It’s been a few years since the worldbeat craze swept the indie-pop world thanks to the unabashed influence that Vampire Weekend brought to the genre du jour with their 2008 self-titled debut. Yet, around that time, there was another band brewing a very similar recipe. Tanlines are a Brooklyn twosome that has been around since that fateful year, yet they have been much more reserved when it comes to releasing material. The fact of the matter is they’ve spent quite a while working on this first full-length, considering that one of the tracks, “Real Life” has been on the internet since inception. Releasing an album has been a long, drawn-out undertaking for Tanlines, and the resulting product, Mixed Emotions, conjures, well, exactly what the title implies.
The first few tracks are, without a doubt, the strongest, and since they have yet to release anything formally, this record is a glimpse into the various directions their music has taken over the past few years. Here, Tanlines fluctuate from blatant Afro-beats swathed in sheets of synths on “Real Life” to the definitively upbeat, dancefloor-friendly pop on “Brothers” and “All of Me,” which sounds a lot like Passion Pit redux, especially with the intermittent high-pitched background yelps. “Green Grass” is a bit repetitive, but catchy nonetheless, with its straightforward guitars and sing-along-friendly lyrics set to a head-bopping beat. It’s an easy standout, as it’s one of the more successful dance songs on the album, probably because it’s not trying to be a dance song.
Aside from “Real Life,” the world music comes to fruition on cuts like “Abby” and “Yes Way,” with syncopated beats set to subdued ’80s-influenced pop melodies. At least Tanlines utilize world beats in a less contrived way than Vampire Weekend, insofar that a twosome from Brooklyn could sound slightly more authentic than four Columbia grads. Elsewhere, everything just gets lost in the ether. Songs roll on top of one another, following the same pattern, and differentiation without easy identification becomes difficult. They all have punctuated drumming and keen rhythmic bases, but that’s where it stops mattering.
Yet, I have to give credit where credit is due. For two dudes screwing around, er, collaborating, the sound is much fuller than expected. Granted, they have help from technology, but it’s clear they have musical smarts. Though nothing groundbreaking, and certainly helter-skelter, Mixed Emotions, given the band’s relative non-productivity, is a solid step in the right direction. It would be a shame to miss the worthy singles hidden amongst the tedium.
A sassier man than I once said that “the first time ain’t the greatest,” but when it comes to The Wedding Present, it’s hard to think of a bigger thrill than hearing Seamonsters for the first time. Being the romantic miserabilist that he is, head Weddo David Gedge would no doubt be inclined to agree. So though what the band and I have now will probably never be great as it once was, that doesn’t mean that we should give up, right?
Since Gedge resurrected The Wedding Present name in 2004, the band has been making records that, though they couldn’t approach Seamonsters, have been on par with the majority of its catalog. Recorded in France instead of in America with Steve Albini or Steve Fisk, as has been the case with most Wedding Present records, Valentina, the band’s eighth album, is the first instance where lethargy has entered the picture. The pointed declarations of “You’re Dead” ring hollow, like poison darts stripped of their venom. Even the manic strumming of the subsequent “You Jane” is less potent when matched with lyrics that lack the archness for which Gedge has always been known. “Back a Bit... Stop” and “Deer Caught in the Headlights” fare better, largely for their synaptic surges musically, but it’s still hard not to pine for the old magic. Maybe, it’s not The Wedding Present, it’s me, but with Valentina, I’m just not that into them.
MP3: “You’re Dead”
Their reputation as a raucous party band precedes them, but what’s often overlooked about Austin’s Golden Boys is how talented they are at simply being old-fashioned songwriters. Nowhere is this more apparent than on their fifth full-length, Dirty Fingernails, a perfect combination of compositional smarts and energetic musical abandon.
Sure, The Golden Boys attack their songs with the rowdy energy typical of a punk rock pedigree, but the overall sound here owes more to organ-driven soul and pop, country and outsider singer-songwriter types than anything typically thought of as punk, or even garage for that matter. There’s a confident streak running through these 11 unruly tracks, as the quintet charges ahead with the cohesion of a road-tested band of brothers. And though the songs have a sturdiness to them that belies the tower of empty whiskey bottles, it’s also not hard to imagine them flying gleefully off the rails in a live setting.
For all their lovable loserdom, The Golden Boys remain talented songwriters in a surprisingly traditionalist mode. And while they’re not above getting a little weird (check out the psycho-babble Freudian nightmare of “Daddy’s Horsewife” or John Wesley Coleman’s dusted ramblings on “Didn’t I Tell Ya Babe”), by and large the Boys throw a great party that everyone should feel welcome attending. Their songs are filled with big hooks, boozy riffs and occasional hints of twang, and they often have a big, anthemic quality that can remind one of those champion self-saboteurs from Minnesota. But while The Golden Boys might share a certain ramshackle quality with the Replacements in theory, it’s with the Reigning Sound and Greg Cartwright that the band seems to have its most logical kinship. Both have a brilliant ability to suss out that ineffable quality that makes no-bullshit rock & roll so fun and so vital, and in the process they hold up garage-this and punk-that for the meaningless terms that they ultimately are.
Xiu Xiu is a confounding entity. As piloted by the only constant member, Jamie Stewart, the band has careened wildly through the music universe. With the band’s output sometimes synth and beat-driven and at other times either chamber-pop or acoustic in its approach, any Xiu Xiu fan has had to resolve himself to go along with the ride.
For all the sonic mind bumps, Xiu Xiu also has no problem with making really accessible, poppy songs. But those moments come in such fits and starts that they almost seem like accidents. It’s not that Xiu Xiu has to be a pop band, though Stewart shows a remarkable aptitude for it (see the Xiu Xiu cover of Rhianna’s “Only Girl (In The World)” for proof). So the question seems to be which Xiu Xiu is showing up. From the opening “Hi,” it appears that it is the one that loves synths. With the keyboards cranked up and Stewart’s voice in full quiver, the agenda is leftfield pop with an overlay of darkness. Lyrically, the album is grim, with a blend of personal and political woes. For example, “Joey’s Song” purports to be about his brother’s domestic troubles, while “Gul Muldin” concerns an Afghani boy killed by American soldiers. But that broad scope is to expected from Stewart. Still, Xiu Xiu seems as if they didn’t know where to take this record sonically so they hit a bit of everything. It’s almost like three separate records stitched together, and for an album that’s just less than 40 minutes, the disparity can be jarring and off-putting. But to be fair, listener comfort isn’t the main concern. Always isn’t a bad record, but it has moments so trying it may not be worth the effort.
Dorian S. Ham
With Herzog’s debut, Search, largely made by singer and guitarist Nick Tolar on his own, it is with a good deal of satisfaction that I report that the band-made follow-up, Cartoon Violence, is every bit the record that it’s predecessor was. With a fifth non-playing member, Tony Vorell, writing lyrics, the Cleveland band manages the unique trick of writing songs with equal muscle and smarts, and the album owes as much to Thin Lizzy as any sensitive indie rock types.
This bi-partisan approach is evident from the get-go, with “Fuck This Year” bursting out of the gates with rocket-fueled riffs and sharp lyrics on losing jobs to skinny white girls. “You Clean Up Nice” is built from similar stuff, with fuzzy riffs matched to insidious lines and melodic hooks. Cuts like “Dreaming Man” and “Feedback” each take a different tack, with the former being a country-tinged lament that never favors twang over melody, and the latter an organ-driven romp that hearkens to ’60s pop masters and their subsequent heirs. One of many standouts, “Your Son Is Not a Soldier” is an anti-war rant that while borrowing lines from Billy Bragg is personalized enough so as to not sound stilted (the back-up crooning helps too). If this rattling off of the album’s traits makes it sound like there’s a lot to like, it is because there is. Herzog have made the audial equivalent of a multi-vitamin, in that Cartoon Violence is loaded with all kinds of good stuff.
MP3: “Fuck This Year”