Franz Ferdinand

Three years between albums is an eternity in modern rock. Witness Tonight, the third album by Franz Ferdinand. While not exactly disposable or scant, the album finds the group seeming a bit worn in their tin-thin groove and leisure-suit sneering. When they first appeared it was as antithesis to Brit-pop or as the equivalent to the Jam with an upgrade, adding a jagged sophistication to indie motifs and white funk while the disco-punk phenomenon was nipping at their heels. Then they quickly went and made the next record—exactly the same mold, only so much better (hence the title), simultaneously suffering and basking in an obvious case of Strokes syndrome.

Tonight is reportedly the band out late, cruising the clubs, honing in on the pulse of London’s underworld, an album supposedly inspired by Jamaican dub and cutting-edge electronics, but operated by aging men who don a whiter shade of pale. “Send Him Away” is interesting enough, but nowhere does it creep in a sticky island breeze, instead it sounds holed up in a slick studio, making Steely Dan seem hip and the Specials authentic as they come. In three years, one would hope things were less tossed off than they are here. Case in point, the lead single, “Ulysses,” which is a sluggish reflection of “Take Me Out,” except whizzing with burping synths and palmed organ presets. That’s basically the model for Tonight: to insulate a host of flimsy, poorly written songs with a foppish strut and oodles of chippy neon.

There are a few escapes; the haunted pop of “Twilight Omens” gets a pass, if only because it’s apparent the boys have diddled among Goblin soundtracks once or twice, and the acoustic finale “Katherine Kiss Me” proves there’s a glimmer of hope in their verbiage and a chance one day we’ll get the group hushed and unpretentious. But in 2009, Franz Ferdinand have little chance, especially with this record, to convince the public that they’ve been progressing all this time. The truth might reveal that they never had an original idea to begin with.
Kevin J. Elliott

Kylie Minogue

Somewhere in a lab there are scientists with stacks of Billboard magazines and a worn VHS copy of Weird Science trying to make another pop star as perfect as Kylie Minogue. Debuting as a product of powerhouse ‘80s production crew Stock, Aitken & Waterman, she eventually broke out and has managed to turn into an artist who could work with Nick Cave one moment and crank out a dancefloor stomper the next. In America, however, her profile has been up and down, while around the world she’s been consistently kind of a big deal. Her latest collection, Boombox, is a collection of remixes spanning from 2001’s Fever to 2008’s X.

Boombox follows the standard formula of having some well-known producers/DJs, as well as up-and-coming knob twiddlers, crank up the laptops and have a go at the millennium edition of the Minogue catalog. For the most part, it’s good but never reaches the essential category. There are some truly amazing remixes. For example, the Chemical Brothers’ low-key electro-funk remix of “Slow” manages to up the sexy tension of the original. Then there’s the genius mash-up of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” with New Order’s “Blue Monday.” It floated around as a bootleg titled “Can’t Get Blue Monday Out of My Head” before Minogue not only snatched it up for official release, but also began to perform the remixed version live. And there’s an inspired version of “Your Disco Needs You” that seems to take liberal chunks from the Pet Shop Boys’ “Go West.” It treads the fine line between super cheesy and so cheesy it’s brilliant. The problem with Boombox, though, is that most of the remixes are tame by comparison and seem rather lifeless. Sure, individually the weaker tracks may kill in a club, but placed together it only highlights some of the producers generic approach. Minogue has had better remixes throughout her career and even better remixes of the songs chosen. It’s a shame that the opportunity was missed to show why Minogue is still a club staple some 20 years after her debut. Sadly, this Boombox needs fresh batteries.
Dorian S. Ham

Various Artists
Just Like Heaven: A Tribute to the Cure
American Laundromat

Over the years, everyone from A Perfect Circle to 311 to Dinosaur Jr. have put their own stamps on Cure songs. Just Like Heaven: A Tribute to the Cure is the second Cure cover compilation to be released in the last five months—the first was the two-disc Perfect As Cats released by Manimal Vinyl in October. The American Laundromat Records release has many of the usual suspects from the Cure catalogue, as well as a few surprises. Some bands put their own mark on their cover—most successfully, others not so much.

Long Island-based duo (and couple) Joy Zipper kicks off with a version of the comp’s namesake. It’s poppy and upbeat, much-like-the-original, save for the male-female vocal exchange. Another couple—Violet Clark and Black Francis as Grand Duchy—perfectly capture the dark moodiness of “A Strange Day.” Tanya Donnelly teams up with Boston band Dylan in the Movies for “The Lovecats,” and there’s the laidback “Friday I’m in Love” from Dean & Britta, as well as “Lovesong” by the Brunettes. Less predictable choices include Luff’s “Jumping Someone Else’s Train,” taking a slower journey than the Cure’s original express pace.

Some of these covers work by staying true to original, such as “The Walk” done by the Rosebuds. “Catch” also remains fairly similar, but the Devics earn points for picking something a little far-a-field from the Cure songbook. Some songs, however, are so unchanged, they’re more like listening to (albeit well-done) karaoke versions, as with “Pictures of You” by Elizabeth Harper & the Matinee.

Standouts include “Close to Me” by Elk City, a dreamier version of its Cure incarnation benefiting from the soulful, and yet matter-of-fact, delivery of singer Renée LoBue, whose voice has an androgynous tone somewhere between that of David Bowie and Patti Smith. Also worth a listen are “Let’s Go To Bed,” updated by Cassettes Won’t Listen, and the more intricate “10:15 Saturday Night” by the Poems. While good at face value, this compilation is a bit disappointing in that it falls short in variety—something that is not lacking when looking back at the Cure’s career.
Josie Rubio

Mr. Oizo
Lambs Anger
Ed Banger

Even among the faceless producers who make up the electronic music nation, Mr. Oizo is an interesting case. His most popular track, “Flat Beat,” was created as a soundtrack for a series of 1999 Levi commercials starring a puppet named Flat Eric. And that puppet probably became more famous than the man who gave him the wobbly bassline. While the follow-up record, Analog Worm Attack, did fairly well, instead of riding the momentum and giving more of the same, Oizo waited until six years later and pulled a Lou Reed by releasing a seemingly fuck-you record, the glitchy, edit-happy Moustache (Half a Scissor). Then Oizo linked up with the Ed Banger Records crew, label home to Justice, Uffie and Busy P, and produced some of the blogosphere’s favorite songs: Uffie’s “Ready To Uff” and “Hot Chick.”

Oizo’s latest record, Lambs Anger, continues along the path of Ed Banger’s filthy take on electro. The opening track gives possibly one of the best set-ups for a record ever. An old-school computer voice breaks into the middle of opening track “Hun” to let the listener know that “You’re about to hear a collection of recorded stuff. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are just okay.” You have to respect that mix of honesty and simultaneous lowering of expectations. But Oizo is generally being modest. There’s not a bad track on the record, and the questionable ones have a sense of humor to them. For the title track the computer voice returns and states, “This audio was recorded by Flat Eric.” What follows is 60 seconds of random noises, breaths and jumpy editing until the voice tells Flat Eric, “That’s enough. Go back to the closet!”

The majority of Lambs Anger is twisted glitychy takes on electro with nods to the ‘80s. Oizo also revisits his “Ready to Uff” days with a dirty remake of Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” called “Two Takes It,” featuring Carmen Castro. It shouldn’t work but it’s done with enough of a wink to make it alright. Even Uffie makes an appearance on the low-key, handclap-propelled “Steroids.” The jury maybe out on whether or not Uffie is “good,” but her collaborations with Oizo are solid gold. This record may not put Mr. Oizo’s face on a magazine cover, but if it isn’t blowing up at an American Apparel–outfitted dance party, something may be off with the world.
Dorian S. Ham