Avey Tare
Down There
Paw Tracks

When I heard my first Animal Collective album, the mad masterpiece Sung Tongs, I had no idea what to think. It was definitely original, and the band had a sense of humor about themselves which was missing from 99% of indie rock at the time. Nevertheless, I dismissed it as “weird for weird’s sake” and went back to listening to Arcade Fire’s Funeral or whatever. But over time, I couldn’t get these oddball sing-a-longs out of my head. It took me awhile to realize it, but Animal Collective was doing what great experimental bands have always done: smuggle pop melodies that Paul McCartney would kill for in vessels of noise and ambiance.

But while there’s no mistaking Down There as anything but the work of an Animal Collective member, the songs tend to dissipate from memory as soon as the record ends. On his first solo outing, Tare paints with the same palette of keyboard loops, found sounds and heartbeat percussion that he uses for his main squeeze, Animal Collective. But the quiet, reverb-soaked production makes the whole record sound like you’re hearing a band play from outside a club, and the music rarely breaks through this invisible wall.

Although it takes a little extra work, there are a few gems to be found here. “Laughing Hieroglyphic” has the feel of one of Tare’s tracks off Strawberry Jam, but without the carnivalesque showmanship that kept that record from achieving classic status. “Ghost of Books” is both intricate and playful, interweaving bouncy basslines into an elaborately composed synth backdrop. And the record bows out nicely with “Lucky 1,” a track that employs the same oppressive production techniques used on the rest of the album, but applies it to melodies that are too wonderful to be kept underground. When Tare intones “we’re trying” over and over again at the end of the album, nobody’s doubting him. But if it’s true that genius is 99% perspiration, it sounds like Tare left that extra 1% at the door.
David Holmes

Super Wild Horses

Any band with the commitment to name a song “Degrassi,” absolutely must connect with me on some telepathic astral plain. That the Melbourne duo of Amy Franz and Hayley McKee make a bouncy punk devoid of a nostalgic thread tied to that brilliant mid-80s Canadian teen drama and instead aim closer to teenage girls pounding out primitive versions of Wire sides in the garage is a thing of raw beauty. Raw is an understatement, as Fifteen, their full-length debut after a string of international singles, is full of songs that rarely stray from a single note, that rarely rely on riffs, and that form and function and shimmy in rhythm and great yelping interplay. Franz and McKee focus on their Kleenex-via–Deal sisters melodic chants and soaker-chick sloganeering—an earnest schtick that’s pretty and urgent. While the recent girl-pop explosion in the underground (and over-ground) has become inept enough to cause a sinkhole, Super Wild Horses sound poised to throw cigarette butts into that crater, spitting in between low-slung guitar windmills. The polar opposite of a rebellious fuck-all like “Mess Around” would be a slick Donnas song about french-kissing. As aforementioned, there are serious spirited post-punk angles in “Lock and Key” and “We Don’t Believe It” and bubblegum sticking onto “Adrian” (a dreamy Australian Exploding Hearts), so both sides of the fence are stomped upon.

Fifteen would suffer, though, from sugar and irritability were it not for the definite nod to those Breeders, and maybe even those Scrawl. “Goldentown” is the album’s second longest track at two and a half minutes, but plays like the epic ender to an anonymous 7-inch made by bored teenagers really obsessed with Pod down under in the ’90s. Should Super Wild Horses ignore this blissful grunge-gazing jam on Fifteen or further releases then their tinny minimal bashing could wear thin. Luckily it sounds like there’s at least another two people in this world who appreciate the genius of Kim Deal and th’ Faith Healers simultaneously.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Mess Around”

Jail Weddings
Love Is Lawless
White Noise/Tru-Vow

Jail Weddings singer, guitarist and svengali Gabriel Hart spent the early part of the 2000s rejiggering the Gun Clubbed greaser anthems of his first band, the Starvations, through a couple line-up and name changes and some solo stints, along the way making some of the most underrated, moody garage rock of the decade. Partly due to those frequent changes and infrequent touring, his LA-based acts have remained a bit of a connoisseur’s delight, the kind that if you know them, you love them, but you’ll be alone in your admiration.

It’s not that Hart doesn’t have the songwriting chops or high melodrama in his poet’s lungs to match the Arcade Fire-ings of the increasingly Spector-ish indie rock terrain that gets a lot of play in, like, TV teen soap operas and lame dysfunctional family indie flicks. It’s just Hart’s sonic sensibility has always wallowed in a scruffy, sullied sadness that doesn't lend itself to a gaggle of multicultural models prancing through a perfectly set-designed loft party or Target ad.

But here, on Jail Weddings debut full-length (after a few singles), Hart begins with a brief, sparse, slow-burn orchestral crescendo that feels more like a closing credits theme—perfect for Jail Weddings’ intentions of moving on from the gutter to the, well, secrets-buried backyard. The duet, “When We’re Together,” shifts the album into gear with a peppier pathos, a la some Neil Diamond–penned ’60s go-go kick. Hart lets the girls take the reigns on “Tough Love,” making like Nikki & the Corvettes gone sashaying over a termite-bitten boardwalk ’round sunset. Another kind of chase happens in “Somebody Lonely,” with Hart yearning towards a girl-group vibe ambling just ahead of his pace down a rainy street. There’s a lot of yearning on Love Is Lawless, but also a bolero’s bravado that, for all the broken hearts, dead lovers, faraway hopes, etc, can stick it out ’til the last dance.

For a cat that most likely broods awake at night, well past tipsy and figuring what to do with the trumpet in the mix the next afternoon, there are bound to be over-reaches. “Eavesdroppin’,” a lonely lament that lyrically calls for his lone voice and one sax wailing, could use some back-up vox to flesh it out—until tamborines and gal-vox rush comes flowing out and into the next tune, “Staring at the Stars,” a fine dramatic, horn-hopped tale about over-acting. Hart does still have a tendency to elongate his verbiage, fumbling his enunciation at times, but now has swell swelling femme “whoa-ohs” to weave the dented hearse back onto the right side of the blurry dotted lines.

And it really isn’t until the very last tune, “The Impossible,” that Hart and company grasp for that maudlin kitchen sink and overload the orchestral proceedings—not unlike a good opening credits theme—though 50% of it is still just vocals. The band is really adept at dropping in horn, piano and string bits that don’t sound too ostentatious. Somewhere Willy DeVille is smiling....

One would think there’s a Cinemascope epic or heist-gone-wrong B-yarn—or at least a CW drama—out there just waiting for Jail Weddings. Still, more Johnnie Ray than Jeff Buckley and more Detour than Douglas Sirk, Hart and his comrades may remain the connoisseur’s enamored secret.
Eric Davidson

Belle and Sebastian
Write About Love

Since 2002, there has been a battle waging, I’d like to imagine, in Glasgow over the proper balance of kitsch in the work of Belle and Sebastian. Truth is, it’s always been there, even in their most authentic work. In the early days, it would sometimes come on full force, and those were always my least favorite songs. With the departure of the second Stuart and the keystone of the band’s first six years, Isobel Campbell, the rest of the band has shared the mic and the stage more fully with Stewart Murdoch and that kitsch has won several key battles in its attempts to overwhelm the quaint intimacy of the band’s best work. (There’s also a growing theory that the intimacy itself was an accident and merely the result of the band’s lack of budget, but I digress.) Frankly, since the first minute of Step Into My Office, Baby I’ve been wondering if the wrong side had won that war. (And if you’re turning away from this review right now because your own B&S mixtape kicks off with “You Don’t Send Me,” I respect your decision, but I just can’t get down like that.) I know it’s sad when we want our favorite bands never to change, but if the band’s best songs seem timeless, why must the band’s technique and talent be any less eternal?

Come 2010, let’s cut to the chase. Balance is in, synths are mostly out, mystery is back. Write About Love really is a lovely record, starting out with Sarah Martin’s gentle voice on a song that well-marries the old and the new. There are lots of quiet songs and soothing sounds less aggressive than The Life Pursuit. A couple of tracks, “I Want the World to Stop” and “Read the Blessed Pages” would be right at home on that Lazy Line Painter Jane boxset. “The Ghost of Rockschool” proves they can still leave one breathless occasionally. (The iTunes bonus tracks are totally worth getting, by the way.) Yes, the center of the album is filled with as much cheese as a danish, but I’ll get over it. I’m just glad that Stewart finally got the guts up to tell his mates to fuck-off and just let the songs breathe a bit. Conclusion: the Glasgow Kitsch War is hardly over and done with, but at least there’s the sense that there is still plenty well worth fighting for.
Matt Slaybaugh

Tired Pony
The Place We Ran From
Mom + Pop

While his main vocation, Snow Patrol, has systematically replaced its adventurous quirks with melodrama, on albums like those made with the Reindeer Section, Gary Lightbody has shown that he’s capable of making records imbued with as much sonic texture as emotion. But though he’s enlisted an all-star team for his Tired Pony project that includes REM’s Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, Belle and Sebastian drummer Richard Colburn and M. Ward, among others, the resulting album, The Place We Ran From, fails to make much of an impression in any regard.

Intended as a country-tinged affair in the vein of Wilco, Calexico and Lambchop, Lightbody attempts to evoke that sort of Americana with a bone-dry cadence. This approach works on the leadoff “Northwestern Skies,” but not perhaps in the way he intended. It’s simply a grand pop song stripped to its essentials and made all the more interesting for what’s left out. Same with “That Silver Necklace;” even if it’s led by just a couple acoustic guitars, the big backbeat and the timbre of Lightbody’s vocals hint at something much more elaborate.

However, with Buck’s mandolin being frequently buried in the background, Lightbody and producer Jacknife Lee don’t capitalize on the talent at their disposal. That their most obvious attempt to step away from the simple structure of the record, “Dead American Writers,” comes off like a Foreigner outtake further exemplifies the album’s intrinsic failures. Mild-mannered to a fault, The Place We Ran From is nonetheless such a flaccid affair that one’s a little offended that they even bothered making it.
Stephen Slaybaugh