Friday, September 3, 2010

Album Briefs: Smith Westerns, Jack Johnson, Weezer

Smith Westerns: Smith Westerns
[HoZac 2009]


The guys of Smith Westerns are all under 21 and yet they have lo-fi figured out a whole lot better than the likes of Vivian Girls and Christmas Island.  The Chicago garage-rockers have an accomplished set of scuzzy tracks propelled by a hearkening back to classic teen pop of the 70s and 60s.  Their ages and reference materials seem to naturally point to their content: love is on their mind.  And that ranges from innocent yearning ("Be My Girl") to a winking you-thinkin'-what-I'm-thinkin'? ("Girl In Love").  It's impressive how cohesive and compelling the melodies are throughout this debut, as frayed guitars  and clattering drums fill in a joyful romp between composure and release.  The fuzzy recording quality is wisely not the centerpiece here, but seems to reflect the band as a scrappy upstart with wide eyes, towards both girls and musical success.  Such beginnings seldom sound this assured.

Jack Johnson: In Between Dreams
[Brushfire 2005]


How's about that new Jack Johnson album? What album? Yea exactly.  Apparently it briefly topped the Billboard chart, but really, I can't recall a less buzzed-about Johnson release.  I'm an intermediate listener of Johnson and I didn't know a new LP had dropped til July! What seems more universally clear, however, is that the man-with-a-guitar thing has gotten a bit stale, a bit old, not producing enough lovely downtempo radio earworms.  It's more reason to believe that In Between Dreams will go down as the definitive Jack Johnson album.  It's this supremely smile-inducing album that won the most new converts, soundtracked more first kisses, sported the most catalog favorites that Johnson will be remembered for.  Chillness has always been and probably will forever be Johnson's MO, which serves a purpose even when the melodies aren't as memorable.  But on In Between Dreams, we could have it all: catchy choruses, infinitely repeatable singles, cohesive songcraft, and vibes as chill as the ocean is blue.

 Weezer: Weezer (Red Album)
[DCG/Interscope 2008]


Rivers Cuomo has, after almost 15 years, become a "cool" kid, the center of attention, the life of the party.  To look back on where Weezer has been, it's obvious how poorly this suits him musically.  Not to get into the whole shpeel about the blue album, Pinkerton, and Weezer's early prime, but back then they were pioneering nerd-rock, an inspired power pop that charmed because they were the underdog freshmen we could all relate to.  Whatever has gotten to them (fame? fortune? all just a joke?), they're the jocks now.  So nowadays we get "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)", which is just as gaudy as it sounds, a ham-fisted ode to Cuomo's musical heroes and "heart songs", and half an album of songs that are instantly forgettable.  "Troublemaker" and "Pork and Beans" get by on heavy hooks, but they still aren't exceptions to the red album's rule: big, dumb rock.  A sloppy frat party would naturally blast these empty anthems, but if you're looking for the substantive, special, lovingly awkward Weezer, you'll have to go back to '94.

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