Saturday, November 29, 2008

Essential Elegance

Various Artists, Just Like Heav-
en: a Tribute to the Cure, Ameri-
can Laundromat Records [1/27/09]

After Dinosaur Jr. sunk their substantial chops into "Just Like
Heaven," they rendered all subsequent Cure covers superfluous. It's not that Robert Smith's lipstick-smeared combo crafted ridi-
culously complex songs. On the contrary, admirers tend to em-
bellish them needlessly, instead of finding a way to preserve their
essential elegance. J. Mascis, Murph, et al got the balance right.

Of the 16 tracks on Just Like Heaven
, Dean & Britta and the Wedding Present provide the finest. Respectively: a drowsy "Fri-
day I'm in Love" and rambunctious "High." Other than stripping things down and playing with the pace, they honor the original material. Kitty Karlyle provides the weakest, an overly-emphat-

ic "In Between Days." Though perfectly competent, it's just too
emo (the emotion is already implicit in the words and melody).

Other notable interpreters include Tanya Donnelly, the Rose-
buds, and
the Submarines. Overall: neither bad, nor embar-
rassing; the entire enterprise is just largely...extraneous.

Click here for my interview with Dinosaur Jr.

Copper Sails, Hiding Place, self-released [1/13/09]

A lot of bands get compared to U2...because a lot of bands
sound like U2. Virginia's Copper Sails don't sound exactly

like the Irish quartet—they also recall Coldplay—but Boomer
Muth (bass) has a Bono thing going on, while Jonathan Crawley
(guitar) has an Edge thing going on (pianist Kyle Crosby and
drummer Jim Courtney complete the line-up). Even lyrics
like "I'm still lost" recall lyrics like "I still haven't found what
I'm looking for." Similarly, Hiding Place is earnest, melo-
dic, and features mixing by Mitch Easter and master-
ing by Greg Calbi who's done the same for...U2.

Fugitive Kind, You're Being
Watched, Castor + Pollux [1/13/09]

Indie-rock is just a marketing term!!
-- From their MySpace Page

Amen, brothers and sisters. Produced by Ed Stasium (Ramones,

Soul Asylum), Boston's Fugitive Kind grind out hard, danceab-
le rock on You're Being Watched, a throwback to the days of
Heart, Quarterflash, and Alanis Morrisette (Lydia Marsala has a
Morrisette warble to her voice). Like too many indie outfits, they
could pass for a major label act, and this disc is most likely a bid
for a deal, i.e. a demo in all but name. As an independent adher-
ent, it doesn't do much for me, but I wish them the best. Plus,
they give a website shout-out to the underrated Shivaree.

Leopold and His Fiction, Ain't No
Surprise, Native Fiction Records

The important thing is not
to achieve, but to strive.
-- Aldo Leopold (quote

from the CD booklet)

There are no Leopolds in
Leopold and His Fic-
tion, but rather Daniel
James (vocals, guitar, bass, organ, percussion) and Ben Cook (drums, Wurlitzer). To their credit, these San Francisco citizens

don't bring to mind musical images of the Black Keys, the White
Stripes, or any other contemporaneous duos. Instead, they in-
habit the more shadowy, reverb-drenched territory of the Doors,
the Black Angels, and Devendra Banhart. Though the organ and
the tambourine add a pleasingly retro element, Leopold
never enters the living graveyard of '60s revivalists.

Note: the band's bio cites a line-up change. Cook is out;
Micayla Grace (bass) and Jon Sortland (drums) are in.

Sarah Rabdau and Self-Employed Assassins,
self-titled, Say It with Scissors Records [1/20/09]

Alternative pop with a classical swagger.
-- From her MySpace Page

As indicated by the cover—the ivory-complected singer dab-
bled in rose-red blood—Boston's Sarah Rabdau shoots for
the stars. Her method: italicized vocals layered atop cinemat-
ic backdrops (heavy on mournful cello and minor-key piano).

It's pop music as theater; not musical theater mind you, but
Rabdau performs in both the musical and actor-oriented sense
of the word. She modulates carefully, moving methodically from
sotto voce to operatic trill. Truth be told, it isn't my cup of Dar-
jeeling, but I tip my (metaphorical) toque to her talent.

The Refugees, Unbound, Wabuho Records

The veteran musicians in the Refugees pluck, strum, and
harmonize their way through 12 tracks in the country-poli-
tan vein of the Dixie Chicks. No one will mistake Unbound
for a Wilco or Son Volt offshoot. No will they confuse the trio's
full-length debut for any kind of alt-country release, and hip-
sters might not appreciate the way vocalists/multi-instrum-
entalists Cindy Bullens, Deborah Holland, and Wendy Wald-
man reference Boomer acts like the Byrds and the Eag-
les. But I'll be damned if they don't do it well.

Endnote: This year marked the release of the 13th Cure al-
bum and yet another covers compilation called Perfect as Cats:
a Tribute to the Cure
(featuring Bat for Lashes and the Dandy War-
hols). For more information about the latter, please click here; for
Copper Sails, here or here; for Fugitive Kind, here; for Leo-
pold and His Fiction, here or here; for Sarah Rabdau, here
or here; and for the Refugees, here or here. Images from
Why Pamper Life's Complexity and Planetary Group.

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