Thursday, May 13, 2010

Room to Move

Scout Niblett,
The Calcination
of Scout Niblett
Drag City

I once described the
spare sounds of Notting-
ham's Scout Niblett
(born Emma Louise) as
bare-boned blues. Five
years have passed since
then, but the sound re-
mains the same. It's her
biggest strength and...
her biggest weakness.

So many artists who emerge as architects of stark add more and
more details as the years go by, but The Calcination of Scout
trades embellishment for volume and control. There's
no collision between notes and words, but rather a lot of space,
a lot of air, a lot of room for the individual elements to move.

But there's isn't much movement going on, which means that if you
don't like the voice, the songs, or the instrumentation, this Steve
Albini-engineered album isn't for you. No multi-tracking or back-
ing vocals smooth the way, such that if you haven't heard Niblett
before, you might expect folk-rock, but her latest skews more
towards avant garde/experimental, upfront vocals aside.

I find the results more frustrating than satisfying. Comparisons
to Cat Power and P.J. Harvey still apply, but Niblett works few-
er pop elements into her playbook, and I wish she would. Pre-
vious efforts prove she can write a hook, but there aren't any
here. It's surely intentional, and helps to creates a cohesive
experience, but I'm a sucker for discreet songs"singles,"
if you willand this LP defies the bite-size approach.

So, I wanted to love her fifth full-length, and I do admire it,
but the melodies are too elusive, the vocals too drawn out for
me to embrace completely. Calcination isn't a failure by any
means, but nor is it the smashing success I was anticipating.

Click here for my review of Kidnapped by Neptune.

The Reserves, Life, self-released

"Likeable songs from likeable guys."
-- from the band bio

I put this disc on and promptly forgot all about it, since it inspir-
es neither irritation nor excitement. Like the Avett Brothers
a comparison they'd probably appreciatethe Reserves craft
mid-tempo background music that would work just as well in a
casual office environment as a corporate coffee shop. If you heard
their second full-length playing in a Starbucks, it's unlikely you'd
run away in horror. You might even tap your toes, but I expect
more than inoffensive professionalism from alternative rock.

Serial Thrillers, F5, iMedia

With a name like Serial Thrillers, my expectations were
low at best, but this EP from Bostonians Paul Ortolano (vo-
cals, guitar, bass) and Stephen Clements (drums) with assis-
tance from producer Anthony J. Resta (programming, per-
cussion) is surprisingly listenable. Recommended to fans of
post-wave power-pop acts like Matthew Sweet and Atlantic-
era Redd Kross. Bright and tight with just a hint of menace.

Click here for "Ordinary Days."

Endnote: I'm tempted to ding the Reserves for giving
their album such a bland title, except the recent BBC/Dis-
covery Channel series
shares the same name, and I enjoy-
ed that, so they get a free pass. For more information about
the band, please click here or here; and for Serial Thril-
, here or here. Scout Niblett image from

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