The Weekly Jive

Posted February 12, 2009 in Music

Eleni Mandell—Artificial Fire (Zedtone)

With every new record—Artificial Fire being her seventh—you want to shake your fist at the universe for relegating Silver Lake denizen Eleni Mandell to critical darling status instead of showering her with mega-star fame. Mandell’s releases are diverse yet rock-steady: love songs colored in mysterious noir, yearning twang, top-down summer pop and X-flavored punk rave-ups; and whip-smart lyrics with enough between-the-sexes-tension to significantly raise the temperature in any room. Initially, Artificial Fire returns to the more Waits-ian fare of Mandell’s early releases, serrated guitar lines the yin to her comforting voice’s yang—it feels good, but it’s gonna hurt some, too. And still Mandell’s songwriting/arranging skills keep expanding: the horns and jazzy shuffle of “Right Side” recall vintage AM pop; strings and trip-hoppy rhythms contrast nicely on the honest confessional “Personal,” and she gives voice to her inner teenager with up-tempo rockers like “Little Foot.” Her crack band of L.A. hot-shots (especially guitarist Jeremy Drake) even make her first forays into spacier territory intriguing on the atmospheric “I Love Planet Earth” and sinister blues-noise of “Two Faces.” At 15 tracks it’s a tad long, but like all of Mandell’s musical moods and romantic entanglements, Artificial Fire is utterly seductive. (John Schacht)


Tommy Keene—In The Late Bright (Second Motion)

Tommy Keene has been that perennial second fiddle—a serious power-pop genius that mingled with major labels in the ’80s, collaborated with more ubiquitous names in the ’90s (Goo Goo Dolls, Paul Westerberg) and today flourishes in the current decade with a remarkably consistent batch of near-perfect albums. Nevertheless, the expectation of an instant grip on sugary hooks needs to be set aside this time, as Keene’s latest doesn’t evoke that immediate goose bump reaction of his stronger efforts (particularly on 2006’s Crashing The Ether). That’s because In The Late Bright requires more time to synthesize, with its fair share of wandering balladry buttressed against the melodic brilliance of songs like “Realize Your Mind” and “Goodbye Jane.” While the aforementioned Ether and 1996’s Ten Years After are his finest efforts in recent years, Late Bright’s a credible addition, expanding the breadth of an astonishing career that stretches across three decades. And we’re hoping there are many more years ahead. (Waleed Rashidi)


Vetiver—Tight Knit (Sub Pop)

It’s rare for a record to be this visceral when it comes wrapped in music so ethereal. But from the august acoustic guitar that opens this Bay area band’s fourth full-length, the music achieves the sublime and rarely leaves that exalted state. Omitting the thumping percussion of 2006’s To Find Me Gone, singer/songwriter Andy Cabic pares most of these songs down in the manner of Thing Of the Past, his 2008 homage to some of Freak folk’s iconic progenitors. But stripped down doesn’t mean barren; this record embraces you in comforting textures of guitars acoustic and electric, straightforward trap beats, vibes, and synth shadows—the sound is so warm they could be playing there next to you. Cabic’s pastoral narratives channel the elegance of post-Beatles George Harrison, and the laid-back Indian Summer vibe—particularly on the gorgeous opener “Rolling Sea”—transports you to ’70s-era Topanga Canyon. Only the jarring detour of Stevie Wonder-clavinet funk in “Another Reason to Go” breaks the mood. In fact, Tight Knit’s folk and country—especially on the gentle psychedelic epic, “At Forest Edge”—shares the same drone-y momentum of Velvet Underground’s Loaded. That’s not just high praise, it’s absolute bliss. (John Schacht)


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