The Magnetic Fields
As brilliant a song and lyric writer as Stephen Merritt may be, it's hard to imagine that any of his post-standard indie standards will ever stand up to the overall conceptual mastery of the three-disc 69 Love Songs in 1999. The Magnetic Fields' lastest, i, could be called conceptual-lite with all the song titles beginning with, duh, "i." The implicit narcissism is cheeky and self-conscious, but the album still sounds like one big outtake from 69. But then again, so does their entire catalog; once 69 came out, every song they'd ever produced sounded like scaffolding to their joke-baroque masterpiece. Oh well. The songs are still all-too-smart for their own pants with lines like: "So you're brilliant gorgeous and/ Ampersand after ampersand/ You think I just don't understand/ But I don't believe you." Track 5, "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend," is the only track that fully pulls its duds from the mud and doesn't die in the naked, overly professional production sterility that has become The Magnetic Fields' now-tired, trademark sound.
-- Noel Black
Butchies Make Yr Life
A prize should be awarded to the Butchies for Most Apt Cover Art: their latest venture Make Yr Life features a mass of colorful balls of bubblegum. Although they have been inching ever so slowly toward a pop sound, the trio sound more focused than ever, with feet still firmly planted in their rock and punk roots.
For the most part, this is an album full of great, pounding rock songs. "Send Me You" and "Make Yr Life" are instantly likeable, harmony-laden tracks. Headed by Kaia Wilson (ex-singer/guitarist for the magnificent punk band Team Dresch), her vocals in turn sound pleading and smirkingly sexy, but always completely passionate -- there's no apathy here. Unfortunately, some of the songs eventually start to sound similar -- "Lydia" in particular feels formulaic. Still, just when you think they've settled into a comfortable niche, the gals manage to spin a last-minute save with a cover of the Outfield's "Your Love," a whispery, pensive bit that is a surprising treat.
-- Kara Luger Rasputina
Opening with the ominously simple "Doomsday Averted," cello-rockers Rasputina establish what is to be an exhilaratingly dirty ride in their newest album, Frustration Plantation. Lead singer, cellist and mastermind Melora Creager uses American history as her social commentary. In the past she unearthed the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, Rose Kennedy, and now, the American West and post-plantation South. Yes, I gush, but with good reason. Like the candy Reese's Cups, Rasputina has always applied a "peanut butter in my chocolate" approach to their "classical music in my amplified distortion." For a band consisting only of two (often electric) cellos and a percussionist, they're able to completely fill out every song. Styles range from the swamp-stomp of "Possum of the Grotto" to "The Mayor," a lovely, sweeping melody about a loony elected official. "If Your Kisses Can't Hold the Man You Love," originally by chanteuse Sophie Tucker, is one of the standout songs, a rocking number that manages to maintain the vaudeville aspect: "Neglected girls, don't worry/That's what God made sailors for!" Amen!
-- Kara Luger