Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bruce Springsteen- Working On A Dream

Rating: 7.2
Released: Jan. 27, 2009

I have come to think of Bruce Springsteen as America's conscience. Think of him as Jiminy Cricket with a bandanna.

There are few constants in this life, save for The Boss and his link to our better instincts.

When thousands of Vietnam vets returned to a lukewarm ovation in America in the 1970s and 1980s, Bruce sang for them (see "Born in the USA").

When Reagan Republicans turned a blind eye to AIDS research because the disease was commonly associated with homosexuality, Bruce sang for them too (see "Streets of Philadelphia").

When scores of Americans prepped for holy war after 9/11, there was Bruce, singing, "Better ask questions before you shoot (see "Lonesome Day")."

When former President George W. Bush made the case for war in Iraq, there was Bruce singing about political slight-of-hand (see "Magic").

And when Republican demagogues threatened to shout down Presidential candidate Barack Obama as a liberal firebrand, Bruce was there to make the case for change.

Of course, the Boss is a legend today not just because he was in the right place at the right time. He is one of America's most enduring songwriters, and few artists can claim to have recorded as brilliantly as Bruce did from 1972 to 1980.

That said, his latest album "Working On A Dream" is Bruce coasting. His lyrics, once sharp and keen, have grown increasingly vague, and his voice, once a harrowing rock and roll battle cry, has deepened and weathered.

Rolling Stone will crown "Working On A Dream" a triumph. Pitchfork will dub it an unmitigated bland failure. As is often the case when overzealous critics look for bold proclamations, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

There are great songs here. Who knew Springsteen was still capable of romantic epics like "Outlaw Pete" and "Working On A Dream?" Both songs are heavy with massive Born To Run guitars, strings and Clarence Clemons' explosive saxophone.

There are intimate gems, like bonus track "The Wrestler." Written for the film of the same title, the sparse, downtrodden tune is perfect for Mickey Rourke's Raging Bull-style epic of an aging fighter.

There are oddities like The Boss gone Tom Waits on bluesy stomper "Good Eye."

And there are sleepers here too. I'm not sure that the cheesy "Queen of The Supermarket," a weird hymn to a grocery store clerk, is going to last in a good way.

But Bruce will last, and when he takes the stage during the Super Bowl halftime show Sunday, it'll be most fitting.

In this time of turmoil, as our economy collapses underneath us, Bruce will sing to the gathered throngs in Tampa to call on our better nature again.

In the meantime, go out and buy this album.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Charlotte Viewpoint

In addition to the blog, the Salmon is now doing work for Charlotte Viewpoint, a fine multimedia publication covering local and national arts and culture.

Check it out. It's a good read. I will hope to post to the Salmon blog with more frequency in the coming weeks. Master's applications are a grueling, time-consuming process.

There are lots of albums to read about. Expect new album reviews for The Boss, Franz Ferdinand and A.C. Newman in the coming days.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Bon Iver- Blood Bank EP

Rating: 7.3
Released: Jan. 20, 2009

Bon Iver makes winter music.

It doesn't matter that Justin Vernon recorded his 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, while holed up in an old, drafty cabin.

The music just sounds like it was made for a blustery evening. Hushed guitars, check. Campfire vocals, check. Singer pining for a woman while the metaphorical wolves bark at the door, double check. I'm feeling chilly already.

It may come as a surprise then that the best track here finds Vernon singing about summer. "Summer comes/to multiply," he sings over a simple, repetitive piano chiming variations on the same note. This tune, titled "Babies," might remind you of LCD Soundsystem's 2007 stunner "All My Friends" without the full-band outro.

The important thing is it thaws any reservations that Bon Iver is going to record the same song over and over.

The first two songs on the four-track release tread the same ground as For Emma, but "Babies" and the a capella "Woods" are the real stunners.

In "Woods," Vernon uses a - GASP! - vocoder to layer his always haunting tenor, stacking vocals one upon another like a dusty Beach Boys tune.

It's a bold trick for a folk star, and it pays off. We might have seen this coming.

Vernon used the device, infamously popularized by hat-wearing geeks like T-Pain, sparingly on his first album. Let's hope he doesn't go Kanye West on it and O.D. in his next set.

EPs can serve a few purposes. Some are merely collections of leftover tracks immediately following a popular album. Others are rough drafts that can give clues on a rising star's direction.

Blood Bank
is likely the second of the two, and it should pacify Bon Iver's bloodthirsty, devoted fans at least until Vernon releases his next full-length.

- SoR

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ryan Adams Not To Retire?

An update on Ryan Adams Retirement Crisis 2009!!!

He's not going to retire.

Here's his most recent post, in its entirety:

"Of course everything i said got taken out of context. as always, i did not say i was quitting i said i was taking a step back…so thanks…..thanks again."


Ryan Adams to Retire?

Bad news if you're a Ryan Adams fan. Maybe.

The prolific singer/songwriter is apparently taking a break from music.

This according to a post on his band blog this morning. Adams has released five albums and an EP since 2005, at least three of which were solid to excellent. That's not a bad ratio in this biz.

But Adams wrote Wednesday that a March 20 show at Atlanta's Fox Theatre will be his "last venture" with his band The Cardinals. Adams said he is "ready for quieter times."

In the lengthy post, Adams also finds time to blast the music media. It seems fair given the snark-tastic tone music writers have taken to the Raleigh songwriter for several years now.

"This is not much of a life, not glamorous," Adams wrote this morning.

It's likely that a slowdown for Adams really means he'll release music at the rate of a normal artist. Who knows? He indicates in his post that he hopes to eventually be in a position to make music again.

Here's hoping that we hear tunes from Adams again. If not, live well.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Animal Collective- Merriwether Post Pavilion

Rating: 9.5
Released: Jan. 6 (vinyl), Jan. 20 (cd)

Question: How do you know when a band has the indie world's ear?
Answer: When the months leading up to an album release are filled with cloak and dagger grabs to get an early copy.
Somebody even hacked into a band member's e-mail and sent fraudulent messages pleading for an Internet leak.
People want this album. They won't be disappointed.
Merriwether Post Pavilion is electrifying.
Animal Collective is one of a handful of bands that gets more beloved every time its members innovate.
Like Wolf Parade, there is more than one savant in this band (see Panda Bear and Avey Tare). The wild thing is these guys actually collaborate.
With 2005's Feels, AC sounded like a Pet Sounds-revival with acoustic guitars. By 2007, the band was making Strawberry Jam: the weirdest pop you've ever heard, which, depending on your ears, might have sounded like the most thrilling pop you've ever heard.
This record should convince everybody that Animal Collective, once dismissed as "freak-folkers" by people who write such things, is one of the best bands in the land.
Merriwether Post Pavilion might not be a superficial grab for record sales, but the Beach Boys vocal acrobatics and MGMT electronics could sell a few.
Less club-friendly than MGMT, Animal Collective washes every second of the tape with sublime noise. If these guys were painters, they'd be impressionists.
Panda Bear takes the lead on this album (good news if you heard his 2007 solo masterpiece Person Pitch), but AC blends its sound into a big melodic soup.
It's hard to pick out one ingredient in a great soup. Same thing applies here. The lyrics have never mattered with this band. Just the sound.
"In the Flowers" is a slow-building stunner. "If I could just leave my body for a night," Avey Tare sings just before the bottom falls out, climaxing in a pulsing keyboard coda.
Other tracks like "Also Frightened" and "Daily Routine" cover the tape in spacey harmonies, tribal hoots and warm vocals like Dennis Wilson's best solo output.
The lyrics have never mattered with this band. Just the sound, and Panda's voice has always bore an uncanny resemblance to Dennis' brilliant bro Brian. The comparisons won't stop here.
The most accessible tracks here, "My Girls" and "Summertime Clothes," might be the real stunners.
Always oddly rhythmic, these are dance tunes disguised as indie rock. Look out MGMT.
There's little stopping AC if it's capable of Merriwether Post Pavilion. This is an astoundingly good record. We're in for a good year if this sets the tone.

- SoR

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hop on Pop- The Salmon's Guide to January Albums You'll Want To Pick Up Soon

With the new year comes new albums. That December dry spell is always the toughest to weather for a certified music fanatic.
Here are the albums I think you should be picking up in January.
I urge everyone to buy the albums. These artists deserve the money.
I have also tacked on the mind-bending album cover for Animal Collective's latest. Check it out. It's moving man! I think I'm going to hurl!
Also, look for my review of the new Collective album this week.

Jan. 6
Animal Collective- Merriwether Post Pavilion (vinyl release)
Burial- DJKicks
King Khan & BBQ Show- Animal Party

Jan. 20
Animal Collective- Merriwether Post Pavilion (CD release)
A.C. Newman (from the New Pornographers)- Get Guilty
Andrew Bird- Noble Beast
Antony and the Johnsons- The Crying Light
Bon Iver- Blood Bank EP
Diplo and Blaqstarr- Get Off
John Frusciante (from Red Hot Chili Peppers)- The Empyrean

Jan. 27
Franz Ferdinand- Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
Bruce Springsteen- Workin' On A Dream
Duncan Sheik- Whisper House
Of Montreal- An Eluardian Instance EP
Of Montreal- Jon Brion Remix EP
RZA- Afro Samurai: The Resurrection

- SoR