Album Reviews

The Deceberists’ The Crane Wife

In the Decemberists’ latest installment of their signature literary pop, indie rock’s most celebrated lexicon chronicles the ever-relevant themes of love, greed and war between the outstretched wings of The Crane Wife. Consistent with the rest of the Decemberists’ oeuvre, Colin Meloy’s latest batch of lyrical fiction is written within an array of theatrical and historical constructs.

Most notable is The Crane Wife’s foray into Far-Eastern literary tradition, as Meloy conceptually frames – and names – the album with an ancient Japanese folkstory. In the story of the Crane Wife, the main character finds an injured crane and nurses it to health, knowing that it would “stand to fly away.” The crane returns one day in the form of a beautiful woman, who becomes the man’s wife and helps him to grow prosperous by selling her homemade tapestries, with the stipulation that the man never sees her weaving them.

“The Crane Wife 1 and 2” is Meloy’s vivid and candid take on the tale’s exposition, full of scenic ornamentation, sung in patient, mid-tempo sobriety. “The Crane Wife 3” is the first track of the album and climax of the tale, in which the man peeks at his beloved wife one moonlit evening, who is once again in crane form and is using her own feathers for thread. Betrayed, she flies away. “Crane Wife 3” captures the man’s shame perfectly in the chorus’s only lyrics, “I will hang my head low,” words that gain poignancy with every repetition. Beginning with three chords played simply by dulcimer and guitar, the song’s tone establishes a retrospective and regretful clarity that pervades much of the rest of the album’s wartime theme.

In “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then),” Meloy duets with Laura Veirs, posing as a Civil War soldier separated from his sweetheart by Appalachian battlefields. The duo breathes soft harmonies between the verses of this hopeful tune, as Meloy promises to one day return “on the breath of the wind.” A different portrait of a soldier, “When The War Came,” propagates a justified greed to the listener, echoing “all the grain of Babylon” in its concluding two-note vamp. The battle cry is sonically reminiscent of tank construction, as the Decemberists, newly armed with electric guitars and lyrics that cry “a terrible autonomy,” seem to bludgeon the listener into submission.

With Meloy’s consistent lyrical invention and progressive, polished instrumentation, The Crane Wife is a rocking addition to the Decemberists catalogue that everyone can – and should – appreciate.
–Stan McConnell

Corrina Repp’s The Absent and the Distant

Corrina Repp is one of those female vocalists you don’t soon forget. The vocals on her new album The Absent and the Distant are reminiscent of Cat Power’s Chan Marshall on Moon Pix – calm, yet ceaselessly attention-inducing. Repp heightens the serenity of her vocals and
emotive lyrics with a great mix of ambient
piano, classical strings and guitar. It’s not all about ambience on this CD however, as many songs capture the spirit of folk and gospel music.

Repp has been pretty much off the mainstream music radar until now, with only a small following in the Portland, Ore. area. But she’s the only full-time musician signed to Caldo Verde Records; it’s obvious someone thinks she has the kind of talent more people should be exposed to. She was recently in town playing a gig at Cowboy Monkey to promote this album and is gaining listeners everywhere she goes. Whether she’ll attain commercial success with her new release or not is debatable, but The Absent and the Distant is definitely worth a listen. The title of the album couldn’t be more fitting, considering the content.

A standout song on the album is “I’ll Walk You Out.” Repp’s heavy lyrics and calming singing style perfectly capture the feeling of this album. The Brian Eno-esque synth pads add to the overall ambience of the piece. It’s less folk-driven than some other songs like “Afloat” but more complex, layered and sedative.

The polished sound of “I’ll Walk You Out” is countered by the rough vocals and simple
guitar melody of “Heavenly Place.” This
song definitely has the feel of homegrown
American folk, a throwback to Repp’s
influences like Neil Simon. The album is
relatively short at only about a half hour
long, but the variety of sounds and
relaxing melodic textures presented on The Absent and the Distant make that half hour
incredibly diverse. Any fan of the singing styles of Chan Marshall, Regina Spektor or even Kim Gordon could take something away from this album.
–Steve Marocitch

Of Montreal’s Sunlandic Twins

This album is so good, I think I’ve listened to it, oh, five times today.

With each album the funky (to say the least) Of Montreal creates, the band’s ability to make you dance, sing along, or whatever you do when you just love a CD, increases. Sunlandic Twins will forever hold a place in your memory with its intense catchiness and, in my opinion, is their best effort to date.

Not only is this album a masterpiece in its own right, but it is a great album to start with for those of you who are new to the whole Of Montreal craze. If you’re anything like me, this album just may make you go out and buy their other nine albums, their T-shirts and their posters.

The first song of the album, “Requiem for O.M.M.2,” instantly captures the listener’s attention with its fun beat and great lyrics. The next few songs give the listener a sense of the band’s signature style – atypical lyrics and incredibly uplifting beats. By the end of the album, if you aren’t hooked to the trip that is Of Montreal, there must be something mentally, emotionally or physically wrong with you. With so many different sounds in each song, its no wonder Of Montreal is able to generate so many fans.
–Caitlin Cremer

Impeccable Blahs’ Say Hi to Your Mom

Eric Elbogen has grown through many creative processes with his saccharine-sounding Say Hi to Your Mom project. His independent ingenuity began in 2002 when he founded Euphobia Records to distribute his own music and recorded his first LP, Discosadness, which was predominantly acoustic. Since then, he has released two more LPs, each receiving moderate critical acclaim, and added keyboardist Jeff Sheinkopf and drummer Chris Egan III to his lo-fi romping. Impeccable Blahs flushes out his band in its finest: weaving a sinister concept album about vampires and disguising it as a carefree indie-pop piece. Melodies are so catchy here that it is very difficult to differentiate between the spook and the spunk.

The record’s wistful opener, “These Fangs,” introduces the tale. It is the least objectionable track with its instantly familiar key chords and gentle strumming, and Elbogen uses its universal appeal to let listeners know that he empathizes: “I don’t mind if you want to hide your fangs, too.”

Elbogen recorded Impeccable Blahs in his own bedroom, and this proves to correspond well with the overall messages of the work. Vampires do not need technology to thrive; they thirst for blood. Elbogen is particularly fond of a jilted lover’s blood, and he states that exactly in “Blah Blah Blah” in a looped chorus over some delicate snare work. His supernatural style is continually evoked; the synth in “Angels and Darlas” could come directly from a slasher flick, while the barely whispered vocals in “Sweet Sweet Heartkiller” seem to be his last words as he is vanquished by the same lover whose blood he earlier drained.

Some key components of vampirism – invisibility, blood and darkness – are also decidedly human in that peoples’ romances often involve these ideas. Elbogen’s twisted lyrics can be applied to any situation in which one has sucked the life out of someone else, and he writes them with such eloquence and evilness that they are hard to ignore.
–Dylan Calewarts

Scissor Sisters’ Ta-Dah

If it were biologically possible for Elton John and Barry Gibb to spawn, the resulting love child would without a doubt be Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears. On the band’s sophomore album Ta-Dah, Shears and company unleash a new batch of songs that force their listeners to ponder whether disco really died in the ’70s.

The album kicks off with the ridiculously catchy “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” which incidentally features Elton John on piano. John simply does what he’s been doing for years, but his piano adds just enough to Shears’ falsetto to create an extremely dance-able track reminiscent of the grooves that once echoed within Studio 54.

“She’s My Man,” despite some questionable lyrics (Try pondering the deeper meaning of “As I lie between these covers/I wanna tell her that I love it/when she chokes me in the/backseat of her riverboat cause/She’s my man.”), is another success. The carefree melody makes the listener want to join in on whatever fun Shears is having … although maybe not the choking stuff.

On “I Can’t Decide,” the Scissor Sisters blend several genres and deliver a great song that features a truly rocking banjo. Similarly, “Lights” and “Ooh” offer some deliciously funky guitar grooves that would do Gibb and his brothers proud.

However, the band’s attempts at slower tunes, “Land of a Thousand Words” and “The Other Side,” fall short. They rely too heavily on eerie synthesizer parts, and the band appears to be taking themselves too seriously on these songs.

The Sisters redeem themselves on “Paul McCartney,” an homage to the former Beatle. While the song sounds nothing like anything with which McCartney would be involved, it’s still catchy. In fact, “catchy” seems to be the word to describe the Scissor Sister’s latest release, and with its unabashed disco sound, Ta-Dah is bound to become America’s newest guilty pleasure.
–Bonnie Stiernberg

Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s The Letting Go

On 1999’s seminal I See A Darkness, Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) created a stark and desolate place where broken dreams where outlined by light emerging from shadow. It was and is the pinnacle of his career as a songwriter, and an album of simply gorgeous melodies that were ironically hopeful despite their blackened outer trappings.

Seven years on Oldham has offered a counterpart to the “darkness” personified on that album’s title track. i>The Letting Go, the “Prince” tells the story of love gained and then lost, orchestrated by emotive strings and subtlety beautiful duets with Dawn McCarthy, who serves as a counterpart to Oldham’s haunting world-weary voice.

On opening track “Love Comes To Me,” Oldham pronounces right away a new sonic approach, with the strings taking center stage before a quiet acoustic melody strums in. But Oldham’s voice remains the perfect compliment to his lyrics, either augmenting the impending dread of his words or questioning the beauty behind them. Thus, this hopeful tune about the start of love automatically foreshadows the theme of the work – an overcoming of loss. So when he sings, “Love comes and all/It’s my hands, my heart, my lips, and that is all,” you don’t know if the tears are welling up out of joy or sadness. And that’s precisely the beauty of his art, and what makes The Letting Go another gem in Oldham’s oeuvre.
–Imran Siddiquee

Leave a Reply