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.

444. Ed Kuepper – “Sings His Greatest Hits For You”

From one Antipodean punk-survivor with an enormous back catalogue but little to show in terms of chart success, to another…

Former Saint Ed Kuepper is a much more mainstream artist than kooky Knox, but his output seems to occur outside the ‘industry’ of music in Australia.

It’s hard to understand why when you listen to this 1996 collect of his best tracks from 1992-1995 (I told you he was prolific).  On a musical Venn diagram Ed sits at some intersection of the Go Betweens, Nick Cave and Dave Graney.

He shares a portion of the flair for the slightly twisted or flawed arty pop of Forster and McLellan, the atmospheric darkness of Cave’s less gothic works, and that irritating  pompous vocal styling that Graney overplays.

There are some wonderful patches of vocal pacing and songwriting on this. I’m With You‘s “fogged up car window pane” is Joplin-esque. La Di Doh is catchier than I’d like, and the opener The Way I Made You Feel is what AOR radio stations should be playing:

At times Kuepper isn’t quite the sum of his parts, and this album lacks a blow you away moment. But when The Church, The Triffids and Died Pretty are winning accolades, so should EK.

File under: Not as intriguing as Winnie, or as refreshing as the beer

443. Chris Knox – “Seizure”

I doubt there is a CD in my collection whose purchase and regular playing was so completely prompted by a single song as this effort from one of NZ’s finest songwriters.

Not Given Lightly (the song in question) is one of the most inexplicably moving and engaging tunes etched onto my synapses, and to not own it on CD (I also have it on 7″) would be a crime.

Not Given Lightly is a splendidly raw, catchy and sweet homage to love (and to the associated sexual acts!).  I love that Knox never felt compelled to sweeten the sounds of the track, staying true to his tinny, lo-fi, bedroom recording schtick.

The song is brilliant, and here are two suitably chaotic clips of him playing it live (including some Fauves footage too):

The live versions sum up the spirit of this album perfectly.  Knox often sounds like he’s in the next room, noodling away on some potential work of genius, but with no capacity/desire/urge to hone the output.

But he has an incredible ability to deliver a sufficient kernel of poppiness to keep me listening. Certainly some tracks on here are so transient that you’ll forget you’ve heard them. Voyeur does delight with its falsetto Split Enz-iness, while Rapist is paradoxically the easiest listen on the album.

File under: Play Track 5 on repeat for a day at least

Footnote: Tragically Chris Knox had a stroke in mid-2009 that appears to have left him unable to perform/speak.  He has been honoured with a range of cool tribute events/efforts to raise some cash on his behalf.  This one looks very cool (that’s a hint for anyone looking to buy me a Xmas pressie).

442. Kissing Book – “Lines and Color”

For a period of time I was pretty susceptible to recommendations of unheard acts that were compared to or associated with Melbourne act The Lucksmiths.

This act from Portland, Oregon had toured with said band around the US, and I picked this album as a result (a similar situation lead to my first dalliance with Belle and Sebastian).

It is exactly what you might expect (and what I’d assumed): very softly-softly, sparse tunes.

It is so delicate and twee it almost feels like it’s struggling to be heard over the threatening ambient noise of even a quiet office/loungeroom.

The vocals are slightly warbly and very skinny/cardigan-wearing in tone.  There is an abundance of do-do-do-dos, and the jangly tambourine, treble-dominant guitar lines and lazy bass, yet it never quite nails the catchy, endearing acoustic pop I presume they are searching for.

There are some moments where they do get it pretty right (e.g. Sad City), and they do try to suck up with me by namechecking my hometown (on Melbourne, AU), but all in all this is anemic album unable to sate my appetite for poppy goodness.

File under: Needs more shading…and colour and movement…