Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Frames - The Cost (2007)

When you've heard what you consider to be a band's best album, the next album is a tricky thing: it's generally a trend towards either further greatness or "Use Your Illusion" spectacular disappointment. (Hint: it's more often the latter.) And when it's one of your favorite bands that has a "best one yet" moment, there is a lot of anticipation and trepidation when the next album falls.

In my case, The Frames' album Burn the Maps was (IMHO) the most consistent album the band had produced, and their best -- a great mix of their low-key and up-tempo strengths.

Thus, as Ireland's second-favorite sons released The Cost, I was a bit skeptical. When I heard it was significantly more low-key than Burn the Maps, I got worried. But (as the sucker I am), I still bought the album.

This album is, in fact, much more laid back than Burn the Maps, but there's such an intensity to Glen Hanard's performance (lead singer, guitar) backed with such beautiful melodies... well, I start gushing like a little schoolgirl, apparently. Think great lyrics and voice, backed by a charged up folk band (or quieted rock band), with well-placed strings and piano. Just a great, solid, almost Americana sound, with arrangements from sparse to almost orchestral. An all-around great sounding and well-performed album.

This is one of those albums I should not like, but I do. I love it. Absolutely a band at the top of their game -- eight of the ten songs are absolute gems (I'm listening to the album now and I've changed that number five times). And the other two are also very good.

And now, here's some trivia that should make you really care about the band:
  • Glen Hansard played one of the band members in the 1991 movie The Commitments -- the red-haired guitarist Outspan Foster. He also appears (as the lead) in the Sundance Audience Award-winning film Once, which came out this year, in his only other acting role.
  • "The Frames" band name comes from Hansard's habit of fixing the bicycles of his friends as a youngster.
  • All of The Frames' albums have gone at least Double Platinum in Ireland.
  • The Frames put on a hell of a live show.
Now that last one is not actually trivia, but it is a fact. My friend Denis and I witnessed what is still one of the five best shows I've ever seen live. I'd suggest going to see them live if you can -- hopefully they stop playing the Somerville Theater and play The Paradise again and make it a proper rock show.

Merch Rating: The beauty of having two ratings systems is that I can do whatever the hell I want to. In this case, the CD Placement rating doesn't work because I simply wouldn't play this in my car -- it's too mellow -- although (in terms of quality) it certainly deserves to be there. (Sean is trying to convince me that the new Eliot Smith CD should be played in the car, which I will trust him on, but generally I find low-key = driving off the road.)

I'd buy their next album, a t-shirt, go to the show (hopefully not at Somerville -- great venue, wrong band), and buy albums there I don't own by them. If they sold Frames socks, I'd probably buy them too. In short... listen to them, you idiot.



Sunday, May 13, 2007

Jill Cuniff - City Beach (2007)

So it's been awhile, which I blame on work. I'll try to play catch-up, as I've been listening to a lot of very good stuff lately.

First up, we have Jill Cunniff's release, City Beach. I'm surprised it's taken her this long to release something -- when Luscious Jackson broke up after releasing their final album (Electric Honey) in 1999, they ostensibly did so to pursue solo projects. However, this is only the second such project (the other being keyboardist Vivian Trimble's Dusty Trails s/t album in 2000), and the first from either of the principle songwriters (Gabby Glaser's solo album is due out later this summer).

In the Cunniff/Glaser debate, I've always cast Cunniff in the role of Grant Hart and Glaser as Bob Mould. (Not good for Cunniff.) Luscious Jackson may not have been as prolific as the powerhouse Hüsker duo, but they did put out two EP's (including the first ever release from the Beastie Boys label, Grand Royal) and three albums over a seven-year span. And some produced some excellent music - definitely one of my favorite all-time bands.

So now that I've heard City Beach... I'm changing my view on her role. Cunniff is a very talented songwriter, and it's pretty clear that a lot of what Luscious Jackson was all about was directly due to her. This album is very chill, very relaxed, a perfect summer album. And with a name like City Beach, one guesses is that what's she's after. I wish she hadn't waited eight years to make her first post-Luscious album, but it's worth the wait.

One question, then -- why the hell would you release a summer album in February? For a small release that will probably not be getting a lot (if any) radio play, this seems like a perfect example of what we call "lack of momentum."

In any case, the album is great. Some of the songs sound a lot like the lo- to mid-tempo indie rock/quasi funk/quasi dance groove that was Luscious Jackson ("Apartment 3" was probably written during the Luscious days; if I heard it out of context, I would have guessed it was on Fever In Fever Out). Others have an almost Brazilian bent that is totally distinct from that style. Her voice is extremely strong, and the music is well produced. As she says during "Warm Sound": "Let's start the century again/at a slower place." I'm not a guy who typically embraces the chill side of rock, but if it sounds like this, I'll take it. Highly highly recommended if you like music that doesn't suck.

CD Placement Rating: (If you've forgotten about the ratings, they're explained in the right-hand column.) This one went directly into the car CD changer. The high moments (like the ramp up on "Eye Candy") play great as "album flow" songs, but don't necessarily pack the same punch (or stand up) as singles.

Merch Rating: I will buy her next album pre-reviews, and probably anything else she puts her hands on as well. If she toured with a band, I'd go the show and buy a t-shirt and any additional music merch they had there. I probably would not see her solo acoustic (which is how she has been touring), as I don't see how this would hold up in that format.

- Snilch