You Are Free
There's a lot to be said for an album that leaves you with nothing to say. You Are Free is a gorgeous, immediate classic of a record that oozes creativity and talent out of its every pore. Chan Marshall's voice and songwriting have come into their own in a remarkable way. From the sparse, almost electro beat and soaring, ominously triumphant harmonies of the incredible "Free," to the stately and stunning closer "Evolution," which somehow tastefully and properly includes Eddie Vedder(!) on backup vocals, Marshall's maturation and inspiration are so readily apparent it's almost absurd. Matador has always traded on her pseudo-innocent, otherworldly, chameleonic beauty and presence to sell records, and Marshall has always banked on it for that certain edge over comparable artists. Cat Power has matured to the point of being well beyond gender classifications -- in the realm of modern, moody singer-songwriters, Marshall is now in the league of Elliott Smith's better work, at least. Cat Power's doing some great things here.
Atom and His Package
Attention! Blah Blah Blah
If you're not familiar with Atom and His Package, let me acquaint you: one very Jewish guy, slinging guitar and singing nasally about only very occasionally relevant subjects; beats and noises are provided by the Package, a batch of synths and sequencers; and music rooted as much in punk rock and hard-core as it is in (yes, I'm going to say it -- try to stop me, zine kids, come on) the nerdlinger parodies of "Weird" Al Yankovic, with palm-mute metal riffs leading into big, dumb pop choruses. Now that we're up to date: No surprises here. I used to eat this stuff up, but you can't expect the exact same schtick to work year after year after year. This time, I giggled at a hilarious song title or two ("The Palestinians Are Not the Same Thing as the Rebel Alliance, Jackass"), but that was about it. If you're a big fan, or simply can't wait for "Weird" Al's newest theoretical polka medley make an immediate dive for the cutout bins, then sure. Get the album. It's not like it's less of an album than anything he's done before. It's just not anything new, at all.
I'm Sorry I'm Sometimes Mean
It was a bit strange when the so-called "anti-folk" movement got heaped with so much hype a couple of years ago when The Moldy Peaches (Kimya Dawson and Adam Green) released their eponymous debut album. Beck was rockin' that despondent-urban-hillbilly sound way back in 1994 on his much overlooked debut album One Foot in the Grave on K Records. The Moldy Peaches had a witty and catchy songwriting style with a lo-fi sound that was derivative, but fun nonetheless. What made them great was their duality -- a lowbrow call-and-response relationship that broke the monotony of most solo singer-songwriter endeavors. That said, Kimya Dawson's first solo album, I'm Sorry I'm Sometimes Mean, is pretty, witty and gay. But it sounds like half. Half of what made the Moldy Peaches not sound like a rehashing of early Beck. And as clever, cutesy and touching as her songwriting may be, I just gotta get a break beat.
Most people will be likely to pick this album by Swedish non-rocker Nicolai Dunger because avant-folkie Will Oldham (who'll be in Denver at the Bluebird on Saturday, April 26) plays on it. Beyond a voice that quavers really really weirdly between Rufus Wainwright's dramatic bellowing and Steven Tyler's quieter screeching, this album is otherwise completely boring except for the lovely "Tribute to Tim Harden." It's almost worth buying just for the picture of Will Oldham looking like an inbred harvester in the liner notes. But not really.