It should come as no surprise that my taste is eclectic. Right?
Brandon Flowers- Flamingo (***)
If there was any doubt that Brandon Flowers is the primary creative force behind The Killers, look no further than Flamingo. The ten-track puesdo-concept album about Las Vegas (or being lonely in Las Vegas) finds Flowers cherry picking from The Killers' Bowie meets Springsteen worship, with gentler and often successful results. “Only The Young” finds guitars chiming and crying over spacious keyboards while the stutter-stop twinkle of “Hard Enough” features tender guest vocals from Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis. In true Vegas fashion, Flowers’ hammy and overwrought voice makes some of the songs overstay their welcome but that’s part of Flamingo’s charm. Flowers stayed away from making a serious record, as he often attempts to with The Killers, and he made an honest record for himself, rather than his band or his label. The results seem perfect for any night drive with miles of desert ahead.
Key Cuts: Only The Young, Hard Enough, Playing With Fire
Grinderman- Grinderman 2 (****)
It’s difficult to make dangerous rock n’ roll theses days. There’s no market for it; everyone wants something slick, auto-tuned, and compressed, something that’s heavy on beats but light on grooves. So when a dirty, sleazy, and downright evil sounding record like Grinderman 2 comes along, you know there’s some guts behind that decision. Nick Cave’s savage blues project has emerged from their bourbon soaked cocoon, producing an immense record with no apologies. While the content matter is familiar Cave fair of murder, obsession, and rough sex, he finds some interesting ways to inject humor into an otherwise demonic album (“I stick my fingers in your biscuit jar…”). Yet what really stands out on Grinderman 2 is the strides Cave has taken in expanding the group’s sound. Grinderman’s first album was loud and raw, but not much else. Grinderman 2 is decidedly larger in scope, reveling in longer songs that feature clamorous waves of wailing wah and dusty drums. “Kitchenette” is a loopy, low-end boogie while “When My Baby Comes” is swathed in eerie strings before erupting in phantasmal distortion. The excess works, and Cave manages to find a way of pushing the production without stripping the songs of their grit. With Grinderman 2, Cave created an album that rivals even his darkest material with the Bad Seeds by sticking to his guns and warped fantasies.
Key Cuts: Mickey Mouse & The Goodbye Man, When My Baby Comes, Kitchenette
Rap-rock was never highbrow art, but it’s hard to dispute Linkin Park’s mastery of it. It’s the reason fans were upset when Minutes To Minute turned into Linkin Park’s answer to The Joshua Tree. Those listeners were hoping for more consistency, not experimentation, and it was a shock to the system. In theory, A Thousand Suns should be an easier pill to swallow knowing the band could drop a surprise, except it’s not. While the album covers the similar, soft textured aesthetic of its predecessor, Linkin Park flounders under the weight of the album’s pretension. Half the album is comprised of ambient, glitchy interludes that go nowhere, while its actual songs come across as parodies of Public Enemy fed through Kid A’s iPod. Oh, and then there’s “The Messenger,” the album’s acoustic closer where Chester Bennington decides to scream out of tune for about 3 minutes. While the record sounds pristine thanks to Rick Rubin and Mike Shinoda’s deft production, the band sounds confused, attempting to be vaguely political with a record that lacks urgency. In all, it showcases Linkin Park dealing with ideas and sounds that are over their heads. At least they brought the rap part back, except not really.
Key Cuts: When They Come For Me, Year Zero (Nine Inch Nails)
Terrible Things- Terrible Things (**½)
When it’s all said and done, Terrible Things are a band comprised of scrappy castaways. Vocalist/guitarist Fred Mascherino (ex-Breaking Pangea/Taking Back Sunday), guitarist Andy Jackson (ex-Hot Rod Circuit), and drummer Josh Eppard (ex-Coheed & Cambria) thought they could make better music together than with the bands that shunned them, and the results are mixed. While their self-titled debut is a fun slice of lean power-pop, Jackson and Eppard play backing band to Mascherino the entire time. The disc employs the same crunchy but slick one-two punch of Mascherino’s solo effort, Bend To Break, but with more formulaic accents this time around. Strings come and go on “Been Here Before” while guitars inevitably sparkle before they crash on “Up At Night." Some how it’s not as exciting the second time around. Mascherino’s usual charm is evident behind the microphone but it overshadows Jackson, and the stories they tell fail to leave a mark. It's clear they're desperately upset at someone, or something, but the music isn’t telling the same tale. In the end, Terrible Things is very much Bend To Break: Part Deux, which is a shame considering most of the songwriting is credited to the whole band. The good news is that it sounds rather innocuous, which is perhaps why they were dismissed from their mother bands in the first place.
Key Cuts: Up At Night, Terrible Things, Conspiracy
Charmingly intimate and instantly accessible, The Weepies never have to push hard to create a beautiful sounding record. Be My Thrill, their fourth LP overall, finds the musical duo of Deb Talan and Steve Tannen churning out soft rock anthems that would feel right at home in a Charlie Brown holiday special. Whether it’s the shuffling hook of “Red Red Rose” or the Elliot Smith-like harmonies on “Hummingbird,” The Weepies craft immediate pop music in refreshing fashion. With subtle embellishments of brushed drums and quaint piano, the record retains a certain level of minimalism without feeling lo-fi. There are some drawbacks though; the album’s tandem vocals sport a clear winner when it comes to charisma (Talan’s meek but silky delivery proves quite the attraction), and the album isn’t as richly layered as 2008’s Hideaway, but Be My Thrill is genuinely entertaining. It’s an album reminding music fans that middle of the road records can house decent songs without being contrived or calculated. Not everything needs to be a grand statement, and it’s refreshing to hear The Weepies embody that.
Key Cuts: Red Red Rose, Add My Effort, Hummingbird