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Monday, December 24, 2007

JON AUER
Songs from the Year of Our Demise
Pattern 25

After the successful Posies comeback that was Every Kind of Light, Jon Auer releases his very first full length solo album. After the high of Light, Auer has decided to make his solo statement with a come down album.
The opening “Six Feet Under” sets the tone for this somewhat somber collection that obsesses over the end of love and life. Presumably inspired by the television series of the same name, this song possesses a slight operatic stance wrapped up in Auer’s trademarked pop-rock trappings as he sings –
The rest of Songs from the Year of Our Demise shares this reflective atmosphere. Not that the songs are downers, by any means, as Auer imbues his recognizable pop savvy prowess into this rather grave subject matter.
No shiny Beach Boys pastiches or Kinks-like rave-ups this time round, as tracks like “Bottom of the Bottle” with its wistful power and helpless plea for a second chance, “Four Letter Word” with its incongruent goose-stepping and its visceral bitching, “Angelita,” a forlorn love song with its sense of regret, “You Used to Drive Me Around” with wailing violins announcing the unfortunate death of a relationship, ‘Song Noir” with its downbeat naivety and the Big Star evoking “Cemetery Song” with its sad ruminations of the demise of a loved one.
I guess you could call this find solo debut a mature work, right off the bat. Of course, Auer is not new to the game but Songs from the Year of Our Demise confirms the depth of Auer’s compositional gifts. Certainly highly personal, Auer brings his listener on a journey through the heartbreaks that so often litter the path that is life.
Much to consider and to reflect upon here and ultimately, yes to celebrate and savor. A
ROBYN HITCHCOCK & THE VENUS 3
Olè Tarantula
(Yep Roc)

By now, if you’re a regular visitor to the Power of Pop, you’d realize that one of the feathers in my rock journo cap was interviewing Robyn Hitchcock over the phone, back when he was still with Warners, promoting Moss Elixir (1996). During the course of the interview, Robyn appeared to have given up somewhat on the rock music he had been writing and performing for the last decade or so (with the Egyptians) – which shocked me, cos I’d loved them all! And wanted to do more folky acoustic stuff.
That said, the next couple of albums Robyn delivered were full rock band affairs viz. Jewels For Sophia (1999) & A Star For Bram (2000). In between the two, he left Warners, released a couple of low-key acoustic folk albums independently viz. Robyn Sings (2002) & Luxor (2003), not to mention a Soft Boys reunion in Nextdoorland.
2004 witnessed Robyn surprisingly signed with vaunted indie label Yep Roc and Spooked emerged, a country folk-blues collaboration with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
As great as these releases were, there was a gnawing feeling amongst Robyn watchers that a return to the psychedelic folk rock blues for which Robyn is legendary was around the corner. Well, here it is!
With the likes of Peter Buck (REM), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows), Bill Rieflin (Ministry) – all of whom also serve in The Minus Five – together with Kimberley Rew & Morris Windsor (Soft Boys), Ian McLagan (Faces) and Sean Nelson (Harvey Danger) on board, Robyn has seen fit to fully embrace his musical history – every facet – to produce a collection of songs that may just be his strongest since Perspex Island and Respect.
So is Olè Tarantula the album rabid Robyn fans (like meself) have been waiting for? Most definitely! Savour the psychedelic rave-ups (“Adventure Rocket Ship”), the dynamic pop wonders (“Underground Sun” & “’Cause It’s Love (Saint Parallelogram)” – co-written with Andy Partridge), sleek & smooth oddities (“Museum of Sex,” “Red Locust Frenzy” & “The Authority Box”) and rustic Dylanesque folk-rock (“Belltown Rumble,” “(A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs,” the title track & “NY Doll” – a tribute to the late Arthur Kane).
Lyrically, Olè Tarantula finds Robyn broaching his usual topics – love, sex, strange insects (or even arachnids) and his own acute observations on life at large.Personally, I want to thank Robyn (& Venus 3) for giving us fan boys what we’ve been waiting for – psychedelic folk rock blues – nobody does it better! A+
YO LA TENGO
I Am Not Afraid And I Will Beat Your Ass
(Matador)

Regular visitors to the Power of Pop will be aware that eclecticism is a prized trait. I simply adore albums that jump from genre to genre from track to track, and sometimes within the track itself! Guess I love it when recording artists go out of their way to confound and surprise expectations.
So, based on this preference alone, this glorious smorgasbord of sounds and styles from those indie pop stalwarts Yo La Tengo becomes a surefire favorite around PoP central and a strong contender for album of the year.
These 15 tracks of unnerving brilliance and uncompromising quality deserve every possible accolade. With songs ranging from psychedelic freak-outs (the bookending “Pass the Hatchet, I’m Goodkind” and “The Story of Yo La Tango”), Kinky musichall (the Decemberists-channeling “Beanbag Chair”), chilling baroque pop (“I Feel Like Going Home” & “Black Flowers”), bossa nova ditties (the Todd Rundren-evoking “Mr. Tough”), 12-stringed Rickenbacker-tinged folk rock (“The Race Is On Again”), offbeat oddities (“The Room Got Heavy”), lounge pop (“Sometimes I Don’t Get You” & “Song For Mahlia”), impressionistic ambient (“Daphnia”), driving power pop (“I Should Have Known Better”), pub rock (“Watch Out For Me Ronnie”), alt-country (“The Weakest Part”) & psych-garage (“Point and Shoot”).
Whew!
Perhaps the album should have been titled The History of Rock but that would have been too obvious for a band as contrary as Yo La Tengo. This is an astounding achievement, one that will have pop-rock lovers hypnotized for years to come. A+
PERNICE BROTHERS
Live a Little
(Ashmont)

Every two years or so, the Pernice Brothers deliver yet another mini-classic that promises to enthrall serious pop-rock enthusiasts everywhere. Like clockwork, you could almost bet your mortgage on the consistency of Joe Pernice and co.
Unlike its predecessor, Discover a Lovelier You, Live a Little eschews the (forced and trendy) allusions to the 80s new wave (basically New Order) and marks a welcome return to pop classicism.
That said, the album does take a little time to get going with “Zero Refills” – the fourth track – registering as one of the best songs to come out of Joe Pernice’s fecund creativity as it melds Brian Wilson keyboards, 70s pop-rock guitar histrionics and Hall & Oates soulful strings.
“Microscopic View” offers a backward glimpse at a chamber pop innocence that announced the arrival of the Pernice Brothers’ debut, Overcome by Happiness, “How Can I Compare” continues in this orchestral vein, with the rustic romanticism of Alex Chilton thrown in for good measure and the spellbinding “High As A Kite” with its Spectoresque majesty and hints of 60s Bee Gees, heightening its beauty.
Elsewhere, the breezy folk-rock simplicity of “Somerville,” “PCH One,” “Conscience Clean (I Went To Spain”) and “Lightheaded” all suggest the echo of Teenage Fanclub, as Beatlesque melodies blend with Big Star melancholic vulnerability.
Which leaves us with the closing ballad – “Grudge Fuck (2006)” – with the choral lyrics borrowed from classic Bread songs viz. “Make It With You”& “Everything I Own” (yes, Joe, I noticed) – as the singer pleads for one last roll in the hay, for the road, so to speak. Isn’t that what the best pop ballads have been about, from time memorial?
Whilst not rising fully to the early Pernice Brothers albums or even Chappaquiddick Skyline, Live a Little comes pretty close to reminding all pop fans of the immense talent that is Joe Pernice. A
BEE GEES
The Studio Albums 1967-1968
(Rhino)

I love the Bee Gees! They were my number two band after the Beatles when I was a teenager and their songs were frequently sung whenever an acoustic guitar was present. Unfortunately, in this day and age, because of their mega-success in the late 70s with their disco phase, the Bee Gees have a bad rep and have lost almost all credibility with so-called serious rock listeners.
So this six disc boxed set collecting the first proper Bee Gees albums (discounting the earlier Aussie releases) is an absolute delight and hopefully should go a long way of restoring the Bee Gees to the status they richly deserve.
Basically covering Bee Gees First and Horizontal (both released in 1967!) and Idea, each album set compiles stereo and mono mixes of the original records and a disc that features singles, outtakes and demos.
Those who recall the Bee Gees as a chart band in the late 60s would not doubt be familiar with such classics as “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” “To Love Somebody,” “I Can See Nobody” (off First), “World,” “Massachusetts,” (off Horizontal), “Let There Be Love,” “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” and “I Started A Joke” (off Idea).
But the real significance behind this box set is the re-discovery of the Bee Gees as the archetype chamber pop, of which modern proponents include Pernice Brothers, Andrew, Cardinal, Divine Comedy etc.
In that respect, songs like “Turn of the Century,” “Cucumber Castle,” “And the Sun Will Shine,” “Really and Sincerely,” “In the Summer of His Years,” “The Singer Sang His Song” and so on, certainly define the genre like not many other similar acts can.
One caveat though, why the necessity of including the mono album tracks as well, seems like too much filler to me.
That said, Studio Albums is essential – not only for Bee Gees fans – but for every student of this very special era of pop music.
With the understanding that the entire back catalogue of the Bee Gees will be getting the Rhino box treatment, it looks like it is going to be an exciting couple of years for Bee Gees fans and music lovers everywhere. A+
JOANNA NEWSOM
Ys
(Drag City)

Why is it, when folks are discussing the relative merits of the music of Joanna Newsom, the debate (and it will turn into a debate) invariably will center on her rather unique vocals?
In my humble opinion, she has a special voice and whilst it is true that it has certain affinity with the likes of Kate Bush. Bjork and Tori Amos, this quality sets her apart from the scores of female singers out there. Especially the way she squeaks (yes, squeaks) before she emphasizes a word or emotion. Amazing!
More than that, of course!
I mean, and the fact that she utilizes the harp as her main instrument and employs delightful, wondrous ornate and orchestral music to frame her whimsical and graphic lyrics.
“The meadowlark and the chim-choo-ree and the sparrow/Set to the sky in a flying spree, for the sport over the pharaoh/A little while later the Pharisees dragged comb through the meadow/Do you remember what they called up to you and me, in our window?”
These are the words that begin the opening “Emily” and if anyone out there in cyberspace has any idea what Joanna is singing about, please let me know. Don’t matter to me as the lush strings and that voice combine to make this 12-minute epic beauty a pleasure throughout.
This 55-minute album contains only five songs but each track is an adventure buoyed by Newsom’s ambition, the elaborate arrangements of Van Dyke Parks and the symbiotic production of Steve Albini/Jim O’Rourke.
Not your typical pop fare by any means, Joanna – together with likeminded artists like Sufjan Stevens and Daniel Smith – forms an intriguing axis of what may be loosely terms as neu psych-folk where old-world patterns are invaded by modern day sensibility.
Thoroughly enlightening, Ys is proof that pop and rock music isn’t dead, it continues to evolve and I am certain that Joanna Newsom will be at the forefront. A+
BOB DYLAN
Modern Times
(Columbia)

Modern Times, Bob Dylan’s 31st record, has been a critical and commercial success. Feted by reviewers worldwide and well-received by consumers (the album debuted at pole position on the Billboard Album Charts), Modern Times may be viewed as the third part of Dylan’s resurgent trilogy of albums which also includes 1997’s Time Out of Mind and 2001’s Love and Theft.
Comparisons to Dylan’s classic mid-60s hat-trick of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde abound but to do so, in my estimation, is unfair, considering the world and Dylan have changed so much in the intervening forty years.
At 65, Dylan has seen and done it all, musically, and definitely the last three albums are more reflective especially about his own mortality and on Modern Times, the music is less visceral and less melancholic with one eye firmly focused on God.
“Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king/I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing,” he declares (and vows) on the rock and roll ditty that is “Thunder on the Mountain.” He recalls the opening verses of Genesis on “Spirit on the Water.”
Dylan expounds on the Christian life on the resplendent “Nettie Moore” where Dylan asserts that “Today I'll stand in faith and raise/The voice of praise/The sun is strong, I'm standing in the light/I wish to God that it were night” and the heartfelt “Ain’t Talkin’” where Dylan states “They say prayer has the power to heal/So pray for me, mother/In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell/I am a-tryin' to love my neighbor and do good unto others.”
Interspersed with these religious overtones, Dylan touches on his favourite subjects – evil women, evil authorities and the evil world in general. Whether the personas described in these ten tracks express Dylan’s intimate thoughts can only be the subject of speculation and argument amongst Dylanologists. Suffice to say that this is a pleasing album that Dylan fans will enjoy. Nothing particularly ground-breaking (no one expects that surely) but it is comforting to know that Dylan still has sufficient inspiration in his heart, mind and soul to deliver a work that intrigues, provokes and yes, reveals. A
DAVID MEAD
Tangerine
(Tallulah)
www.davidmead.com

It has taken me ages to review this wonderful album. Here I am on New Year’s Day and grooving to the cool rhythms, jiving to the gorgeous tunes and overall being blown way by the sheer pop power of the creative juices of David Mead (and co-producer Brad Jones – when’s the next solo album coming?).
I mean how can any card-carrying member of the pop underground resist the charms of the funky “Chatterbox,” the elegiac “The Trouble with Harry,” the moving “Reminded #1,” the jazz balladic “Hunting Season,” the disco-reviving “Hallelujah, I Was Wrong” and so on?
To put it simply, if you like your pop music dense and textured, erudite and intelligent, reflecting the melodic influences of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach and Billy Joel, then Tangerine is the album you need to procure at all cost. Now. A
RODDY FRAME
Western Skies
(Redemption)

The singer-songwriter genre remains as vital in the 2000s as it was when it first emerged in full flower in the early 70s. Case in point – Scotsman Roddy Frame who dropped his better known ‘Aztec Camera’ moniker a decade ago to trade under his own name.
Frame appears on the sleeve of his new album, lines on his slightly weathered face as he approaches his mid-40s, no longer the fresh-faced boy that took the UK pop scene by storm in the 80s. However, his talents remain firmly intact on this, his third official solo album.
With his virtuoso guitar picking, Spanish flamenco leanings and strong pop mellifluence, Frame comes across as a very Euro-centric Lindsey Buckingham, which is an intriguing prospect!
Some may complain that the music on Western Skies is effectively AOR and too mellow for artistic significance. All of which is rubbish of course. Sure, the instrumentation is spare, consisting as it does purely of Frame on guitar/voice backed by the basic foundation of Jeremy Stacey on drums and Mark Neary on upright bass. But the songs are mature, erudite and resonating.
On “She Wolf” performs the role of country-blues troubadour with intense conviction, as Frame sings – “The rhymes and drones of the first real big blues boom/Shake the cones and fill the room/Blind and alone it hides and licks its wounds/Haunts the city, howls at the moon/She wolf, birthing inside of me/Cold rain, never be the same again.”
Then there’s the superb commentary of “Rock God” – “Hippy glam intruder crept past the towers where children slept/And scattered stardust trails between the blocks/Clashing swords in city streets/To a double drummers' beat/As on the corner lovers meet/And kiss just as the power stops, beneath the chemist's frozen clock” as engaging a description of the 70s rock phenomena as any.
Finally, on “Dry Land” Frame reminiscences on his past journeys and regrets his current dryness – “Going through my treasure chest of memories I've stored/I found some eight by tens of the band all looking bored/But the bar was amazing/Two types of chocolate and raisins/If life could taste that good again/I swear I'd never complain.”
Personally, I abandoned Aztec Camera after the magnificent Knife, when Frame eschewed the folk-rock sound for something more akin to American R&B, thus it is refreshing to hear Frame return to his ‘roots’ – especially on the lovely breezy final track, “Portastudio” as Frame warbles “everything’s changed/nothing has changed.”
Isn’t that always the case? A
DON MCGLASHAN
Warm Hand
(Arch Hill)
http://www.donmcglashan.com/

Best known for his work with seminal New Zealand band the Mutton Birds, singer-songwriter McGlashan finally delivers his debut solo album. A record of shimmering guitars, deep instrumentation and thoughtful lyricism, Warm Hand is a potent statement of artistic intent.
With music drawn from various sources, from the Beatles, Neil Young and 70s Californian rock, Pink Floyd, sophisticated 80s jazz-pop, early 90s British shoe gazers, film scores, McGlashan and his crack band provide a wondrously diverse musical palette from which McGlashan concocts his wide-eyed stories and tall tales.
The opening “This Is London” is a great beginning as it recalls Let It Be-era Beatles – with its shining chorus, as McGlashan pays tribute to “the city of his birth.” “Toy Factory Fire” is exactly that, a tragic country ballad that remembers the Kader Toy Factory fire as McGlashan intones, “And the familes from the countryside come to take their daughters back.”
The rest of Warm Hand maintains this quality of combining heartfelt and pointed lyrics with equally emotional soundtracks.
The driving and breezy “Harbour Bridge” describes a prominent landmark in colourful language – “Why are you so gray?”, the ominous “Courier” details the experience of a drug smuggler, the epic “Miracle Sun” exults the dolphin & the melancholic “Queen of the Night” weaves the account of a ship’s carpenter whose idyll time in paradise has come to a close.
Fans of the resurgent singer-songwriter genre must add Warm Hand to their burgeoning collection. A
THE HOLD STEADY
Boys and Girls in America
(Vagrant)

How is possible to listen to the Hold Steady and not think of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band? Even though the Hold Steady is signed to Vagrant, a noted Emo label, the raucous bar-rock that the Hold Steady delivers is nothing less than unabashed 70s rock! Especially with the sound of the rock piano (shares of Roy Bittan) and the occasional accordian (not an Emo instrument!).
Like Springsteen, singer-songwriter Craig Finn writes vivid character studies except that Finn’s focus is firmly on kids who seem to have nothing else to do but drink, party, do drugs and get laid. And intriguingly, Finn peppers his song with odd religious references.
“Lost in fog and love and faithless fear/I've had kisses that make Judas seem sincere” from “Citrus” ostensibly about alcohol and “then last night she said words alone never could save us/and then last night she cried when she told us about Jesus” from “First Night” make the point.
With three albums in as many years under their collective belts, the guys in the Hold Steady certainly have a handle on their music and their audience. Should not be long before Craig Finn and the Hold Steady become rock stars like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. If there’s any justice left in this cold world, that is. A
LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM
Under the Skin
(Reprise)

A man and his lone guitar. For his fourth solo album, Buckingham has decided to eschew a backing band and let his considerable guitar skills and his voice flesh out his dreamy personal songs.
Since this is Lindsey Buckingham we are discussing, the eleven songs on Under the Skin are skillfully embellished with layers of textured vocals and highly deft guitar work. The man is obviously at the top of his game and despite the austere presentation, each track rings round with Buckingham’s customary attention to detail and artistic flourishes.
And just because the main instrument is an acoustic guitar does not necessarily mean that the mood is folky. Take the opening “Not Too Late” with its much quoted “Reading the paper saw a review/Said I was a visionary, but nobody knew/Now that’s been a problem/Feeling unseen/Just like I’m living somebody’s dream” as Buckingham lays bare his soul in visceral tones as the distorted vocals spit out his confusion, “What am I doing anyway/Telling myself it’s not too late.”
Here is a prominent member of one of the best-selling rock bands of all time (in his late 50s, mind), confessing his dilemma of not being able to stand out on his own – apart from his identity as the guitarist of Fleetwood Mac. Intriguing.
The rest of Under the Skin adopts this confessional tone but emotions get less frayed and melancholy and the music lightens up considerably the longer the album plays. The warm country tune “Down On Rodeo” even features Mick Fleetwood & John McVie (and naturally sounds like a Fleetwood Mac song), the pensive “Someone’s Gotta Change Your Mind” and the gorgeous breezy “Flying Down Juniper” all make for a nice resolution to this significant work.
Buckingham has promised a more conventional rock album ‘soon’ – we hope it certainly does not take another 14 years! In the meantime, savour the wonders and joys of Under the Skin. A+
GRAM PARSONS
Fallen Angel DVD
(Warner Music Vision)

One of the best rock DVDs of 2006 was this loving documentary of the life of Gram Parsons. Directed by Gandulf Henning, it’s the first ever film about Parsons and I cannot imagine how it will ever be surpassed.
Despite the lack of video interviews with Parsons himself and the paucity of any video records of Parsons, period, Henning has done a tremendous job of fleshing out the man that was Parsons mainly through the words, facial expressions and body language (and tears) of family members, friends and ex-band colleagues.
Musically, of course, Parsons was a pioneer and a trail-blazer in the country-rock arena and Fallen Angel gives this angle its due but it’s Parsons, the person that touched individual lives (positively or negatively) that gets the most focus here.
In particular, regarding Parsons’ untimely death and the strange circumstances that followed i.e. the abduction of his body and subsequent “cremation” in the desert by Phil Kaufman. Juxtaposing Kaufman’s account of the deed and the reactions of Parsons’ family members, Henning provides a hitherto unexplored perspective to the episode and it is hard not to feel the emotions of Parsons’ family members - even after more than 30 years. Well, I cried.
Also illuminating are the reminiscences of ex-band colleagues like Chris Hillman, Bernie Leadon, Chris Etheridge and Sneeky Pete Kleinow who, whilst marveling at Parsons’ talent, were appalled by Parson’s self-destructive tendencies. Fallen Angel is a great achievement by director Henning. He gives Parsons due credit and tribute for his contributions to rock music but never once, does he glorify or romanticize Parsons’ addictions and ultimate demise.
Highly recommended. A+
GARFIELDS BIRTHDAY
Deaf in Venice EP
(Pink Hedgehog)

Part of the fun of running your own reviews site is being able to showcase lesser known music you personally um… dig.
Pink Hedgehog Records has been supporting Power of Pop for years now with regular packages of great power pop every now and then.
The man behind Pink Hedgehog – Simon Felton – is the same person behind Garfields Birthday and like Jeremy Morris (of Jam Recordings) favors the Beatles-Byrds jangle folk pop that conquered the planet in the mid-60s – now more than 40 years ago. Imagine that…
So I hope you will forgive me if I give this spanking new Garfields Birthday EP a little more attention that would be normally accorded to three-tracked discs.
“We Know Your Name”- opens with a gorgeous 12-string (Rickenbacker?) guitar and Simon Felton channeling the late Gene Clark. That 60s vibes permeates every aspect of this lively song – from the memorable tune to those McGuinn-Crosby harmony backing vocals. Traces of R.E.M. and Teenage Fanclub abound as well.
“Take A Ride” – a driving catchy ditty – sung by Shane Felton – is similarly 60s-fueled but reminds one of The Kinks with its off-kilter, roughly hewn quality. Relentless in its own way, as the slightly repetitive verse burrows deep into your consciousness. Snatches of psychedelic rock filter through in waves.
“Cocaine Joe” – a little downbeat rocker finds James Laming singing rather low in his vocal range. The song moves ahead of its colleagues bearing strong resemblance to the Paisley Underground scene of the 80s viz. Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate and yes, R.E.M.
A fine sampler for the upcoming new album – “Let Them Eat Cake.”
Can hardly wait. A
ALVA STAR
Down Escalator
(Princess)

John Hermanson is perhaps best known as one half of Storyhill, a folk duo that has achieved minor commercial success – the press release boldly proclaims that Storyhill has sold more than 35,000 CDs. Personally, I am not sure if such a statement is a pro or con in respect of promoting Alva Star. Whatever.
Alva Star is to all intents and purposes, not Storyhill. Alva Star is a rock band, which has already released a solid pop-rock debut in Alligators in the Lobby (2001).
Down Escalator is Alva Star’s sophomore effort and certainly qualifies as an undiscovered gem of 2006. Together with Erik Appelwick, Darren Jackson and Ian Prince, Hermanson has concocted an intelligent work of pop-rock art that also serves as a scathing commentary of the fickle music business.
In that sense, much of Down Escalator bears the strong influence of The Kinks in its delivery and outlook. On tracks like the opening atmospheric “Escalator” where Hermanson complains, “I was confused/And then abused” and the pleasing “Comeback,” Hermanson rather sardonically remarks, “Everyone loves the new sound/And everyone needs a new soundtrack for the record.” Could Hermanson be referring to anyone specifically?
This sense of bitter betrayal (not to mention the shattering of dreams) colours the rest of Down Escalator even as the music gets more polished. “Downsides” is blissful chill-out soul that almost comes across like a lament whilst “Curtain Drops” is a gorgeous soft-rock ballad that is a wistful study of life’s disappointments.
So Down Escalator is a bittersweet pill of sorts, you just have to admire the potency of the melodies and performances but there are times that the melancholy vibe can be a turn off. Not by too much, mind you, to make Down Escalator an essential modern pop-rock purchase. A
THE WALKMEN
A Hundred Miles Off
(Record Collection)

I have been listening to Dylan circa mid-60s recently and came to the Walkmen a little late with their third album, A Hundred Miles Off and all I can hear is more Dylan! To be fair, singer Hamilton Leithauser does not merely mimic Dylan’s rasping larynx but rather uses it as a basic foundation to set off a fireworks of possibilities.
Unlike the previous two Walkmen albums, it’s guitars to the fore on A Hundred Miles Off, with the formerly ubiquitous keyboards now kept to a bare minimum. And the guitars provide a jagged majesty to the songs – a visceral quality that compliments Leithauser’s ragged vocal posturing.
Musically, A Hundred Miles Off comes off like a punky Band with the adrenaline pumped up to the max. I mean, there are no rustic ballads here, and “Tenley-Town” is pure punkabilly. So much of this album is full-on “in the face” that it may be difficult to take for those with genteel sensibilities.
To me, it’s a brilliant kick up the arse for anyone who believes that sixties rock is redundant and irrelevant, it just requires the occasional updating. The Walkmen have done just that with A Hundred Miles Off and the modern rock scene is better off. A