Some bands know how to deliver just what their fans want. They keep it lean and consistent, simply because those qualities are as important to their longevity as the songs themselves. While this might occasionally throw experimentation underneath the bus, the results can also remind fans about why they fell in love with a certain band, which is an important feeling in the age of Internet-ADD. As such, here are some albums that display musical artists in peak conditioning, delivering the goods like only they know.
Bad Religion- The Dissent Of Man (****)
Someone forgot to tell Bad Religion that punk rock was a young man’s game, because for men in their 40s, they sound 25. With workman-like efficiency, The Dissent Of Man keeps a youthful effervescence throughout by condensing nearly thirty years of down stroked fervor into 14 tracks. Set against a backdrop of blistering beats and oozin’ ahhs, vocalist Greg Graffin and guitarist Brett Gurewitz continue to act as punk’s elder statesmen, proving that the most radical thing you can do is inject your hyper-verbose call to arms with some bluesy melody. “Only Rain” features wild fret board tapping while the palm-muted riffing of “Someone To Believe” shows that Bad Religion simply refuse to slow down. However, what’s most impressive is the band’s ability to look back on their expansive legacy without writing themselves into a rut. Songs like the sweeping “Avalon” and the slide guitar punctuated “Cyanide” recall the group’s 1993 album Recipe For Hate, with its folk embellishments and personal narratives. Yet at the end of the day, The Dissent Of Man displays a group of men that still aren’t ready to give up the mosh pit, equipped with enough musical muscle to keep on dissenting for years to come.
Key Cuts: Only Rain, The Resist Stance, Someone To Believe
Belle & Sebastian- Belle & Sebastian Write About Love (***½)
Like Americans need big SUVs, all sensitive types need snappy love songs with chamber pop accompaniment. Belle & Sebastian have made a career out of the latter, churning out album after album of oh-so-charming acoustic based requiems that feel consistently refreshing. Their latest album, Belle & Sebastian Write About Love, follows the same quirky sensibilities that implanted the group into our psyche for most of the 90s and 00s. “I Didn’t See It Coming” features syrupy guitar work, wrapped around Stuart Murdoch and Sarah Martin’s love bird harmonies. Elsewhere, the group enlists the velvety smooth timbre of Norah Jones on the smoky, keyboard laden “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John.” While music sounds pristine, and the sentiments personal, Belle & Sebastian don’t really reinvent the wheel on Write About Love. Keyboards crop up every once in a while, as do peppy horns on the jumpy “Write About Love,” but the group’s soft spoken aesthetic overwhelms, the songs often bleeding into one and other. What results is a crisp sounding album, but one just a few beats shy of breathtaking. A few more curveballs could have really elevated Write About Love above being just another Belle & Sebastian album.
Key Cuts: I Didn’t See It Coming, Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John (Feat. Norah Jones), Write About Love
If 2007’s Ghosts I-IV showed Nine Inch Nails fans anything, it’s that Trent Reznor can take all manner of sound effects and shape them into his glitchy, despondent image. It’s no surprise then that Reznor, along with long time NIN collaborator Atticus Ross, cover familiar ground on The Social Network OST. Heavy on mechanized dread, Reznor and Ross sculpt a tense soundtrack to flesh out David Fincher’s brooding social commentary. The main difference, however, is that Reznor leaves out the static freak-outs and hard beats that punctuate most of his instrumental work. What we’re left with are synthesizers that sequence rapidly, humming electronics, and Reznor’s familiar take on minimalist piano. It’s a good mix of sounds, channeling digital claustrophobia while retaining an organic identity, but Reznor’s lack of experimentation is a bit disappointing. Reznor's inquisitive nature typically pushes him to tinker with a variety of sounds, but here, he retreats to familiar waters (“Magnetic” actually goes so far as to cannibalize melodies from “14 Ghosts II”). The mood and feel is consistent throughout, but Reznor played it safe when he had a chance to really depart from his usual sonic niche. While The Social Network OST was assembled with a master’s touch, perhaps Reznor's next score will be assembled with a bit more soul.
Key Cuts: Pieces Form The Whole, On We March, Soft Trees Break The Fall