The Weekly Jive

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Posted January 7, 2009 in Music

Hooray For Earth—Hooray for Earth (Dopamine Records)

You could call Hooray for Earth a synth-happy power-pop dance band. Or synth-centric post-punkers. Or a synth-addicted grunge act. Or emo kids with over-active synth glands. Or . . . okay, clearly this versatile Boston quartet’s got a thing for the synthesizers. But if there’s another instrument that slides as quickly from use into abuse, I don’t care to hear it. And on this full-length debut, the synths carjack all 12 songs and virtually every instrument on them. The band and singer/arranger Noel Heroux are capable in different styles, but anytime a distinctive groove develops—such as the Pinback-like “How Are You Here?” or the shoegaze-y “Magazines”—the synths pile on and morph the songs into over-stuffed video-arcade sound effects, leaving predictable metronomic bass lines and percussion thunderheads in their wake. The most egregious example is “Take Care,” which buries an entertaining sing-along beneath so many tons of fuzz-n-buzz it makes something like Flock of Seagulls sound sparse. Youth is a time for excess, of course, and to discourage that inclination is practically counter-intuitive to rock’s rulebook. But in this instance excess isn’t the giddy by-product of a precocious young rock band, but merely pedantic overkill. (John Schacht)

 

James Yorkston—When the Haar Rolls In (Domino)

One happy by-product of the Freak folk movement has been a revival of interest in Brit-folk cult figures like Vashti Bunyan and Davey Graham. But what a shame if that nostalgia were to preclude the current work of Scottish singer/songwriter James Yorkston, whose fourth solo record confirms that the Fence Collective regular (King Creosote, The Aliens, Beta Band) is just as essential as his forebears. Here, unlike the sparse arrangements on 2007’s The Snow Leopard, Yorkston’s cocoon-ish acoustic fare is bathed in fireside banjo and clarinet, wrapped in blankets of concertina and accordion, and gently buttressed by timpani and rich double-bass—arrangements custom-made to fend off the cold Haar (Scottish fog). Not content to stand only on the folk shoulders of, say, Bert Jansch or John Martyn, Yorkston also incorporates his fondness for Krautrockers Can, resulting in a marvelous droning cover of The Watersons’ “Midnight Feast” (and featuring harmonies from siblings Mike and Norma Waterson). Yorkston’s baritone is well suited for tales of stubborn sea winds and drunken jigs, long-lost lovers and remembered summer days, but there’s a better measure for these nearly flawless songs: Even though more than half surpass five minutes, not one overstays its welcome. (John Schacht)

 

Or, The Whale—Light Poles and Pines (Seany Records)

As a parade of post-(fill in the rock era) derivations are lionized and then impatiently dismissed, what Gram Parsons dubbed Cosmic American Music just keeps truckin’ along enlisting converts in every generation. (Country rock’s staying power never really wanes, just marketers’ interest.) Case in point, this talented—if awkwardly named—Bay area septet, who show versatility across the roots rock spectrum. They sound equally at ease with urgent country rock (“Call and Response”) and chooglin’ road trip fare (“Fixin’ to Leave”) as they do with tear-in-your-beer laments (“Rope Don’t Break”), Burrito Brothers twang (“Death of Me”) and gospel-flavored shout-outs (“Bound to Go Home”). You can trace some of that diversity to flexible male/female harmonies, which tilt Gram & Emmylou on the slower songs and Doe & Cervenka on the up-tempo cuts (Alex Robins sings with the same croak as Clem Snide’s Eef Barzelay). But their MVP is pedal steel player Tim Marcus. His multi-note runs a la “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow and lush, Eric Heywood-like chord textures are what take the songs wherever the band intends. The Whale’s lyrics, though, are not yet Melville-ian, often tending toward the obvious. Otherwise, this is a promising addition to a rich tradition. (John Schacht)

 


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