Thursday, April 03, 2008

Finding New in the Old: Three Reviews

I picked up three records Tuesday, and it took me three days to listen to them all the way through. The one thing in common all three records have is that they find both their successes and troubles from a new take on something old. Sure, all music does this in some way, but these records demonstrate this tendancy better than most with both positive and negative results.

She & Him - Volume One
One Hundred Fifty-Eight Words: M Ward may have found his female counterpart in actress/singer Zooey Deschanel as the two collaborate on Volume One under the name She & Him (sic). The record is full of the dreamy crooning often found on M Ward records...it's just that he's not singing. Deschanel is surprising as a singer. One learns over time that actors make terrible records and are mediocre-at-best musicians (Bruce Willis, Juliette Lewis, Madonna, etc.) Luckily, Deschanel's performance contains the echoes of Patsy Cline and rivals Neko Case for her angelic delivery.

Like all of his records, Ward produces music that reminds us of early sixties pop and old-school country - the way it was supposed to be. I've always found his music to have a retro flavor and Volume does little to change my mind. His production technique and subject matter are developing into a calling card for M Ward. It was good to hear this style come through Deschanel's lovely pipes.

The one song that makes it worth $17.95: "Sentimental Heart"

Pitchfork Says: 7.4

The Black Keys - Attack & Release
One Hundred Nineteen Words: This collaboration between The Black Keys and Danger Mouse was supposed to involve Ik Turner, but when the septum-less wife-beater died, all that was left were the Keys and Danger Mouse. The Black Keys needed a jolt as their sound has grown tired. Where fellow blues revivalists The White Stripes have diversified their sound over the past few years, The Black Keys seem to perpetually make the same blues record over and over. Danger Mouse, normally known for his hip hop production, adds subtle touches to the Keys' recordings to make it sound just different enough that it feels fresh. Additionally, The Black Keys seem to venture from their blues trappings to make their most interesting record in years.

The one song that makes it worth $17.95: "Remember When (Side B)"

Pitchfork Says: 7.5

REM - Accelerate
Two Hundred Five Words: I picked up this record basically because of all the good press REM was getting for "returning to rock". Wait. Hasn't every album since Monster been their "return to rock" or "return to form" or whatever record? The record does rock. It does remind me of 80's REM, pre-"Shiny Happy People" REM. Is it something that blows me away? No. Is it Murmur-Redux? No. Is it even Up? No, thankfully. Is that fair? Yes, it's REM.

REM mine their youth for driving songs with a conscience and some fine harmonies, but they don't blow your mind with Accelerate. Of course, maybe they don't have to. Isn't it good enough that they just keep making quality music? (Should I stop reviewing the record with questions?)

REM are what they are and I'm OK with that. The songs at least sound like the band that opened me up to a lot of possibilities when I was in high school. This record isn't nearly as contrived or dated like Monster or Up, but it does fall flat in some parts. What makes it a worthwhile record is the sense that craftsmanship has returned to their songwriting, a craftsmanship missing from their material over the past 15 years.

The one song that makes it worth $17.95: "Houston"

Pitchfork Says: 6.7

2 comments:

Lauren Kilberg said...

I have been eagerly awaiting the She&Him release and I'm not even sure why. I like M. Ward's music but I don't love it. Truthfully, I tired of his last record awfully quickly. Admittedly, I do love Zooey Deschanel, as an actress.

If either of them were releasing a record without the other, I wouldn't care. But something about them together has spiked my interest. Thanks for the review, I'm looking forward to listening to it.

Kate said...

Crazy, Brother! I just bought She & Him and the Black Keys Saturday! Well, actually I traded for them at Used Kid's because that Bright Eyes box set (and other stuff) scored me a nice trade amount...and $20 extra in me pocket. I will say, however, I hate the cover of "Sweet Chariot", it just seems pretentious. Oh, and Charlotte Gainsbourg put out a heck of an album last year and some people consider her an actress instead of a singer but I think she was a singer first.

Oh and I really like the first song on the Black Keys album...can't think of the name.

I'm not sure I would have $17.95 for either of them, though. Where are you buying your overpriced music?