Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Gaslight Anthem (Get Hurt), Jenny Lewis

The Gaslight Anthem
New Release: Get Hurt
Release Date: 8/19/14
Record Label: Island Records
Sounds Like: The Hold Steady (NMT), The Horrible Crowes (NMT), Augustines (NMT)
Location: New Brunswick, N.J.

After far too much time off, why not re-start with the latest release from the act that both debuted this space and is also its most frequent subject: The Gaslight Anthem (NMT, NMT, NMT). After the died-in-the-wool New Jersey quartet's sophomore release, The 59 Sound, attracted a little buzz for the band, it's subsequently been on a mission to play slower. That trend continues on the group's fifth full-length offering, while also demonstrating an eagerness to play louder. Or quieter. Or sometimes both in the same song. While frontman Brian Fallon insists that the 15-track collection [deluxe edition] is a departure from the band's signature sound – like The Arcade Fire's uneven Reflekor (NMT) – and is prepared for critical displeasure of the album, it actually shouldn't be too great a jump for most of the band's fans. Fallon still delivers no shortage of heart-on-his-sleeve, blue-eyed soul-punk thumpers and meaty, sing-along choruses.

Come for: "Rollin' And Tumblin' (the record's fastest number exemplifies the best the group has to offer; "my ticker tape heart" is a classic Brian Fallon line)
Stay for: "Helter Skeleton" (as quintessential a Gaslight Anthem anthem as anything off "The 59 Sound" or the debut "Sink Or Swim;" without knowing who wrote a line like "there will always be a soft spot in my cardiac arrest," I'd instinctually guess it's a Fallon lyric)
You'll be surprised by: "Underneath The Ground" (sounds like nothing else The Gaslight Anthem has ever recorded, particularly the light – practically gentle – chorus; most prominently keyboards have ever been featured by this band)
Solid efforts: "1,000 Years" (steady and measured, this is the type of outcome the group should be for in its slow-it-down movement; heartland rock-style chorus sing-along); "Get Hurt" (its really quiet and somber at first, but finds a good punch at the first chorus, with the kind of jangly lead guitar parts by Alex Rosamilia that defined the first couple albums); 'Stray Paper" (at times, I'm not sure if this sounds more like Metallica or Tom Petty, which is likely what Fallon was after; key supporting vocals from Sharon Jones); "Red Violins" (this redemptive, spiritual rocker has all the markers of a track that will find a home in the middle of the band's setlists for a long while);"Ain't That A Shame" (one of those that's alternatingly heavy and soft at times); "Break Your Heart" (Brian Fallon sings you a forlorn lullaby); "Dark Places" (a full, sweeping sound following the murky intro; easily could have fit on American Slang or Handwritten); "Mama's Boys," "Sweet Morphine" [deluxe edition] (wait, is that an acoustic guitar on full-band numbers? the western-sounding motifs on these back-to-back numbers are unique for the band, for although Fallon has scattered a handful of solo acoustic tracks across previous albums, the full band format is usually reserved for electric-only instrumentation); "Halloween" (highly-punctuated, a different take on the typical Halloween song as a love long)  
Meh: "Stay Vicious" (what is this, a Staind song? those layers of flat crunch don't convey the band's talent very well, although the shimmer of the pre-chorus and chorus are a welcome contrast);  "Selected Poems" (the verses are a little too hazy and meandering for this outfit, which makes the blast of the chorus a little too jarring)

Jenny Lewis
New Release: The Voyager
Release Date: July 29, 2014
Record Label: Warner Bros. Records
Sounds Like: Rilo Kiley (NMT), Neko Case (NMT), Eisley (NMT)
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.

Last year, I reviewed what is likely the last batch of material released by the indie rock outfit Rilo Kiley, their B-sides and rarities archives collection, RKives. One of the primary reasons the four-piece unit from L.A. will probably not deliver any new material is the emergence of frontwoman Jenny Lewis' solo career. Like the work of The New Pornographers' (NMT) Neko Case, Lewis' solo material focuses more on country and Americana roots influences divorced from most of the indie rock power for which their affiliated bands are known. Lewis' crafty songwriting and lyricism occasionally geared to make her audience uncomfortable translate well from her Rilo Kiley work, while the presence of A-list producers Ryan Adams and Beck speak to how well her talent is regarded in the indie-rock industry. My main gripe with the overall 10-track effort is the preponderance of mid-tempo numbers, as the bulk of her Rilo Kikey effectively demonstrated the quality and power of her voice on uptempo tracks. 

Come for: "Just One Of The Guys" (Lewis' tonal counterpoint to Case's own "Man" leans heavily on alt-county veneer; check out its star-studded video)
Stay for: "Aloha & The Three Johns" (easily the most accessible track on the record; witty but not too clever in the tale of three guys named John on a Hawaiian vacation; the rhyming of "cava" and "farther" in the outro isn't my favorite of Lewis' writing ever, though)
You'll be surprised by: "The New You" (the record's lyrical centerpiece, which manages to reference both 9/11 and Metallica without coming across as heavy-handed)
Solid efforts: "Head Underwater" (good bounciness, if not a tad too poppy and the lyrics are a bit self-help-y at times); "She's Not Me" (if Lewis had been drafted into The Eagles for The Long Run album, she would have contributed this song; the strings point to late-70's disco-pop); "Slippery Slopes" (the slide guitar that accompanies Lewis' vocal melody during the verses is a nice touch, otherwise a good deal of alt-rock crunch; references to California's drug culture); "Late Bloomer" (this is one of those Lewis numbers – like many from the Rilo Kiley era – that could or could not be semi-autobiographical; the downbeat anti-chorus is notable in contrast to the major-chord, narrative verses); "Love U Fovever" (some 80s-style girl pop-rock; not sure how tongue-in-cheek this is intended to be); "The Voyager" (the title track is better than most album closing efforts, with Lewis' self-harmonizing and simple acoustic strumming paired with complex, but unobtrusive background instrumentation)
Meh: "You Can't Outrun 'Em" (it's not all that bad, but not a ton of depth to this outlaw quasi-ballad and the desert surrealist instrumental bridge doesn't appeal all that much to me)

P.S. Speaking of The New Pornographers and Neko Case, stay tuned next week for a review of the indie supergroup's latest release, Brill Bruisers.  

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