Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Super Review – March

They Might Be Giants
New Release: Nanobots
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Record Label: Idlewild Recordings
Sounds Like: Fountains of Wayne (NMT), Jonathan Coulton (NMT)
Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.

After posting an extensive exegesis of the Johns' Join Us in July 2011 (NMT), this assessment will focus more directly on the new material at hand, namely the fully 25 tracks of varying lengths that comprise the duo's fourth full-length release. Most notably, Nanobots points most directly to their fourth record, the brilliant Apollo 18 from 1992. The similarities not only reside in the new collection's smattering of 11 song snippets under 1:30 in length – much like Apollo 18's "Fingertips" suite – but the same slightly obtuse oddity and recurring paranoia that defined the now more than two-decade old predecessor. "Call Your Mom" aligns nicely with "I Palindrome I" while "Insect Hospital" and "Tick" recall the group's earlier "Mammal" and "Spider."

Come for: "Nanobots" (quintessential nerd rock from the grand masters of the genre)
Stay for: "Stone Cold Coup d'Etat" (I love John Linnell's rockers ["Ana Ng," "Don't Let's Start," "Can't Keep Johnny Down"] and this is another great one; lyrics like "it has a certain gene se qua" just sounds tailor-made for Linnell's range)
You'll be surprised by: "Lost My Mind" (as straight-forward a power rock ballad as the Johns can create)
Solid efforts: "You're on Fire" (spritely; nothing says TMBG like a chorus of John Flansbaugh singing simply "combustible head!"); "Circular Karate Chop" (create a playlist including this, The Decemberists' "Perfect Crime #2" and Barenaked Ladies "Bank Job" for a killer caper soundtrack) "Call Your Mom" (surf rock vibe, nice saxophone track from John Linnell); "Telsa" (another fact-filled biography in the spirit of "Meet James Ensor" and "James K. Polk"); "9 Secret Steps" (the paranoia referenced above, see "No One Knows My Plan" and "Working Undercover for the Man" from the TMBG catalog); "The Darlings of Lumberland" (I dare another band to create something as odd as this; maybe The Flaming Lips could come close?); "Icky" (fun; more saxophone from Linnell); "Too Tall Girl" (the title alone should make you chuckle; Flansbaugh revives one of his distorted voice characters here; comically strange; "knows more etiquette than Connecticut")
Meh: "Black Ops" (the lyrics are intriguing, but I've never been a big fan of Flansbaugh's attempts at getting funky, ie. ); "Replicant" (its a bit slow, but too strange and intriguing to dismiss completely, with xylophones and jazzy percussion from longtime drummer Marty Beller) 
Skip to next track: "Sometimes a Lonely Way" (same reason I didn't like "Black Ops," but less interesting)
Exceptions: I have a hard time evaluating the short, quirky tracks like the rest, but I particularly enjoyed "Destroy the Past," "Nouns," "There" and "Great

The Last Bison
New Release: Inheritance 
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Record Label: Universal Republic Records
Sounds Like: Of Monsters & Men (NMT), The Head and The Heart (NMT), Agesandages (NMT), Seryn (NMT), Rural Alberta Advantage (NMT, NMT)

The multi-member, multi-gender folk collective concept is on the rise these days, with large-format, folk-based outfits seeking to follow the trail blazed by the hardly edgy Mumford & Sons and the more interesting Of Monsters & Men. Unlike those overseas acts, though, The Last Bison actually emerges from the American mid-Atlantic region where folk music finds its origins. The Chesapeake, Virginia's 11-track debut incorporates far more fiddles and mandolins than their pop-folk contemporaries and frontman Ben Hardesty benefits from that sour, nasally vocal timbre that imbues credibility in folks like The Rural Alberta Advantage's Nils Edenloff and Mathew Milia of Frontier Ruckus (NMT). I'll once again invoke my recurring complaint that if a group has multi-gender members, at least one of them should get some time out front to vary the tone and sonic canvas for the listener, although Hardesty's sister Annah gets some good backing vocals in on numerous occasions. Aside from that, it's pretty good.

Come for: "Quill" (brisk, full-throated)
Stay for: "Switzerland" (the type of large-scale folk song that gets airplay these days)
You'll be surprised by: "Watches and Chains" (by far the most complex and interesting material on the record, nearly theatrical in a Queen kind of way)
"Inheritance" (inviting instrumental appropriate sets the stage, but not quite as foreboding as The Decemberists' "Prelude" from Hazards of Love); "Dark Am I" (as the title suggests, its fairly moody); "Tired Hands" (Hardesty at his most passionate); "Autumn Snow" (not quite "January Hymn," but in the same vein); "Distance" (upbeat and driving; worth sticking around for)
Meh: "River Rhine" (not much to the chorus, and could take better advantage of the large band's talents); "Take All the Time" (I'm really not interested in Bon Iver knockoffs, let alone the real thing)
Skip to next track: "Sandstone" (not digging Hardesty in falsetto)

Assembly of Dust
New Release: Sun Shot
Release Date: February 26, 2013
Record Label: Stone Choir Music
Sounds Like: The Sheepdogs (NMT, NMT), The Overmountain Men (NMT, NMT), Frontier Ruckus (NMT), Band of Horses (NMT)
Location: New York, N.Y.

A band titled Assembly of Dust sounds like it should be either a death metal outfit or a Christian worship group. Instead, its straight-forward, uncomplicated alt-country and roots rock. With frontman Reid Genauer's easygoing vocals, Jackson Browne-style piano and organ lines and solid but unspectacular accompaniment by guitarist Adam Terrell, bassist John Leccesse and drummer Andy Herrick, the quartet's fourth full-length studio effort hardly stuns with grandeur, but more than compensates with consistency and accessibility – a perfect lure for the warmer days ahead in coming months.

Come for: "Vaulted Sky" (a bit of swagger in the rhythm; vintage veneer recalls the Steve Miller Band or, more recently, The Sheepdogs
Stay for: "Cluttered" (a nice little melody backed by the band's well-rounded sound)
You'll be surprised by: "Lost & Amazed" (fantastic classic rock groove)
Solid efforts: "Gray Believer" (warm, gentle, pleasant); "Sun Shot" (a little thin at first, but a good lazy day number); "Unvarnished" (appropriately titled, earnest); "Avenue of the Giants" (measured; the most countrified stuff here); "Arkansas Down" (a little more pep than your typical backroads ballad); "Myth of Mine" (touches of roots revival style, nice pedal steel part); "Weehawken Ferry" (a rockabilly number about a ferry between Jersey and Manhattan? It works surprisingly well); "Silver and Worn" (tremendously unburdened by urgency); "Mrs. What You Are" (well-constructed and lively; hardly the typical closing track)   
Meh/Skip to next track: As I said, its consistently enjoyable...

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