December 17, 2008 | Comments ()

By TK | Music | December 17, 2008 |


We’re taking a wee break from the year in review stuff (though please come back for more tomorrow).
—TK

partslaboralbumart.jpgParts & Labor: Receivers
[Jagjaguwar]

Okay, so I may be getting ahead of myself a little bit. We’re in the midst of running through our favorite 2008 releases and discoveries here on Pajiba Music and I really didn’t expect to find one in the middle of constructing a new release review, but here I am. I knew I wanted to cover the new Parts & Labor because, simply, they have become a band who has slowly garnered and earned my trust over the years that even if they might not ever make a great album, they’ll always make an interesting one. That all changed the instant I finished listening to their fourth proper full-length, Receivers.

After hearing a frustrating yet fervent rendition of “Sugar Kane” by the band on the 2004 Sonic Youth tribute record Confuse Yr Idols, I slowly and rather unconsciously found myself getting steeped in everything I came across from the Brooklyn art-rock trio a couple years later. 2006’s Stay Afraid soon popped up in my hands and I had thought that because enough time had passed I was able to get a new more appreciative perspective on the band. Their rambunctious high-octane rhythms kept my fascination fresh, but their seemingly meandering sonic trajectory and incessant use of guitar feedback as instrument simultaneously restrained from officially calling myself a fan. Luckily, since that album they have remained prolific enough to stay just inside my peripheral: the next year’s Mapmaker held my attention and made me yearn for an even more digestible and powerful version of the band I wanted to fall in love with.

I really did not expect this to happen so soon. I was looking forward to another raucous good time to be had on my headphones, but with an impending headache to follow just like the band’s past releases. (I respectfully disagree with those that lay claim to the motto “music should hurt”.) Receivers is the first welcoming Parts & Labor release, and while some may seem that as a sign of weakness (or even more ridiculous, “selling out”), I do subscribe to the possibly stereotypical notion of maturation for a band once ridden in angst and chaos. Their album titles actually tell a lot: once frightening, soon after still abrasive but with an obvious plan up their proverbial sleeves to map out progress and evolution, and now they have followed through and are ready to not only receive a fully realized understanding of the random world they inhabit, but for us to receive that message loud and clear.

“Nowheres Nigh” is the album’s first indicator that the now-quartet (a smart decision to add guitarist/tape manipulator Sarah Lipstate makes their trademark sound both richer and more complex) can adequately ferociously hold onto its roots while jump wildly and directly into a new sea of congealed sound. The hyper keyboards bubble at light speed, but are kept under wraps by the muddy and marauding vocals. There’s clearly a purpose at hand and yet everything feels just as gritty as it did before, only with more density and emotion to wade through. The guitar squeals are still prevalent and often not even dialed down, but rather evened out with such levelers as the aforementioned tape hiss and assured percussion (such as on the simmering respite “Little Ones”) that creates lush atmospheres instead of obtuse injections of disharmony.

There’s also a distinct expansion at work here, where concepts are stretched out past the seven minute mark, which depending on my mood, I can either fall into and lose myself in or flip past to get to the juicy goodness within. Tracks like the opener “Satellites” and “The Ceasing Now” surely pull together a sense of dread not found elsewhere on the album (and is ironically more noticeable in the short spazzed-out works from past releases), but it’s what they culminate in insane tweak-outs that are of course most memorable. Parts & Labor, like their blue-collar name insinuates, is a band that itches and scratches concurrently. There’s never rest to be had, but there will always be cathartic anthems to be sung for that eternal longing and never ending distress.
Chris Polley

drhorrible.gifVarious Artists: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog — Original Soundtrack
[Mutant Enemy, Inc.]

At this point, I assume we’ve all seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon’s transcendent web series, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It’s some of the most brilliant, wickedly clever, and emotionally arresting 45 minutes you’re likely to see this year. Frankly, if you haven’t seen it, I can’t even look at you right now. Seriously. Get away from me.

In any event, much like the brilliant Buffy episode, “Once More, With Feeling,” Mutant Enemy has released the soundtrack to it. In a way, listening to it is even better, since it allows you to follow the lyrics a bit more closely. And make no mistake, the lyrics to these songs are fantastic. While the album is bookended by quick bursts of instrumental score, the meat of the album is the various songs sung by the hapless Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), his adorable crush Penny (Felicia Day), and the hysterically funny dopey jock-asshole hero, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). All of them hold their own vocally, though NPH is hands down the strongest of the three.

The songs range in track time from 21 seconds to three+ minutes. While the music is relatively simple, consisting of basic instrumental components with some keyboards and digital production, Joss and brother Jed Whedon’s songwriting is the real star, and they make the most of even the shortest of songs. Penny’s 37 second snapshot, “Caring Hands,” is a perfect introduction to her character, which gets expanded upon in her solo “Penny’s Song.” Similarly, Fillion’s sneering voice on his part of “A Man’s Gotta Do” is nothing short of brilliant, though his true moment of glorious assholery is on “”Everyone’s A Hero” (“Everyone’s a hero in their own way / Everyone can blaze a hero’s trail / Don’t worry if it’s hard / if you’re not a friggin ‘tard you will prevail’). While each of the main characters are given their moments to shine, the lion’s share goes to Dr. Horrible himself, who manages to be self-effacing, charming, and soulful in his desperate attempts to be sinister, though his conclusion, “Everything You Ever” is the best — an amazing, tragic and actually quite moving track. There are noticeable stylistic and lyrical similarities between Dr. Horrible and “Once More, With Feeling,” but instead of feeling like Whedon’s treading the same ground, it feels like he’s evolved and improved on the ideas he had in the Buffy episode.

The final standout: The three Whedon brothers (Joss, Jed and Zack) performing the two versions of the “Bad Horse Chorus,” two quickie pieces that will have you rolling (“There will be blood / it might be yours / So go kill someone / Signed Bad Horse!”). Regardless of where your tastes lie, whether you’re a Browncoat of Buffy-ite or a fan of musical theater or none of the above, there’s no denying the allure of this album. So please, by all means run out and track it down, pop it in, sit back and smile for 25 straight minutes.
TK


catpower1.jpgCat Power: Dark End of the Street EP
[Matador Records]

Holly Hunter appeared in a play called By The Bog Of Cats a few years ago, and being an admirer of hers I went to see her in it. She was absolutely awful - and it was a performance of such complete awfulness that I didn’t just hate her on the day: I also began wondering if I had been wrong to like her at all, ever.

That is the effect that Cat Power has had on me this year: I used to love her music, but since seeing her in concert (terrible) and listening to Jukebox (horrid) and this EP (worse), I’ve begun to think that I may have been wrong; that perhaps she’s just a sham and a trickster and got lucky when she produced the decent songs I liked. Oh, and she was in the widely derided My Blueberry Nights (which Pajiba’s Dustin Rowles called “pointless, banal, and plodding”). This hasn’t been a good year.

So here she is, on this EP, in her new persona as the indie Vonda Shepherd, transforming another set of magical, sexy, pleading, vibrant songs into her own brand of dirge. Someone should have told her while recording Jukebox that folk, country and rock songs are all fine for her to mess around with, but not to touch the blues and soul. On her lovely covers record, she found the slow heart and gentle tenderness in songs by artists from Bob Dylan to Mississippi John Hurt. But there’s nothing that she can find on these songs that hasn’t already been found before and sung much, much better. I mean, what do Otis Redding, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and James Carr all have in common? I didn’t mean that, you racist. I meant they can all sing. Cat Power doesn’t have the guts or the power to deliver these songs: her banal, boring renditions inject no interesting new meaning. This is karaoke.

What is she doing, for chrissakes, going anywhere near “At The Dark End of the Street” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”? The pain and heart of the first song are lost in her whimper, and the second goes nowhere. In each case, the competent but flat arrangement does nothing to whip things up. She also fares terribly with “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” (and I would love to have the time back that I spent listening to this song; where did that go?), which has been done better by Fairport Convention and Nina Simone. Her vocals are lifeless and droning, and the tasteful and dull accompaniment contributes an unnecessary element of snooze to the proceedings. The other three songs are also yawnsome in the extreme - especially “Ye Auld Triangle,” whose folky cadences and chirpiness she kills stone dead.

Go back to writing songs, Power! Leave Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan alone for a bit! Remember how excellent “Lived In Bars” and “Willie Deadwilder” were? Do more of that! Because this EP feels like a desperate hoax from a singer who has lost her voice.
—Caspar Salmon

captainhammer.png

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Music | December 17, 2008 | Comments ()



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