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CD Reviews: The Foals, R.E.M., The Raconteurs, Stephen Malkmus, cLOUDHEAD

April 8, 2008
Justin McIntosh, Brad Tennant, Patrick J. Dolan
“Pretty. Odd.”

Panic at the Disco

*** 1/2

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“Behind the Sea”

— Reviewed by Justin McIntosh

Panic! at the Disco is now Panic at the Disco, and thrown out with the exclamation point is the Fall Out Boy-lite tag that was often attached to it. Panic does here what the Killers attempted with its sophomore album — create a mature album that will earn it respect. Where the Killers tried out Bruce Springsteen in favor of new new wave, Panic leaves behind emo and channels the Beatles and the Monkees, with layered harmonized vocals, a chamber section, a flugelhorn (!) and even an accordion, among other changes.

The album opens with “We’re So Starving,” and the lines, “Oh how we’ve been so long, we’re so sorry we’ve been gone, we were busy writing songs for — you!” and “Don’t worry we’re still the same band. You don’t have to worry, you don’t have to worry, you don’t,” amid a swirling string section.

From there the album shifts into “Nine in the Afternoon,” with its steady beat, electric guitar riff sounding like something heard on “Sgt. Pepper’s,” a trumpet and lyrics about returning “back to the street, back to the place, back to the room where it all began.” Perhaps a reference to Abbey Road Studios, where the album was recorded?

Through my first listen of the first half of the album, I found the changes exciting, ambitious and impressive; I was ready to give the release four stars, if only because the band was stretching itself and the new approach worked, if only mildly. I like to encourage brave bands.

By the time I made it through nine tracks, I was hit with how deriviative most of this is, and I was left with six more songs to listen to. I was close to wrapping up this review with a two and a half star rating.

Subsequent listens, however, brought out the melodies more and I started to fall somewhere in the middle of my first two assessments. The inspirations are rather transparent, the songwriting falls flat at times, but overall it’s not a bad album — dare I say it’s even a pretty good one? I do, even if I wanted to hate this release initially and chalk it up to everything that’s wrong with the music industry. In the end, I found myself hoping more bands would be so bold.

Old fans may not find a lot to like here, but enough of the bravado, cheerfulness and ridiculousness from its first release is here to carry over a descent number. And the new direction will bring its share of new fans — like me.

As Singer Brendon Urie croons on “That Green Gentleman,” “things have changed for me, and that’s OK, I feel the same.”



“Antidotes”

Foals

*** 1/2

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“Ilyena”

— Reviewed by Justin McIntosh

I hate to name drop like this, so excuse me when I ask you to imagine the math-rock leanings of Minus the Bear, the afro-pop drumbeats of Vampire Weekend and the dance structures of the Artic Monkeys and Bloc Party to get an idea as to what Foals is doing on this debut. Hailed —as always — by NME as the next big thing this year, Foals’ Antidotes immediately draws you in with its atmospheric, spacey dance vibe. The album may lack the urgency and energy found in a Foals’ live show, but the vocals are purposefully withdrawn — read as cold in some circles — to add another melodic backdrop. The result is a cohesively fun dance album that nearly matches anything put out by the above bands.



“Real

Emotional Trash”

Stephen

Malkmus

****

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“Hopscoth Willie”

— Reviewed by Patrick J. Dolan

Pavement purists may get bored with SM’s solo records. The songwriting is lengthier and more sophisticated, and can get tiresome. Thankfully, Malkmus is turning more into a psyched-out Bob Dylan. Best thing about this release? It employs the great percussion work of Janet Weiss, formerly of the now-defunct Sleater-Kinney. The album kicks off with a down-tempo rock song, this time a bit more jam oriented. More polished than his other records, “RET” mainly dives deep into the twisted abyss of Malkmus’ psyche, which means the lyricism retains its gilded insanity from earlier records. And in the end, that’s the only remnant of the Pavement sound that Malkmus entertains: crazy, meaningless, sometimes boundless lyricism.



“Alopecia”

Why?

*** 1/2

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“Good Friday”

— Reviewed by Patrick J. Dolan

“cLOUDDEAD” reinvented hip-hop for the hidden bedroom MC in all of us. Why?’s consistently abstract lyricism counteracted MC Dose One perfectly, acting like the Felix to his Oscar. He was less serious, more open to the full palette of human emotion and prone to experimentation with electronics. Why?’s first solo release, “Oaklandasylum,” elucidates this point perfectly, adding acoustic guitar and pretty, quaint melodies that Dose One would spit on. So it’s no surprise that “Alopecia” takes this idea further, almost to a full-blown pop aesthetic. If you miss “cLOUDDEAD,” listen to the track “Good Friday.”



“Consolers of the Lonely”

The

Raconteurs

****

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“Carolina Drama”

— Reviewed by Justin McIntosh

Jack White’s blues/garage rock revivalist act continues on this follow-up to 2006’s “Broken Boy Soldier.” Unlike most side acts, however, TR manage to come across as a less weird and experimental and more straight-forward rock group. The chemistry here between White and the other lead man Brendan Benson has only improved since the debut album, with White and Benson each doing their best impressions of the other. Overall, the energy level’s higher. The first few tracks are rather nasty in their rawness, and some of that comes undeniably from the fact that this album was rushed to release, but it’s the album’s last five that really make this worth the purchase price.



“Accelerate”

R.E.M.

****

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“Mr. Richards”

— Reviewed by Brad Tennant

Where has R.E.M. been? Nowhere. They’ve been consistently cranking out the emotional and abstract equally. But like with “Monster,” occasionally they just have to do it a little louder to get everyone’s attention. What sets “Accelerate” apart is it is faster, more distorted and to the point; don’t expect any “Kid-A”-style wallowing. For rock’s most dependable democrats, Michael Stipe has never been one to lose. And like a Rocky Balboa, he leaps up from the mat swinging. “I’m not one to sit and spin/because living well is the best revenge.” The album falls further from the “Monster” tree than one might expect, but “Accelerate” doesn’t disappoint and is their most accessible offering since “New Adventure in Hi-Fi.”
 
 

 

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