Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Music Reviews: Death Cab For Cutie, My Morning Jacket, & Eddie Vedder

Today we saw albums released by Death Cab For Cutie, My Morning Jacket, & Eddie Vedder so here are my reviews of each. We begin with the winner and champion: Circuital by My Morning Jacket.

My Morning Jacket- Circuital

It’s not often one comes across an album such as Circuital, the most recent production from Kentucky rockers My Morning Jacket, but it’s a glorious thing when it happens as the 10 tracks feel at first listen like a classic album deserving a place in the archives of rock-n-roll. The songs are musically complex, compelling in content and often beautifully melodic with singer Jim James soulful, far-off voice leading the way and stringing the tunes together cohesively.

The title track and first single, “Circuital”, is one of the clear standout tracks as it balances mystical, mellow passages with more assertive, brighter segments reminiscent of fellow southerners The Allman Brothers Band. This is followed by two more stirring, harmonious songs: “The Day Is Coming” which exchanges a lead guitar for a keyboard bringing a more popular music feel and the emotive, gorgeously sung and produced, “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)”. The album then changes gears with “Holdin On To Black Metal” and “First Light” both of which are louder, with a 1970’s inspired sound retaining an impression of a live show. This is followed by another brilliant grouping of songs: the upbeat “You Wanna Freak Out” leading directly into a bluesier “Slow Slow Tune”, followed by “Movin Away” which closes the album with a sorrowful, cinematic, slow motion wave goodbye.

It’s not just the songs themselves, it’s the spirit of the album and it’s insightful, inflective lyrics that really lift Circuital to the level of classics from bands like George Harrison and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.

For: Short&SweetNYC

Eddie Vedder- Ukulele Songs

The ukulele is so hot right now and Eddie Vedder is part of the reason why. Vedder first used this instrument on the his first solo release, 2007’s Into The Wild soundtrack, and now he is following it up with an album that focuses exclusively on the instrument, Ukulele Songs. Whereas the first album leaned toward the triumphant, this one tends to linger in melancholy as Mr. Vedder’s musical exploration leads to an eclectic collection of songs. Despite it’s instrumental focus, both the covers and the original songs range in style, length, and content.

The 16-track album has a number of noteworthy songs such as “Without You,” a great cover of the classic “More Than You Know,” and the first single, “Longing to Belong.” Vedder maintains a sense of playfulness as he includes some very short snippets of music and mess-ups like the eight-second “Hey Fahkah.” He also winds up making some sweet songs sorrowful, like his darker version of “Dream a Little Dream” as well as some sorrowful songs sweet such as the gorgeous “Sleeping by Myself.”

The album also features guests such as Cat Power on “Tonight You Belong to Me” and The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard on a great rendition of the Everly Brothers song “Sleepless Nights.” Overall, the effort comes across as very personal as the Pearl Jam frontman strips down the production and leaves us with a collection of songs that are a balance of both heavy and light hearted.

For: Short&SweetNYC

Death Cab for Cutie- Codes and Keys

Transition abounds throughout the new Death Cab for Cutie album, Codes and Keys; the album focuses on some of the changes the band has been going through as well as marking a change in the band’s sound and approach with a very different and noticeably more positive outlook. Death Cab became well known years ago as the melancholic indie band from Washington with a dark romantic edge but after fourteen years and six albums it’s apparent things have changed.

The album opens with “Home Is a Fire”, a promising track that is reminiscent of singer Ben Gibbard’s side project, The Postal Service, with its quick digital percussive beats. While the Postal Service feel is welcoming, the song, and much of the album, embraces a new level of sonic echoed ambiance which the band has been delving into increasingly over the years. The result is a bit confused, while the song works it does seem to be lacking the emotional potency of what Death Cab has always been known for but it hasn’t managed to find some equivalent musical or emotional elements to give the music power.

This point is true of much of the album which dives deeper into the echoed 80’s pop, spacey sounds often with less success in songs like “Unobstructed Views” and “Underneath the Sycamore”. The irony is that some of the lyricism on the album is the bands finest and manages to salvage songs like “You Are a Tourist”, which is wonderfully written and worthwhile despite its unoriginal sound which brings to mind 80’s radio hits like Eric Johnston’s “Cliffs of Dover”. There are a few other songs on the album that work in a more complete sense such as “Monday Morning” which has a plethora of interesting guitar and synth sounds and is presumably about Gibbard’s new wife, singer and actress Zooey Deschanel of Elf fame as well as “Portable Television” which has a quicker tempo led by upbeat piano chords.

The overall result is confusion in terms of the album with a few good songs for fans and a few more radio friendly tracks for coffee shops and banks. With this transition the band has been going through, the new sound and feel appears to be more of a stopping point and less of a destination for the band, anyway, let’s hope so.

For: Kevchino

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