Monday, March 29, 2010

Currents: Streetlight Manifesto, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Local Natives, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

"Currents": The latest albums I've been checking out.

Streetlight Manifesto: 99 Songs of the Revolution, Volume 1
[Victory* 2010]

The exuberance feels spur-of-the-moment, but each Streetlight release has spent a good while in the incubator under Tomas Kalnoky's TLC. He and the rest of the ska punk outfit, arguably the most exciting and unique on the scene today, love to tease fans with delayed releases and several years between LPs. So some skepticism could be in order as the band's efforts are now focused on a 99 song, 8 album project of cover songs. Yes, it could be a while until we get original tunes from Kalnoky's pen, but beggars can't be choosers. Besides, it's hard to dislike the project's first installment, as the band's signature frenzy makes for innovative and fun remakes. In particular, check out their chaotic take on Radiohead's "Just", a friendlier version of Bad Religion's "Skyscraper", and damn clever retooling of Postal Service hit "Such Great Heights".

* Apparently the band is at odds with their label, so if you want to pick this up, support them directly and order through their website.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow: Ashes Grammar
[Mis Ojos Discos 2009]

Ashes Grammar is a dreamy, shoegazing soundscape.  Cathedral-choir vocals and airy song structures surface in the swirling mix in what is really a mesmerizing listen. The foundation for the album's drama is a soft-edged wall of sound that defines "atmospheric".  Dulling some of the impact, however, is a sprawling hour-long run time with tracks that feel unneeded for the work to fully affect.  It's not quite ambient, as it doesn't entirely stay in the background, but it does float by like a pleasant dream: beautiful, although you can never quite remember it all.

Local Natives: Gorilla Manor
[Infectious, Frenchkiss 2009, 2010]

I'm hesitant to call Local Natives "straight-ahead" indie rock, but that's what comes to mind when I listen to Gorilla Manor. Verse-chorus-verse structures, smooth and clean vocals, and thoughtful rock melodies that sounds like a more easygoing Minus the Bear.  The songs are nice and they have a very likable aesthetic, but too many of the melodies lack real staying power.  The best here, however, namely the percussion-focused "Wide Eyes" and the delicate "Who Knows Who Cares", are great tunes to keep coming back for.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: The Brutalist Bricks
[Matador 2010]

Certainly an improvement over 2007's dry Living with the Living, The Brutalist Bricks offers some decent indie punk from a legend in the field. I'll always admire Ted Leo for, at least, an early body of work that's as exciting and catchy as any brand of rock. The songs here on his latest are relatively tight and aesthetically familiar, but there are no runaway hits, no outright sing-alongs. At the least, it's clear that Leo goes after the hooks that do arise on Bricks with full conviction, and he has regained some punk ferocity that had recently waned. So while the punches may not always hit the mark, at least they're being thrown.

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