- Arctic Monkeys - Humbug (2009). The Arctic Monkeys came on to the scene as UK teenagers in 2005 with Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, which was an album that actually lived up to the tremendous hype that preceded it. 2007's Favourite Worst Nightmare was a step back but still had good stuff. This album... wow. It's very rare that I don't listen to an album all the way through before giving up on it, but I did with this one. I couldn't help but think of Aztec Camera as I listened to this: UK teenager Roddy Frame wrote the brilliant High Land, Hard Rain in 1983, only to spend the rest of his professional career (which continues to this day, at 45) chasing that elusive brilliance while bristling at the characterization of "child prodigy, adult failure" at every turn. Roddy created seven albums as Aztec Camera; after being unable to escape the shadow of that name, he released three solo albums. He never quite found his way back to the start; lots of good, decent material, but nothing comparable to his inspired debut. I fear the Arctic Monkeys are in the same boat. They have lost their mojo or their edge, or both. This is uninspired, and that saddens me.CD Placement rating: Sell-back Pile 1.
- The Black Watch - After the Gold Room (2008). We love The Black Watch. I could point out numerous reviews or just let our readers (like Scott and Yves, for example) talk about how great some of their stuff is. I wish they'd tour out this way (i.e., East Coast), but that appears not meant to be, at least for the moment. Their latest offering is an EP, which feels like leftovers from their 2008 album Icing the Snow Queen (reviewed here), as there are only four new songs here. But it's still The Black Watch, and that means that it's still very, very good.CD Placement rating: CD Rack.
- David Byrne and Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (2008). Thanks to Donna and Jim for recommending this one. I have to admit -- I'm not a Talking Heads/David Byrne fan, so I was very skeptical. A car listen did not help dissuade me of that skepticism; but listening to it on my computer did. Eno really smooths out Byrne's rough edges while retaining his quirkiness. Kind of reminds me of Peter Gabriel's Ovo album, although I'm not entirely clear why. Very sophisticated pop with Byrne's distinct voice, and really nice stuff. Highly recommended.CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
- Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career (2009). Their 2006 album, Let's Get Out of This Country, was understated but brilliant. This tries to copy that formula, but it's more of the same while not quite being as good. It's kind of boring, actually.CD Placement rating: This is not a fair rating, but for me it goes in the Pile of Death. Objectively, it's CD Rack-worthy CD I'd never listen to again.
- Duchess Says - Anthologie des 3 Perchoirs (2008). Described as "new wave revivalists," I heard them first on a mix and had to check out the whole album. This is definitely NOT for everyone, but if you're looking for jangly and weird retro lo-fi indie rock/quasi electronica that ranges from low- to high-tempo with quirky cool instrument sounds, this may just be for you. (Who IS looking for that?) It's some crazy mashup of Team Robespierre, CSS, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Nine Inch Nails, The Dresden Dolls, Madonna, and The Young Marble Giants. (Don't believe me? Listen to all those artists, absorb them, then listen to this album, and we can discuss how Rush might be a very small part of the equation as well.) I can't decide if it's inspired, insipid, or insane; it vacillates between just noise and composed, frenetic confusion. Of course, that means I cannot resist it.
CD Placement rating: Car CD Changer. Buyer beware, it may be Pile of Death for you.
- The Fireman - Electric Arguments (2008). As The Beatles release two new box sets and Rock Band, it seems appropriate to review Sir Paul McCartney's side project. I'm just going to come out and say it: this is McCartney's best post-Beatles album, at least for me. After the breakup, I prefer John Lennon and George Harrison, and never liked Wings, so from my perspective this is not going out on a limb; on the other hand, I've never heard anything I'd call "best" from McCartney before this. It's raw, it's moody, it's got a snarl to it; even the vocals are rough and jagged. I really enjoyed it, and it's quite a surprise to see Sir Paul so edgy in his old age. Thanks for turning me on to this, Andrew!
CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
- Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (2009). Let's recap Franz Ferdinand's career:
- 2004: Self-titled debut. Great stuff.
- 2005: The follow-up, You Could Have It So Much Better. Quite... quite terrible. Pile of Death.- 2009: Four years later, album #3: Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. Good news: better than 2005. Bad news: still nowhere near 2004.
- Conclusion: steer clear. Nice knowing you, FF.
CD Placement rating: Pile of Death.
- Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (2009). This is a great up-and-coming band; and this album has been universally hailed as great. It's tough to pigeonhole their music -- poppy folk? Folky pop? 70's retro? "Alt folk"? (Okay, I made one up.) It doesn't matter what you call them -- they're just really really cool. I wasn't in a "lower-tempo" mood today, but it simply did not matter; this album cannot be denied. This group is just plain good.
CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
- The Lost Fingers - Lost in the 80's (2009). Got this recommendation from Twitter. Imagine 80's covers from a Canadian jazz trio. Now imagine the song lineup includes Bon Jovi, AC/DC, Michael Jackson, Wham!, and Paula Abdul. The result? Well, it's hit or miss. However, the audacity of this album is totally worth the price of admission. Songs like "Pump Up the Jam" are genius; "You Give Love a Bad Name" is surprisingly not. I am a sucker for cover albums, and this one is unique. Definitely a keeper.
CD Placement rating: CD Rack.
- Red Red Meat - Bunny Gets Paid (2009). Pitchfork gave this re-issue album a rating of 8.9 and filed it under "Best New Music." I completely, thoroughly disagree.
CD Placement rating: Sell-back Pile 1.