Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Weekly, Volume Twenty Six

Late again.

Album:
Broom (Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin)

It's not particularly innovative, but Broom is topped up with finely tuned little gems of indie pop. The band has the sort of acoustic/electric sound and slightly off-key vocals that are common to the "scene" these days and the hallmark of groups like the Shins, but SSLYBY (as they will be acronym-ized from this point on) manage to remain interesting enough so as to not be pigeon-holed, or something. "Pangea" establishes the group's sound and intentions admirably in a three-minute pop ditty that is as catchy as it is pointless. Same goes for "I am Warm and Wonderful" -- another immediately lyrical tune -- and everything else on the album. When you get down to it, Broom is little more than a pop confection, but it's a deliciously well-crafted one, and the flavour should stay on your tongue for a nice, long time.

Album #2:
Soft Dangerous Shores (Chris Whitley)

A gloomy record that is difficult to sit through if one isn’t in the proper mindset, Soft Dangerous Shores is nonetheless a work of subtle beauty. Though the micro house- and IDM-style percussion that anchors a few tracks occasionally feels contrived, the heart of the music always shines through. Whitley’s bluesy steel guitar playing (utilizing extended voicings and dissonance to great effect) and his haunting, gravely falsetto are wholly unique to the popular idiom. A true showcase for a staggeringly underrated artist. (Soft Dangerous Shores was #18 on my list of favourite albums for 2005).

Album #3:
Dreaming Wide Awake (Lizz Wright)

Lizz Wright records for the Verve Music Group, one of the most important names in the jazz recording industry. Her albums are classified as jazz music, for this reason, but also because the people she plays with are predominantly jazz musicians. On her 2003 debut Salt, she was backed by hugely talented players such as Brian Blade and Jon Cowherd (the two of whom also produced the album), along with Chris Potter, Danilo Perez and Sam Yahel. For all its pedigree, the album was a boring approximation of jazz; inconsequential, and too smooth. Dreaming Wide Awake, Wright's 2005 sophomore release, generally ditches the jazz pretentions and instead plays it more along the lines of Norah Jones or Diana Krall (or, maybe the most appropriate comparison, former Arrested Development singer Dionne Farris), eschewing solos and complicated arrangements for the safe and warm confines of pop music. The results, as expected, seem geared toward the adult contemporary side of things, but Wright's voice is sultry and soulful, lending the tunes more emotional heft than they might otherwise have had if sung by a lesser talent. Not everything works (for example, the cover of Neil Young's "Old Man" doesn't bring anything new to the table), but the majority of the music will reward open-minded listeners. "A Taste of Honey" and "Hit the Ground" are especially good, and really, any musician that's smart enough to work with both Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz deserves some credit.

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