National Backspin

Reader reviews a smattering of new, national releases There are plenty of places to read music reviews, but what’s the fun of reading one where you can’t disagree face-to-face with the guy who wrote them? Well, I work at a downtown record store and don’t mind being told I’m off base. Here are some albums of note from the past few months, including the just-released Neil Young and Deerhunter albums: Deerhunter Halcyon Digest (4AD) = 4.5 Stars It’s hard to hear Bradford Cox and his main project Deerhunter while maintaining much critical perspective. He’s an artist of the first order, someone who seems to love music and love making it, and it’s easy to get caught up in that excitement. He also has a special way of communicating pain and joy, and the struggle of awkward 20-somethingness. But he’s yet to make a cohesive pop album masterpiece, and that’s the bar that’s been set. There are several glimpses of it on Halcyon Digest and more of them on this record than any other Deerhunter release. “Earthquake” is a brave opener, pairing a rising psychedelic wash with noisy bursts and an ascending post-rock guitar part that creates an unsettled feeling. “Don’t Cry” is a pretty song, tied to a simple guitar strum, but tied down by its hazy production. However, songs like “Revival” are stop-right-there stunners. “Memory Boy” sounds like a re-imagined Beach Boys hit. The question is: Would high-fidelity production rob songs like these of their beauty? The answer is partially found in “Coronado.” The song runs itself through several time periods without a care, breathlessly managing to grab ’70s pop and an ’80s sax part to affix to a song that could have been played at the intersection of glam and punk in New York City. If it’s a sign of where Cox and his Atlanta cohorts in Deerhunter are headed, then it may be time to move the bar even higher. Neil Young Le Noise (Reprise) = 4 Stars Neil Young is choosing neither to burn out, nor fade away; a hard walk considering every living classic rock artist is busy disappearing slowly into the ether, including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Who, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. So why does Neil keep going? No clue, but while his last album, 2009’s Fork In the Road, was a mild misfire, Young has been scratching at continued relevance lately, such as on 2007 classic long-form rocker “Ordinary People.” So this time, Young enters the studio and takes his signature left turn. No humble stripped-down acoustic guitar ruminations meant to collect at Grammy time. Young still goes it alone, playing his songs aided by Daniel Lanois’ airy, drawn-back production. But why play wimpy acoustic guitar, when you can conjure walls of Le Noise with an electric guitar? No drums, no bass, no instruments but Young on guitar and at the microphone. This is no comeback, just an old master clawing away at new ideas, while finding a captivating way to present his familiar voice and songwriting style. Nobody will make an album this good at age 64 for a long time, guaranteed. Sleigh Bells Treats (Mom & Pop Music) = 1/2 Star Crystal Castles are overrated. And underrated. You have Sleigh Bells to blame for the underrated part. If the indie blog harem had just waited patiently for a second Crystal Castles disc, instead of lapping up the first, annoying piece-of-shit copycat that prostrated itself in front of Pitchfork.com’s headquarters, then this Sleigh Bells record Treats would only be burned onto CD-Rs, handed out by the band in Brooklyn and trashed throughout the New York City transit system. Alexis Krauss was once in a teen pop group called Rubyblue, and she still sings like it. Derek Miller was in post-hardcore band Poison the Well. Sleigh Bells’ main trick to differentiate themselves from Crystal Castles gothy electro noise is to try to bridge the gap between M.I.A. and booty pop-rap made by failed models like Ke$ha. Also, Sleigh Bells throw them in like classic rock guitar riffs. Killer, dude, you’re using tricks that mainstream rap got over five years ago. Black Angels Phosphene Dream (Blue Horizon Ventures) = 4 Stars The first two Black Angels long-players stood in the haze of a droned-out drug dream, shadows of Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground, Roky Erickson’s 13th Floor Elevators and the Jesus and Mary Chain looming overhead, seemingly forever. But by enlisting Dave Sardy, Black Angels has added new dimension and angles to its dense psych-rock. Alex Maas still casts his voice despondently into the night with an intriguing vibe, but there’s a greater emphasis on melody and instrumental interplay on the Black Angels’ third record. Dirges have been replaced with rock songs. “Sunday Afternoon” stands out as a pop song of the highest order, but still inhabiting the Angels’ world. “Telephone” draws away from all Angels’ touchstones, instead hitting on an organ-laden ’60s garage rock vibe. These songs don’t lag even when they slow down, as the rhythm propels the Black Angels more than ever. It’s a brisk step away from having influences to becoming one. Now it’s their turn to cast shadows on their own.

posted at 07:45 pm
on Thursday, September 30th, 2010

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