Monthly Archives: December 2010

450. Various Artists – “Juno” (Soundtrack)

Ooops, missed another J.

Soundtracks have been consistent under-performers thus far in my reviews. Admittedly many of them have been cast records from musicals (not a big love of mine), and/or retro compilations trying to capture the sound of some era.

This here 2007 release does have one cast performance, several throwback tracks from Buddy Holly, Mott the Hoople and Velvet Underground, and a couple of indie stars covering slightly incongrous classics. But what it manages to create is a perfect companion piece to a film I thoroughly enjoyed.

I presume everyone reading this has seen the teen-pregrancy flick in question.  If you haven’t, head straight to your local vid pirate pronto, confident this will delight even more than Spike’s battle for respect while her belly expanded on the first season of Degrassi Junior High.

The film was all sassy outsiderness and non-Gothic emo-ness, and the song choices reflect this perfectly. Belle & Sebastian fit in perfectly for the sensitive male angle, but it is Kimya Dawson who steals the show in the way that Ellen Page did.

Dawson’s songwriting and delivery are pretty much how you’d think Juno might sound as a singer – all fastpaced, incongruous, hilarious. We picked several tunes from this album for our post-wedding ceremony (and certainly aren’t Robinson Crusoe on that front).

Seeing the stars sing this track still makes me smile:

File under: How soundtracks should be compiled.

449. The Audreys – “Sometimes the Stars”

Before I enter L, I’ll slide back up to A for this recent-ish release.

Ialbum cover sometimes the stars CD Review the audreys delivered gushing reviews of the first two Audrey’s releases (here and there), so was pretty keen to hear this newbie.

This is not an album that is likely to surprise (unless you’ve never heard the band before… and even then the album cover gives some hint to the well-dressed, mature, slick contents therein).

The band has shrunk to just two protagonists – the silky voiced Taasha and fellow stringplucker Tristan, but the sound is still layered and lush.

The vocals are even smokier and honey-like, while the country-stylings aren’t as obvious as they were back on the debut.

As I’ve exclaimed before Taasha really does have a luscious voice, and here it serves as a perfect counterpoint to delicate string arrangements. If anything, this effort brings to mind the work of Martha Wainwright, but with a stronger, less plaintive voice.

The album is much more of a grower than the band’s first two releases, and there isn’t an obvious single or crowdpleaser among the 10 tracks.  I can imagine seeing this performed live in some salubrious lounge-bar, ensconced in a velvet-lined booth supping upon a Godfather.

Unfortunately, this video doesn’t match up with my imagery:

File under: Sorta stellar

That letter’s done ‘K…

I did a much pacier job on the letter K. This letter was overpopulated with impressive works from solo singer-songwriters (of varying vintages), saw a lot of retro rock from very hirsute lads, and featured stinkers from a couple of acts.

Here’s the resultant top 10:

  1. Paul Kelly – “Greatest Hits – Songs from the South Volumes 1 & 2”
  2. Ben Kweller – “Changing Horses”
  3. Carole King – “Tapestry”
  4. Ben Kweller – “Sha Sha”
  5. Kings Of Leon – “Youth and Young Manhood”
  6. Ben Kweller – “Ben Kweller”
  7. K’Naan – “The Dusty Foot Philosopher”
  8. Kaiser Chiefs – “Employment”
  9. Ed Kuepper – “Sings His Greatest Hits For You”
  10. Kings of Leon – “Aha Shake Heartbreak”

Now looking at my singles pile, here’s an act I regret not getting to review:

And, now my customary question: what K albums did I miss that you’d recommend?

448. Ben Kweller – “Changing Horses”

All hail an artist willing to undertake a complete makeover four albums in…

The shift to country-music was not a complete shock, as Kweller has always been one to strap on the acoustic or call for more pedal-steel.

But this album sees him embrace honky-tonk and bluegrass. And what a damn fine hootenanny he throws for us faithful listeners.

BK’s joie de vivre has always been a big chunk of his appeal, and bringing this positive outlook to the country genre is a welcome respite from the ‘my dog died/my truck don’t run’ vibe that weighs down many of the dusty booted balladeers.

This album is chock full of all that is fun and right – trucks, bars, greyhound buses, love going great  – and Kweller seems refreshed and reinvigorated on the songwriting front.

The album opens well with Gypsy Rose, hits hillbilly heights with Fight (that line about aces, faces, 2s and 3s gets me every time), nails Beatlesque skiffle with Sawdust Man, and makes a play for alt-wedding waltz on Things I Like to Do:

What makes this BK’s most satisfying opus (thus far) is that he treats the slower songs with greater care/acumen.  He delivers a track with a chorus perfectly suited for a sitcom about a feisty twenty-something Mary Tyler Moore-type making her way in the big smoke:

File under: BK backed a winner

447. Ben Kweller – “Ben Kweller”

There is a logic to this the third album in Kweller’s discography being the first self-titled effort, as it is a true solo effort (i.e. he plays every instrument).

Not that you can tell, as he is an adept little multi-instrumentalist.

He doesn’t attempt anything different on this release. If anything he bridges the gap between his energetic debut and more restrained second release.

I have a strong preference for his more up-tempo work.  Tunes such as I Don’t Know Why, Run and the biggest keeper Penny on the Train Track are highly competent power-pop.  The first of those three tracks has a couple of nifty little country riffs that hint at a new direction.

The latter gem is Kweller at his best, and after seeing this video today (featuring his grandma) I’m even more impressed:

The slower stuff on here I find much more hit and miss.  His homage to young love (yet another song titled Thirteen) out Ben Lees that other Ben in its naïve enthusiasm. Other tracks such as Magic and Until I Die are very skip-button worthy.

File under: Sweller Kweller


446. Ben Kweller – “On My Way”

Earlier this week I caught a screening of 80s teen-vampire flick ‘Lost Boys’ at a rooftop cinema.

All performances by humans/vampires were laughably bad.  The only passable acting was the malamute who played Nanook.

The three such canines on the cover of this album are almost the best things about it.

Kweller abandons much that was exciting about his debut on this CD.  He slows it all down and gets all earnest singer-songwriter. His vulnerable voice is exposed and the songwriting seems rushed and is just too dull.

He does deliver one keeper in the title track, which manages to sound like he’s ad-libbing a series of variations (folk music style) and has a cool line about karate:

When, some time in the distance future, they produce a double aural implant of Benjamin Kweller Esquire’s greatest hits, I’m thinking that’ll be only song from this album you’ll find.

Perhaps he should have covered this song (and hired the sax player – who reportedly played with Tina Turner in the 80s):

File under: It’s my way, or the highway Benny Boy

445. Ben Kweller – “Sha Sha”

I encountered mop-haired indie-pop wunderkind Ben Kweller when he was the mysterious third amigo in The Bens (alongside Folds and Lee).*

He came across as a nice hybrid of these two and almost every other upbeat, guitar-wielding, power-pop folk-rocker you can imagine.

This debut captures that first experience perfectly.  Ben bashes out eleven happy, slacker-friendly little gems, all guaranteed to have you swaying and jumping and grabbing a tennis racket.

This is Beck without any of the gadgetry, Weezer with no cynicism, the Lemonheads without the opiates.

Ben has a rosy take on the world that is infectious (while not cloying), and an ability to construct songs that seem throwaway but are actually deftly constructed memes you couldn’t ignore if you tried. The pick are Wasted and Ready, Falling, Walk on Me and Commerce, TX:

Anyone think he borrowed a Nirvana riff on this one?

File under: Sha(mbolic but) sha(rp)

*Alas the Bens never delivered their promised longplayer, and the sole EP (which is a ripper) went unreviewed.