Album reviews: Jack White, First Aid Kit, OOIOO, Chrissie Hynde, Mary Gauthier, Open Mike Eagle
Jack White Lazaretto (Third Man)
Jack White can be a prickly chap, as witness his recent churlish (non-) apology to those he’s insulted or dissed in recent years – most notably The Black Keys, derided as copyists by one whose own music has hardly sprung fully formed from his own imagination.
But when Pot’s done chiding Kettle, he’s an industrious fellow: no sooner has he served as midwife to Neil Young’s A Letter Home than his own solo album arrives. Like its predecessor, Blunderbuss, it’s a mixed bag, roughly split between heavy blues-rock and country, many songs supposedly drawing on teenage writings White unearthed in a drawer. Which perhaps excuses the more embarrassing lyrical excesses – though whether that includes the “lordy lord” hook and unreconstructed cock-rock gloating of “Three Women” is open to debate. An organ-based funk-blues, it’s the first of several routine blues-rock workouts. The chugging booze-boogie “Just One Drink” is another, while the heavy instrumental “High Ball Stepper”, streaked with White’s rasping, tortured guitar riff, sounds like a Led Zep outtake lacking a vocal.
“Lazaretto” itself, a jerky, bullish funk-rocker, is better, with violin, synths and White’s staccato guitar bursts lending it the variegated texture of a Zappa composition. Elsewhere, “Temporary Ground” and “Entitlement” are country songs with grumpy attitude, the former begrudging mankind’s abandonment by God, the latter evincing the complaining mood of unfair restraint that pervades the album.
Though in his defence, he does conclude the song avowing that none of us “deserve a single damn thing”, which is generous of him. Perhaps that explains the introvert, anti-social tendencies of “Alone in My Home”, which with its barroom piano, mandolin and acoustic guitar could be by The Faces, if it had a better tune. “I’m becoming a ghost, so nobody can know me,” sings Jack, and you almost feel sorry for him.
Then you remember his generosity of spirit towards others, and you’re not that sure.
Download: Lazaretto; Temporary Ground; Alone in My Home
First Aid Kit Stay Gold (Columbia)
“I don’t know if I’m scared of dying,” sings Klara Söderberg on the opening track of the Söderberg sisters’ third album, “but I’m scared of living too fast too slow.” It serves as a subtext for Stay Gold, an album fraught with the desire to change, to get away, to find a new life, tempered with anxiety about what might be lost. The theme recurs throughout, in lines like “I’d rather be moving than static” and “It’s a restless, dark, twisted road we are on, and we all have to walk it alone”. Except that luckily, Klara has sister Johanna alongside her, accompanied by producer Mike Mogis and a session crew that blends warm, acoustic timbres – guitars, lap steel, woodwind and chimes – with subtle string arrangements that set off the sisters’ harmonies beautifully. The result is an engaging, youthful and thoughtful folk-rock.
Download: My Silver Lining; Stay Gold; Waitress Song
OOIOO Gamel (Thrill Jockey)
The latest release from Yoshimi P-We’s questing avant-rock combo reflects her new-found interest in gamelan, the intricately twinkling Indonesian tuned-percussion orchestras. In truth, the gamelan sounds are used more as repetitive motifs than in the interlayered lines of the classical form, but they add an appealing new timbre to the band’s usual style of chants, drums and brusque guitar chording. “Shizuku Gunung Agung” features Faust-like shifts of direction as guitar shards are spliced into a pulsing montage of metallic gamelan and wailing vocal. Elsewhere, “Atatawa” is a Can-style cyclical groove with incantation; while the addition of horns transforms “Gamel Uma Umo” into a propulsive world/jazz/avant-rock blend. Not to everyone’s taste, but at its best Gamel fizzes with sonic imagination.
Download: Shizuku Gunung Agung; Atatawa; Gamel Uma Umo
Chrissie Hynde Stockholm (Caroline)
For her first solo outing, Chrissie Hynde wanted to make “a power pop album that you could dance to – Abba meets John Lennon” – two stools between which she falls limply on Stockholm. She and co-producer Björn Yttling have opted for the same Sixties verities that have underscored Hynde’s entire career – on opener “You Or No One”, a Wall of Sound blend of tambourine, twang and lowering drums,. The single “Dark Sunglasses” is better, with a smart snap to the beat. But elsewhere, the lumpy drum sound ruins tracks like “You’re the One” and “In a Miracle”, though the main failing lies in the lack of distinction of the material, and the lack of excitement in its execution: the only time the album teeters on thrilling is when Neil Young’s Les Paul disturbs the peace of “Down the Wrong Way”.
Download: Down the Wrong Way; Dark Sunglasses
Mary Gauthier Trouble & Love (In The Black/Proper)
There’s always been a strong autobiographical element to Mary Gauthier’s songs – her 2010 album, The Foundling, dealt with the problems of adoptee identity crisis, and Trouble & Love, likewise, mines the personal pain of a dying relationship. It’s a break-up album that’s perhaps a touch too unremittingly bleak for the closing resolution of “Another Train” (“I’m moving on, through the past, through the pain, waiting on another train”) to completely convince. The title “How You Learn to Live Alone” says it all, but the most piercing insights occur early on, in lines like “A stranger showed up in your eyes/Heart of steel, cold as ice” and in the numbed way that emotions are turned off like a tap in “When a Woman Goes Cold”, which sounds like a future country standard.
Download: When a Woman Goes Cold; How You Learn to Live Alone; Oh Soul
Open Mike Eagle Dark Comedy (Mello Music)
“For those that haven’t heard of me, I’m bad at sarcasm, so I work in absurdity,” explains rapper Open Mike Eagle at the start of Dark Comedy. Which is what might be expected of someone who lists Andy Kaufman and Kurt Vonnegut as inspirations alongside Gil Scott-Heron and James Baldwin, and eschews bling fantasies in favour of such diverse subjects as changing his kid’s nappy, driving while tired and Facebook-logging his favourite sandwiches. It’s all presented in a wry, semi-sung delivery that lightly underscores the ironies lurking behind the disillusion, but doesn’t conceal the pertinence of insights like “We learn to never wait for what we think we deserve”. Set to scratchy, fractured beats and sound-montages, it’s a welcome dose of no-age hip-hop in direct line of descent from De La Soul.
Download: Dark Comedy Morning Show; Deathmate Black; Golden Age Raps; Qualifiers
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