King of the Beach
Fat Possum

Upon first hearing King of the Beach, it’s hard not to think that this beach fetish is some kind of allegory for singer Nathan Williams’ larger issues. He’s writing songs about taking on the world (“Take on the World”) and shouting, “You're never gonna stop me,” on the title track, which is so uplifting it can’t possibly just be about the best surfer or biggest juicer in Point Loma. Can it? Is it post-ironic distance or sincerity? It’s hard to tell with kids like these. On “Post Acid,” Williams declares he’s “just having fun” before diving head-first into 50 seconds of sing-along nonsense that’s equal parts Nirvana and Richie Allen. It’s just as enjoyable as that makes it sound and strangely well-produced too (kudos to Dennis Herring).

What Williams (and his recruits from Jay Reatard’s backing band) have here is an album of remarkable variety and attention to detail that really does sound like it was written on a really cool, 21st century rock ’n’ roll beach. But they never let the essential qualities wear thin. Once you get acclimated, they change it up, throw in a little sonic experimentation like the loopy, delirious second half of “Baseball Cards.” Or check out “Convertible Balloon,” surely the black sheep of the album with its two-years-late Talking Heads fixation and bubbly synth tones. Even fuzzed-out, confrontational moments, like “Idiot” (“I won’t ever die, I’ll go surfing in my mind”) never lose the hazy feeling of the constantly bashing cymbals and blissed-out falsetto back-ups. Even when the song takes a sudden turn into a thrasher guitar solo, you know you’re never far from the return of that classic back beat.

It’s hard even to find the weak spot on the album. I was thinking about “Linus Spacehead,” but just when Williams seems to have repeated himself too much, he just goes for guts and gusto and pushes the album to a new high as the drums go to half-time and he shouts, “I’m never coming down,” adding layer upon layer of keyboards and guitars just for good measure. King of the Beach is an amazing step forward from the last Wavves record, and surely is in the queue for best of 2010 status.
Matt Slaybaugh

Leif Vollebekk

Finding a middle ground somewhere between M. Ward and Antony Hegarty, Leif Vollebekk has created a debut album (Inland) that is always extremely interesting, if not always extremely enjoyable. For most the album Vollebekk accompanies himself on acoustic guitar, fingerpicking out intricate melodies. But it is his distinctive, emotive vocals that make or break each song. Even when not singing in French, the Canadian singer has more than his share of affectations, which when combined, culminate in whipperwilled vocals that make songs like the leadoff “In the Morning” a little too much. But when he finds a more balanced approach, like on “You Couldn’t Lie to Me in Paris” and “Northernmost Eva Maria,” there’s no denying the force of his delivery. It’s actually a fine line that separates his successes and failures, one that’s hard to define until you hear him cross it. On “In the Midst of Blue and Green,” the addition of strings lessens the contrast and helps take his distinctive croon to a new height. It’s hard to fault someone so obviously talented for their efforts, but I suspect with time Vollebokk will learn to harness his abilities into something with far less mixed results.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Northernmost Eva Maria”

The Kyle Sowashes

Like it or not, the revival of the spartan, economical indie rock of the ’90s is in full bloom—and it’s not new bands answering the call; it’s the same stable of trustworthy songwriters back on the block, reliving their twenties and resurrecting albums that have long left the playlist. A perfect example is Superchunk. As Mac McCaughan eased into mid-life his playing mellowed, his lyrics became introspective, the “on our own” philosophies of a decade earlier eschewed by the logic of a family man. No disrespect whatsoever, but imagining what a new Superchunk album will sound like come September 2010 has me spinning On the Mouth for the thousandth time in lieu of something that may very well lack the vigor of McCaughan’s glory days. Perhaps that’s why in the wake of that new record, he’s also re-issuing two Superchunk classics in tandem?

Columbus’ Kyle Sowash, who could likely pen a memoir filled with tales from the road and indie-rock trenches, is upon the threshold of a similar scenario. In entering an age when those thrifty chords and base melodies seem redundant, tethered as they are to impressing undergrads and working minimum-wage slave jobs, he could have very easily went for the rocking chair and sat this one out. Let the kids seize the day and wreck nostalgia for the rest of us. But no, Sowash and his fellow Sowashes have no regret when it comes to regenerating all the fervor that came in hearing the first Archers of Loaf album or attending your first Guided By Voices show. Tired as you may be of those same three-chord anthems, those cajoling guitar lines dancing between verses, the energy that lasts till the very last drumbeat, Nobody, the Sowashes third full-length, is ingrained with a mantra of never letting up, realizing the best times you’ll have are on a stage in some nameless Midwestern town, so why slow down? Yes, you may have heard it all before—the bummer of a quotidian existence (“Rough Week”), the tribulations of overdrinking cheap beer (“Double Dragon”), and the brotherly spirit that pervades when a band discovers they can bend a Cheap Trick song into their own parameters (“Instabilities”)—but it’s likely those anecdotes have never been this frank.

Despite the prolonged juvenilia that defines the Kyle Sowash experience, Nobody does probe the stress of getting older in a youth-dominated canon. But as best he does, Sowash shrugs it all off, having no serious qualms about continuing this caravan well into his thirties. The band has grown-up slightly, here preferring bigger, sharper tones to the scrappy punches that preceded this. That’s especially true on the grand finale, “I Would Like to Speak to Your Manager,” where a solo befitting the end of a Whitesnake video, displays a love of craft and goofy humor as much as the record is an homage to 1994. If there’s one constant in Columbus, Ohio, it’s the grinning bearded visage of Sowash, and it would likely be a benefit to this city if that boy would never grow up.
Kevin J. Elliott

Kylie Minogue

For a “one-hit wonder,” Kylie Minogue has carved out a fairly enviable career. While most Americans only know her 1988 debut single, a cover of “Locomotion,” and maybe others have shaken a tailfeather to 2001’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head,” the rest of the world knows her as an A-List hybrid of Janet Jackson and Madonna. Over her 23 years in the biz, she’s racked up 10 studio albums, more than five different greatest hits collections and enough carte blanch to bounce between working with Nick Cave and the Manic Street Preachers and cranking out frothy dance pop. She’s got the type of street cred others would kill for. Now after a three-year hiatus she’s back with her 11th album, Aphrodite.

Aphrodite sees Minogue working with Stuart Price, the DJ and producer best known by his Les Rhythmes Digitales and Jacques Lu Cont aliases. He’s also the one who guided Madonna back to the club with his work on 2005’s Confessions on a Dancefloor. Here he plays a similar player-coach role for Minogue. As the executive producer, he lends a hand in shaping and making the record cohesive, and most importantly, guiding Minogue toward her strengths. By most standards of measurement, Minogue has a tissue-thin voice, but it’s distinctive and largely devoid of obvious studio trickery. As with the majority of her catalog, the focus is strictly on the dancefloor, but on this go-around there aren’t any ballads to break up the flow. Perhaps the rise of the pop dance of David Guetta and Calvin Harris, who penned “Too Much” put a spin on the sessions that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

Regardless of the motivation, Aphrodite plays pretty close to the script. While the album does contain a worrying amount of songs that sound like variations of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I’ve Got A Feeling,” Minogue largely steers clear of Cheeseville. The only real problem is when the production is too light. Minogue sounds best when she has tougher production to contrast with her bantamweight voice. Luckily songs like the title track and “Cupid Boy” fit the bill. While the album doesn’t possess the stylistic jumps of 2003’s Body Language or an instant classic like “I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, there are certainly enough reasons to worship Aphrodite.
Dorian S. Ham

Dan Sartain
One Little Indian

With his third album, Alabama’s Dan Sartain proves himself more than just some Johnny-come-lately looking to fill the void between White Stripes albums (if indeed there ever is another). Working with producer Liam Watson, he’s made a record that’s economical, but hardly cheap sounding, the pair coaxing a velveteen din from their sparse set-up that reveals Sartain roots to run far deeper than the garage rock resurgence of the past decade.

A mix of fuzzboxed riffs and surfy refrains, “Those Thoughts” starts the record with a polite hipshake before moving on to “Anything I Say,” which lays the reverb and (more) fuzz on thick over a big caveman beat. Such motifs provide the record’s backbone, a combination of ’60s-style shimmy and swampy primitivism. Sartain is so adept in his chosen vernacular, it’s hard not to think it calculated. But echoing everything from Diddly to Meek, he’s more likely simply well versed. As such, however retro he may sound at a given time, he comes off as a trueblood bent on making something new out of the remnants of the past, and succeeding at that.
Stephen Slaybaugh