The Weekly Jive

Posted August 14, 2008 in Music

Jennifer O’Connor—Here With Me (Matador)

You can admire the brass on Jennifer O’Connor, if not her new record. The publicity for Here With Me calls out non-gal-pals Chan Marshall, Jenny Lewis and Leslie Feist, for, respectively: meltdowns, pout-downs, and velour pantsuits. Too bad, though, that the follow-up to 2006’s cheeky Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars doesn’t deliver. In pitting herself against this troika, O’Connor cedes ‘best voice’ for ‘most authentic,’ but most of these songs come off very pedestrian, and the occasional F-bomb or lovesick confession doesn’t make them read any more lived-in or genuine than run-of-the-mill singer-songwriter fare. Songs like “Always In Your Mind” and “Days Become Months” plod past at a lukewarm-twang pace, leaving no discernible mark; “Daylight Out” opts for a mid-’90s alterna-rock approach (think Juliana Hatfield), but the impact is similarly weak; “Valley Road 86” is the worst offender, nostalgia and finger-plucked schmaltz. The best cuts are those with the most textures, where the spotlight on O’Connor’s middling voice and narratives is diffused by gospel organ washes (“The Church & the River”) and noisy crescendos (“Landmine”), and “Xmas Party,” a short, snarky country-rocker. But otherwise in this self-declared cage match, O’Connor comes up short. (John Schacht)

Toadies—No Deliverance (Kirtland Records)

These tortured-yet-tuneful Texans scored a slow-burning platinum album with their 1994 debut, Rubberneck, chiefly thanks to the creeping joys of single “Possum Kingdom.” A pregnant, audience-alienating seven-year pause preceded the more consistent follow-up, Hell Below / Stars Above . . . and then Toadies promptly disbanded. The reunited quartet (less original bassist Lisa Umbarger) return with the same simple, serrated guitars; reckless, bludgeoning rhythms; melodramatic dynamics; and vocalist Vaden Todd Lewis’ wounded, uniquely male angst. Lewis’ voice can be intimate, almost conversational, then rip into a feral, hoarse howl like the parting shot of some all-night break-up. Toadies remain raw, bleak, bitter and slightly broken and, despite the sometimes-claustrophobic confines of their regimented song structures, still transmit their native state’s wide-open spaces and straight-talking sting. Whenever a song flirts with over-repetitive safety, No Deliverance delivers unlikely, disquieting shifts—a slight sonic dysfunction which is Toadies’ deliciously furtive, insistent narcotic. (Paul Rogers)

Caesars—Strawberry Weed (Astralwerks)

From the cable TV series Weeds to the movie Pineapple Express, the subject of marijuana is far less stigmatized in pop culture these days. Now Swedish garage rock band Caesars compares the virtues of smoking dope to a girlfriend on the breezy title track of their solid new release (the European two-CD version will be available digitally). With strummed acoustic guitar, handclaps and piano accompaniment, vocalist Cesar Vidal gleefully sings, “I wanna feel something that sets me in motion/You taste sweet and smooth like strawberry weed/You keep me comin’ back for more.” It’s not the first time Caesars have used illicit substances as subject matter. Early track “Sort it Out” described a guy who contemplates smoking crack, shooting speedballs and sniffing glue after a bad breakup. Together since 1993, the quartet is extremely popular back home, where it scored a Swedish Grammy and gold records. Caesars are best-known Stateside for the minor 2005 hit “Jerk it Out,” featured in an iPod TV commercial (guitarist Jocke Ahlund is also in electronic rock act Teddybears). Strawberry Weed has a distinctive, rough around the edges vibe that often recalls mid-’60s Stones and Kinks. The bopping sing along “Boo Boo Goo Goo” begins and ends with old Speak & Spell commands, while “In Orbit” recalls the spacey feel of late-era Pixies. The Farfisa organ gets quite a workout on a haunting “Up All Night” and danceable “No Tomorrow.” Ahlund’s reverberating guitar work and feedback makes “New Year’s Day” an exciting closer. A real Scandinavian treat. (George A. Paul)


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