Shut Up You Fucking Baby
Sub Pop Records
David Cross, known to many of you as one-half of the creative team behind Mr. Show, and known no doubt to a great many more of you from roles in the terrible movies Scary Movie 2 and Men in Black II, recorded this album of live stand-up comedy during a tour of rock clubs in the spring and summer of last year (purposefully forsaking this nation's god-forsaken archipelago of Funny Bone's and Ha-Ha Hut's in the process). I can't decide whether doing a stand-up comedy tour or releasing a comedy album is the greater indignity; once upon a time, perhaps, stand-up was a venerable performance style, but that was before sub-sitcom jerks managed to grab the wheel of the zeitgeist. Now that we've seen the likes of Jimmy Kimmel, I doubt many of us can ever find stand-up funny again, much less be sufficiently devoted to spend time listening to it in the comfort of our homes.
The real shame is that David Cross is a legitimately funny guy, and unlike most comedians he's willing to offer insights into problems that go beyond the confusing names of breakfast cereals or an ex-girlfriend's many, many sexual quirks. He has material here about John Ashcroft, the hypocrisy of the Vatican's handling of the sexual abuse scandal, and the war in Afghanistan. Even if he has a tendency to premise his work on insupportable platitudes--the bit on Afghanistan betrays an unjustified faith in the veracity of the British press--he swings mightily at his targets and hits often enough. Unfortunately, he also decides to include material about morning zoo crews and idiotic sportscasters; while major market DJs are indeed the lowest form of life, Cross stoops here to some of the most tired conventions of his medium. If he wanted to transcend the comedy club circuit and the limits of the comedy album, he should have continued to set his sights high.
The Postal Service
Sub Pop Records
In the last few months I appear to have become the Maroon's Official Reviewer of Projects Involving Ben Gibbard; you can look in the archives for my reviews of All-Time Quarterback and Death Cab for Cutie's You Can Play These Songs With Chords. Perhaps a review of the next Pedro the Lion album is on the horizon. Now, after the bureaucracy has certified Gibbard's participation, I get to don my official's cap and listen to the Postal Service's Give Up. Also featuring Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello (the two worked on Dntel's first single, "(This is) the Dream of Evan and Chan," which also appeared on the album Life is Full of Possibilities), the Postal Service named themselves after their habit of mailing tracks back and forth to one another. Tamborello, in Los Angeles, produced the backing tracks and mixed the songs. Gibbard, in Seattle, added vocals and guitar. Joining the two (deputy post-masters? No, that would be stupid) are Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis, who provides backing vocals on most of the songs, and current indie world It-girl Jen Wood, who duets on "Nothing Better."
As usual, two legitimately talented and creative people working together have managed to produce something very enjoyable. Three songs, in particular, are of appropriate caliber for an all-star affair like this: the dreamy "Recycled Air," the syncopated point-counterpoint of "Nothing Better," and the no-frills but very solid "Brand New Colony," which would rank with the best Death Cab songs, if Gibbard's full band played it. It's hard to shake the feeling that this collaboration was hurt by the geographical separation of its participants, however. Tamborello trades in his IDM minimalism for a more traditional dance-pop sound that--judging by the frequent changes in the arrangements of each song--he never grows comfortable with (I would compare the backing tracks to Alphaville if that didn't involve bringing up Alphaville). Gibbard also manages to toss out two of his worst lyrics in the opening lines to "Such Great Heights" and "Sleeping In," but I'll forego repeating them to preserve the surprise for those of you who listen to the album. There's also a tendency for Tamborello's best tracks to get buried in the attempt to fit Gibbard's lyrics and guitar work to the song. When they could work in the same studio and mix the tracks together, these problems could be avoided; no doubt the delays and hassles caused by mailing tapes caused them to unnecessarily rush some songs onto the album. Nevertheless, "(This is) the Dream of Evan and Chan" managed to attract quite a following, and fans of that single will no doubt enjoy what they hear on Give Up.
She Has No Strings Apollo
Touch and Go Records
I put She Has No Strings Apollo into my CD player the other day and discovered that Warren Ellis is doing that shit with the guitar pick-up again. Much like on the Dirty Three's early albums, Ellis is burying his violin lines in waves of studio feedback (courtesy of a guitar pick-up rubber-banded to his violin, for those of you who don't know). This was a trick he abandoned on their magnum opus, 1998's Ocean Songs, resulting in some of the best and most interesting post-rock music to come along since, frankly, the early days of post-rock. While he turns the distortion down much of the time, there's a good deal of screeching to be heard on She Has No Strings Apollo--I was reminded of my attempts to learn to play the viola back in elementary school. Consequently, this album sounds a bit like a distillation of most of the previous Dirty Three albums, as though they tried to fuse together the best elements of all their previous work. Mick Turner once again contributes a lovely painting to the cover art, and does some of his best work yet on guitar. Jim White's drumming has never been more non-intrusive, and that's definitely a good thing. Most music fans, I would wager, will enjoy the way the Dirty Three manage to avoid playing over one another: Turner's guitar lines can always be clearly heard during his solos, Ellis' violin takes the lead most of the time, but never dominates a single track, and White holds things together with a solid and unhurried rhythm. Like the best jazz groups, they play to make one another sound better, not just to produce a swirling cacophony. This album might not be particularly innovative, and like most of their albums it becomes pretty repetitive, but it comes from a group that knows the individual strengths of its members and does its best to showcase them. Sometimes that's enough.
Consider this fair warning. Although it is still two months until the release of their debut LP, the world must now know about Green Rode Shotgun. Why? Because their record is damn good, that's why! Call their sound what you want--country rock, alt-country, rock and western--these guys simply kick ass. Just now emerging from the gritty land of Jack Daniels, these five young Tennesseans play clever, skillful, catchy rock n' roll music, something that we can always use more of. Did I mention that this record is good?
Yes, I realize that we have a relative plethora of good rock n' roll bands these days, with Wilco, Queens of the Stone Age, Interpol, Spoon, and the White Stripes, among many others, all thrilling us with their own version of the devil's music. You can add Green Rode Shotgun to this last, though with an asterisk. Many influences are evident in their music, from country and punk, to alt-rock and Brit-pop--GRS (can't resist the acronym) pours them all in a blender and hits DESTROY. This isn't all that new either. Ah, but here's the second asterisk--they're fresh, young, without pretension, and currently below the radar. This band comes with no buzz baggage, which makes them easy to latch onto. You can act like you discovered them!
Though I may be firing a shot in the dark here, I predict big things for this band. Not in the arena-rock Creed sense, but rather in more of a smart-rock-band-gains-its-niche-and-develops-following type of big thing. Bang is full of energy and smarts, with the band members showing off their musicianship with the least affectation and the maximum exhilaration possible. This music if fun. Aren't you glad I warned you?