Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 103)


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PICKS

Deer Tick, Negativity     (Partisan Records)

Declaring this the hangover follow-up to Divine Providence’s bender is too easy - for one thing, the personal tragedies and life regrets dramatized throughout run deeper than nights awash in drams and fifths. Not that the formal argument posed within, say, “Let’s All Go To The Bar” was any kind of dead end. But there’s something inspiring about John McCauley turning a broken engagement and a father imprisoned on fraud charges into music this relentlessly life-affirming. From Dennis Ryan opening a seduction with “my friend, I fear we’re drawing near the end,” to monster ballad “Hey Doll” circling around a couple who do best when they can’t see, much less touch, each other, it may seem a bummer trip. But it’s affirmative as music, which in this kind of indie-soul universe is enough. Drawling like Axl Rose throughout “The Curtain,” bouncing along to glockenspiel and chipmunk piano solo on “Dream’s In The Ditch,” McCauley offers enough good times to offset the dreadful. And dreadful the situations do get - the one about his dad asks us to “come and see the ugly things that life can bring”. The one about doing crack at dawn allows us to imagine Kurt Cobain covering “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”.

Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Red Hot     (Hot Cup)

Two albums in eight months is a lot even for this irrepressible crew, and the production’s muted gloss does their dynamic range no favors. But conceptually, this Dixieland offering is a triumph - if you had to get pretty theoretical to hear the smooth jazz foundation beneath January’s Slippery Rock!, here the expanded ensemble voices and radical tempo shifts make clear the Red Hots of the title are fives and sevens (and maybe tamales). Like the Art Ensemble of Chicago or Air, Moppa Elliott’s anachronisms are both deliberate and loving, from the banjo freakout of “Seabrook, Power, Plank” to the McCoy Tyner-comping dropped inside “Orange Is The Name Of The Town’s” Paul Whiteman oom-pah-pah. Sure, there are plenty of giggles, as when new guy Ron Stabinsky quotes Wild Cherry, Joe Jackson, and “Let ‘Em In” during the intro to “King Of Prussia”. But these boys did their homework, too. When Elliott leads his bandmates into a woozy country-blues in tricky 12/8 time (“Gum Stomp”), he’s not hoping to coax a guffaw from the academy. He’s just following Robert Johnson’s lead.  

NEAR PICK 

Haim, Days Are Gone     (Columbia)

I asked myself countless times why I was arguing with hooks as ebullient as those filling every nook of “If I Could Change Your Mind” and “The Wire”. But then I asked myself why even “The Wire” left me lukewarm. Then I wondered where all the r&b I kept hearing about was hiding, and started thinking maybe all those synth pads were distracting everybody. So I skimmed the long list of expert comparisons made to these SoCal sisters, and questioned whether Danielle, Este, and Alana really reminded me any of Scritti Politti or Laura Branigan. Then I remembered how Haim’s 2004 incarnation Valli Girls utilized Richard Marx as “creative contributor”. Which is about the time I started thinking about Shania Twain and The Eagles, whose “Heartache Tonight” is what “The Wire” actually sounds like. Which brought me back to arguing with ebullient hooks. The hooks almost won out in the end. But this is awfully fussy for fluff.

BOMB

Kings Of Leon, Mechanical Bull     (RCA)

Back when they were miscreant miniaturists galloping behind lean riffs, it was easier to overlook the casual misogyny of gold-digging mothers too good to tango with poor boys - they were just getting started, they kept most songs under 2.35, they were kids. But after  ten years of priming their hooks for halftime shows and Caleb Followill honing his Bruce Springsteen impression, we’re left with a grown-ass man drawling about supersoakers, mechanical bulls, dance floors as temptresses, and a “child-like” lady on said dance floor whose “eyes keep on shifting / to the boys that don’t matter”. Those wouldn’t be the poor boys, would they? Doesn’t sound very “Rock City” to me.