|
|
Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
  • Album reviews: Recent & Recommended for April

    • email print
      Comment
  • Reviews of recommended new releases from Life in a Blender, Eden Brent, Kristin Mueller and Leland Sundries.
    Life in a Blender, “We Already Have Birds That Sing” (Fang Records)
    This NYC-based “chamber pop” band is aptly named: Their sound seems to blend vestiges of acts as diverse as Tom Waits, Cake, They Might Be Giants, Mojo Nixon and quite possibly Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. If that sounds like an odd mix, you’re right -- but darned if it doesn’t work, as both eclectic oddball rock and winking satire.
    The best tracks are the ones where bandleader Don Rauf affects an off-kilter growl that suits the offbeat material. Among these are “Tongue-Cut Sparrow,” a seedy story of a 1950s burlesque dancer that Rauf says mirrors the band’s own 25-year career, and “Shards,” a Talking Heads-style tour through a recluse’s apartment: “The pencil shavings, the sourballs, the paper clip dispenser … They cheer me up,” he declares to swinging ska horns.
    Songs about Frankenstein (“Frankenstein Cannot Be Stopped”), Cape Cod romance (“Falmouth”) and setting out to sea in a leaky boat (“To Sea in a Sieve”) are equally quirky and all oddly moving.
    LISTEN TO: “Good Answer,” a shouting smackdown of pop-culture conformity.
    Eden Brent, “Jigsaw Heart” (Yellow Dog Records)
    Eden Brent remains something of a small miracle, mixing traditional blues into a satisfying gumbo of Mississippi boogie-woogie piano, soulful Americana and Ella-esque jazz swagger. Her last album, 2010’s “Ain’t Got No Troubles,” was darn near perfect, and she continues to roll on her latest release -- “Jigsaw Heart” is equal parts rollicking celebration and melancholy musing, without a clunker in the bunch.
    Brent’s softer side is especially strong on this disc; the slow, sad album opener “Better This Way” beautifully captures the final throes of a doomed love affair, and the title track drips with a hard-nosed, bluesy realism about the challenges of gathering up “the scattered pieces” of a new partner’s heart. But the album has plenty of winking fun too -- “Let’s Go Ahead and Fall In Love” shows that Brent never met an innuendo she didn’t like (spackling? really?), and “Locomotive” chugs along with buoyant verve.
    LISTEN TO: “Opportunity,” a sultry Joan Armatrading cover.
    Kristin Mueller, “Deserts & Long Trails” (bandcamp.com)
    Much of “Deserts” seems to take place in that drowsy limbo between sleep and awake -- there’s an echoey vibe that can be hypnotic but also surreal, and not a little bit eerie. Mueller’s tremulous vocals, meanwhile, recall Stevie Nicks at her witchiest. Buoyed by layered harmonies, twinkling keyboards and intertwining strings and banjos, it’s a moody masterpiece.
    The album’s smoky charms are its greatest strength; on “Old Records,” Mueller’s purr evokes the din of nostalgia and the weight of time’s passing, and lilting album closer “Forgiveness” betrays a melancholy sweetness. Not that Mueller, a drummer by trade, can’t turn things up when she wants to -- “Holy Bastard” has a slow build before the horns and guitars kick in at the halfway mark, and Mueller lets loose with a fiery, Grace Potter-like verve.
    Page 2 of 2 - LISTEN TO: “Radio,” stirring electro-folk with an alternative ’90s feel.
    Leland Sundries, “Live at the Creamery” (L'Echiquier Records)
    We’re still waiting for a full-length album, but until then this six-track live set -- well, eight tracks if you include bandleader Nick Loss-Eaton’s between-song comic monologues -- makes for a fine placeholder. It helps that it kicks off with the stomping new track “Maps of the West,” which stands among their best. The other songs, mostly culled from their two EPs, provide a good showcase for the Brooklyn band’s literate, steam-punky alterna-folk.
    In particular, “Airstream Transmission” offers a gruffer, even moodier take on the studio version from 2012’s “The Foundry,” owing primarily to Loss-Eaton’s laconic Lou Reed-by-way-of-Leonard Cohen drawl and downright spooky harmonica. And “Roller Derby Queen,” a live version of the band’s vinyl single from that same year, is raw rockabilly that suggests Leland Sundries hasn’t even yet begun to swing.
    LISTEN TO: “Maps of the West,” a harmonica- and banjo-laden road song.
    Peter Chianca is editor in chief of Gatehouse Media New England's north-of-Boston newspapers and websites. Visit him at Pete's Pop Culture, Parenting & Pets Blog.

        calendar