The Weekly Jive

Posted January 10, 2008 in Music

Marah—Angels of Destruction (Yep Roc)

It takes a distinctive voice to overcome the solipsistic march-of-the-clichés that characterize most Hello Sobriety records, so hand it to Marah for keeping the navel-gazing interesting on their sixth full-length. Main songwriter Dave Bielanko’s street-poet narratives are now more self-referential and talk “hope” rather than allude to it, but the songs have enough new wrinkles and familiar toe-holds that they still intoxicate. Along with brother Serge, the Bielankos’ diverse incarnations—from their Springsteen-meets-Mummers Parade beginnings and Float Away Destruction arena rock debacle to their soul-flecked recent output—form the foundation, while new sonic flourishes come courtesy of Christine Smith (ex-Jesse Malin). Her keys propel the Phil Spector-in-the-Balkans “Angels on a Passing Train” and shade the ballad “Blue But Cool,” while elsewhere Marah channel their inner Pogues on “Santos de Madera” and strike up the tuba-powered funeral march on “Can’t Take It with You.” Sobriety and rock, it seems, are not always mutually exclusive. (John Schacht)



Kamera—Resurrection (Nettwerk Music Group)

Bands from outside of the English-speaking world were once seen as soulless clones of their Anglo-American influences. Yet lately Sweden in particular has defied such simplistic thinking, churning out acts (the Sounds, Shout Out Louds, International Noise Conspiracy) that enhance and embroider their unashamed New Wave stimuli every bit as effectively as Interpol or Franz Ferdinand. So, on paper, Kamera—a Stockholm quintet who claim sonic lineage from the Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order et al—appear promising. In reality Resurrection is a throw-back to the bad old days of Euro copy-acts: Kamera cannily recreate Japan’s pseudo-exotic synth sounds (“Love Surrounds Us”); Planet Earth’s octave-hopping bass (“TV Lights”), and Blur-y guitar (“Disconnected”); yet the songwriting is merely solid and Joakim Hjelm’s vocals leave a cheesy aftertaste of a-ha and OMD. Rather than evoking Interpol’s urban alienation or Robert Smith’s squirming angst, Kamera summon Pretty In Pink-era MTV: lightweight and, ultimately, trivial. (Paul Rogers)



The Magnetic Fields—Distortion (Nonesuch)

It seems that Stephin Merritt, the musical brains behind The Magnetic Fields, can’t put out an album without a conceptual peg upon which to hang his masterpiece. For his newest, he’s given exactly what he promised: lots of distortion. Feedback courses through every song, giving Merritt’s generally bright pop a smoggy, desperate feel. Having sullied nearly 15 years of near obsessive sonic cleanliness, Merritt doesn’t invoke the ghost of similarly noisy avant-rockers Jesus And Mary Chain’s Psychocandy as much as you’d expect. Mostly because Merritt doesn’t let his melodies get bogged down by the album’s Spector-esque wall of distortion—he knows that it’s not the noise we came for—and Merritt’s world-weary baritone is a damn sight better than anything the brothers Reid could manically mumble out. The album borrows more than bites from acts past and keeps everything that made the Magnetic Fields’ previous releases so great, namely Merritt’s ironic, metaphorical lyrics and tunes that range from infectiously pop to tortured ennui. While Distortion isn’t the best magnetic fields album to date, it’s definitely among their best. And that says a lot. (Phil Fuller)





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