panic.” The lull ends with “Dinosaurs,” a pretty song, even if the lyrics suggest differently: “Our hopes are in vain, tomorrow is all mine.” The epic “Rooibos/Palm Wine Drinkard” begins with a galloping, lively beat, then eventually eases down to a keyboard-driven end, making way for the sweet melancholy beauty of “Statue of Sirens.”

If this were the soundtrack to the end of the world, the band makes it seem appealing and beautiful, as if there’s a happy ending on the horizon. Fittingly, Oceans Will Rise, with its theme of destruction and renewal, is a solid record from the ever-evolving Stills.
Josie Rubio

Where You Go I Go Too
Smalltown Supersound

In 2005 Prins Thomas and Hans-Peter Lindstrøm were pioneers of what is now referred to as “space disco,” a highly melodic strain of electronica that mined both the minimalism of carefully constructed micro-house and the excess of maximalist dancefloor singles. The tag was not of their creation but the music that came afterward. A celebrated series of 12-inches and productive collaborations followed the trend and extended beyond the crisp orbits heard in those initial grooves. In a logical step forward, Lindstrøm, the scruffy, young Norwegian with a rockist background, has made the first definitive piece of work of his career with the full-length, Where You Go I Go Too.

For Lindstrøm, the structure of this debut is logical because “space disco” has nowhere left to explore but farther and deeper into the cosmos. As a counter to his discography of six-minute singular launches, Where You Go I Go Too is one cohesive statement, said to be recorded and played live in its entirety. If that’s the case than Lindstrøm should affix “marathon” to the genre-tag, as the album’s title track is a journey of epic proportions lasting well over 30 minutes, never tiring the listener with repetition or mechanic chill.

Instead the exhausting track is maddeningly non-linear. Built and paced purposefully, there is a full 10 minutes of gazing at distant stars and pressured beats before the central melody is revealed, the equivalent of pushing through layers of atmosphere before arriving at the great prisms of the galaxy. Once there, Lindstrøm piles on the neon glissandos, the laser beams waved and bent, the future vibes at his fingertips. His is a synth-worship akin to Kraftwerk and Moroder with an ear piqued by fantasy and the additional specks of planetary debris that float about in the form of hand claps, beach field recordings and heavy breathing. Just as this transcendent astro-web is formed, it’s broken into bits and sucked into negative space–or perhaps turned inside out–to segue into the record’s remaining two pieces. Those, compared to the immense nature of “Where You Go I Go Too,” are still equally rewarding, tilting toward a chilled Baleric intonation, even if the tempos become slightly rushed. Regardless of how well Lindstrøm stitched together 55 minutes of music, it shows that at least one half of the “space disco” progenitors really is human after all.
Kevin J. Elliott

Jaguar Love
Take Me to the Sea

The “supergroup” can be a dicey affair. There’s the weight of expectations of fans from the members’ earlier work and the desire to create something completely new. It’s just such a delicate balance that Jaguar Love are attempting to achieve with their debut album, Take Me to the Sea.

Jaguar Love, comprised of Johnny Whitney (vocals) and Cody Votolato (guitar), formerly of the Blood Brothers, and J Clark of the defunct Pretty Girls Make Graves, doesn’t necessarily make sense on paper. The art-damaged, post-hardcore influenced sounds of the Blood Brothers and the taut rock grooves of Pretty Girls Makes Graves don’t seem to be the most logical combination. And yet Take Me to the Sea manages to be the perfect balance between the two. A good amount of credit for that should go to Clark, who played keyboards, bass and drums on the record. He brings the dance rock colliding with indie guitar rock to the record, which gives Whitney and Votolato’s contribution a pop twist.

Musically, Votolato mixes well with Clark, adding just the right amount of guitar freakout when needed, but also knowing when to give a straight ahead performance. The wildcard in the mix is Whitney. His voice can be “challenging,” so to speak. Simply put, it’s a weird mix of soul testifying delivered in a high-pitched screech that at various times seems like a caffeinated high school cheerleader snuck into the recording booth to track some vocals. At times it works brilliantly and other times it seems like a parody. Yet, it was a similar issue with his work in the Blood Brothers so on that account, everything is as it should be.

Take Me to The Sea could be seen as a mixed bag, but while there may be some questionable moments, when Jaguar Love pulls the parts together, its charms are undeniable. Opening track “Highways of Gold” seems like a lost B-side from Pretty Girls Make Graves’ This Is Our Emergency and is tailor-made for a rock and roll dance party. “Bats Over the Pacific Ocean” is a sweet but surreal coming-of-age story. The most surprising tune, “Bonetrees And A Broken Heart,” finds Whitney slowing it down and channeling his inner Prince. Where the record goes pear-shaped are the times when Whitney gets too helium-voiced and screamy, and the affected songs drag.

While Jaguar Love may not enter into the ranks of legendary supergroups, Take Me to the Sea is a solid record that may ease the way for the next unusual pairing.
Dorian S. Ham

MP3: “Highways of Gold”