22 April 2011

2010: Isobel Campbell/Mark Lanegan, Jamie Lidell

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan:

Released August 24, 2010 (Vanguard)

Short Notes: Dusty, Druggy Americana from former Belle & Sebastian and Screaming Trees members.

Lin: A-

In many ways, it's harder to write a review of a good album than a bad one. Part of it may just be my own negativity, but I find it's often easier to see what a song is lacking than what it does well. I've listened to Hawk a dozen times for this review. I love most of these songs, but I keep coming back to a minor but annoying problem. Although sonically distinct, it reminds me of The Waterboys' Fisherman's Blues -- a collection of excellent songs poorly sequenced, precluding an emotional arc and leaving us with nothing but schizophrenia. Maybe it's foolish to want an 'album' in these days of mp3s and isolated track, but the regretable thing is that, listening front to back, Hawk is less than the sum of it's parts.

I'm still highly recommending it, though. My favorite track, "Come Undone," is a maddingly familiar slice of 60's soul pop. (My roommate says it sounds like a Bond theme song. He's not wrong.) There's a pair of Townes Van Zandt covers -- which will always score you some points -- and Lanegan pulls off the tricky part of sounding like Van Zandt while also making it his own. (This is true even on the non-covers, like "Cool Water.") The latter part of the album, particularly "Sunrise" and "To Hell & Back Again," gets by with a Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra vibe -- probably the best comparison I can make for the overall sound and adventurousness.

Brandon: A

This is just about the strangest duo in pop music. Campbell is the Scottish magical pixie girl who used to sing about tigermilk and boys with arab straps, and Lanegan, well, he used to be in this band:

But it works, and on this album, they’ve made a worthy successor to the hazy, wobbly Americana of their first two records. While nothing has the menace of my favorite track from their first record (a deadly cover of the Hank Williams classic “Rambling Man”), this is a top-notch slice of pop that skirts classic Northern soul, straight country, and the druggy Americana of Giant Sand and Stan Ridgeway. The vocal magic of pairing Campbell’s delicate, almost kittenish purr with Lanegan’s stereotypical (and Waits-ian) rasp is in full effect here--nowhere better than on the Townes Van Zandt tearjerker “No Place To Fall”--but the best songs are the sleazy, muscular numbers like the title track and the magisterial soul-gospel of the closer, “Lately.” Remarkably (given that Lanegan’s voice is what sticks with me), Campbell is the brains behind the operation, writing almost all the songs. One of the better albums so far, and well worth your time.

Jamie Lidell:

Released May 18, 2010 (Warp)

Short Notes: His trademark soul gets an update, with mixed (if mostly successful) results.

Brandon: B

Lidell’s first “proper” pop record, the amazing 2005 record Multiply would surely appear on my top 20 albums of the decade list. Almost like Berlin-era Bowie singing a perfect facsimile of Stax/Volt soul, the album is an unexpected masterpiece. But three records into his career as a indie pop star (he got his start making Aphex Twin-lite electronica), the formula is both wearing thin and getting consciously pushed in new directions (and not always successfully). While there’s still a lot of the trademark soul here, I also hear a lot more almost-disco, and an almost 80s vibe (“Enough’s Enough,” “It’s a Kiss”). There’s also a much heavier sound on this record than on his previous albums--with the fuzzy stomper “The Ring” and ”Gypsy Blood” (my favorite) verging on “banger” territory. I’m intrigued with the evolving sound, although Compass lacks the poise and polish of Multiply

Lin: B+

I liked Lidell's 2005 Multiply, though it skirted the line between the Soul I love and the Soul I don't so closely that I don't listen to it very often (outside the superb title track). It's a completely artificial line of personal preference cleaving (broadly) Motown/R&B-based soul from the funkier Muscle Shoals-style. Compass is a lot like his last couple of albums but stays, for the most part, on the funkier, rockier end, belying his origins as an electronic producer. It's not that straightforward as there is a fair amount of differentiation between the tracks even if they are all based in the same setting. The more experimental, almost dream-poppy at times and full of junkyard percussion, title track being one of the highlights. The comparatively normalcy of the next track is almost disappointing, though it's a fine song in its own right. For the most part, Compass is an interesting and good album, but I'm not sure when I'd put it on: it's not really a part album, or a "headphone" album, or a working album. Maybe something in-between all those.


man with no name said...

You guys will no doubt be pleased to learn that this post was, indirectly, the last push convincing me to rejoin Netflix so that I could obtain the grunge-era romantic comedy 'Singles.'

man with no name said...

Well, surprise! That was a bad movie.