The Weekly Jive

Posted August 7, 2008 in Music

Death Vessel—Nothing Is Precious Enough for Us (Sub Pop)

Not that long ago a release on Sub Pop from an act called Death Vessel would have melted your speakers in a maelstrom of sludge and grunge, and probably come with its own track marks. Instead, you can mark the Seattle label’s degree of transformation to folky indie pop shelter—see Fleet Foxes, Chad Van Gaalen, Sera Cahoone, etcetera—by the delicate nature of this sophomore effort. Essentially Brooklynite Joel Thibodeau and various contributors, Death Vessel’s songs include the typical acoustic folk touchstones, loping country shuffles and plucked-banjo bluegrass, with the occasional modern twist—short bursts of feedback or electric guitar solos—to keep them from being museum pieces. The music styles may fit a Southern Gothic aesthetic, but the dark themes are practically Hawthorne-ian, in keeping with Thibodeau’s New England (Maine, to be more specific) upbringing; you can easily imagine these characters appearing spectral-like in the windows of old gabled houses on windswept promontories, lost in reveries of the past. Then there is Thibodeau’s voice, an alto as gorgeous as any woman’s and so natural-sounding listeners will spit-take the first-time round. But the gender question quickly fades in narratives and songs so compellingly told and well constructed. (John Schacht)


Hawthorne Heights—Fragile Future (Victory Records)

Ohio’s emo-epitomizing Hawthorne Heights, through hard-touring and MySpace networking, landed a surprise platinum album with their 2004 debut, The Silence In Black and White and enjoyed similar success with 2006’s If Only You Were Lonely at a time when rock bands simply weren’t selling records. Then the wheels wobbled and in the midst of a protracted legal battle with their label their guitarist Casey Calvert was found dead, mid-tour, last November. But no amount of sympathy or empathy changes the fact that this kinda comeback effort is an unremarkable, stylistically confused record. HH are struggling to find a place for themselves in the post-emo landscape, and sonically over-compensating for the absence of Calvert’s signature screamed contributions with gang vocals and studio treatments. But more than anything, it’s the limitations and irritations of JT Woodruff’s over-sensitive, androgynous yap that reins-in some melodic and often ambitious material. Hawthorne Heights, bless ‘em, sound like five years ago. (Paul Rogers)


Stereolab—Chemical Chords (4AD)

Seventeen years and eleven records in, the alchemist co-op Stereolab felt the need to shake things up; no worries, they haven’t gone emo or twang, and Chemical Chords core blend of lounge-pop, gentle ’60s psychedelia and Krautrock rhythms couldn’t possibly be by any other band. But with Tim Gane and company adopting a different songwriting approach, Stereolab’s latest is abuzz with conscious concision. Built on tiny drum loops and improvised piano/guitar chords, the formula-tweak gives their Duchamps-meets-Mancini vibe a sonic nip-and-tuck. The vibe is most obvious in swift-moving pop numbers like “Silver Hands,” where driving guitars and marching percussion contrast with bubbly vibraphone lines and Laetitia Sadler’s airy vocals, and the summer-friendly bookends “Self-Portrait with ‘Electric Brain’,” all sunny horn sections and soul-rich string arrangements, and “Cellulose Sunshine,” where Sean O’Hagan’s strings and the harpsichord-like keys make for a modern take on down-the-rabbit-hole psychedelia. On “Daisy Click Clack,” Stereolab even break new ground, bar-room piano rolls highlighting an armada of keyboard lines in one of the band’s most straight-forward pop songs. This deep into a career defined by such an original sound, change is about nuance rather than shock—what’s surprising is how fresh that nuance sounds. (John Schacht)


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