And All That Could Have Been
Nine Inch Nails
It's been a quick, nasty tumble for Trent Reznor. He's gone from the King to the Prince to the Peasant of Darkness in about seven years' time. He was Spin's Artist of Year in 1996 and graced the magazine cover; now, he'd be lucky to get his name in bold print in the News and Notes section. If you dare ask Trent why he's suffered such a merciless commercial slide, he'll tell you about how Britney and other vapid pop maestros shanghaied the Billboard charts. I know because I actually watched him spout this bullshit on M2 last weekend as the station played some interview footage from his DVD (the companion piece to this live album).
If you want to know the truth, Trent Reznor's exhausted his shelf life because while you and I have grown up, taken care of our acne, and gotten girlfriends/boyfriends, etc., Trent's still locked in his room masturbating to the Victoria's Secret catalog. Twelve years removed from his debut album, he's still hung up on the decay, the pain, the torture, the hole in his soul. That's not to say that these songs are bad. I used to love them when I was 14, but, you know, times and tastes change. Wish I could say the same for Trent.
What if Elton John or Billy Joel had grown up listening to early '90s indie rock? Well, they might sound a little like Brendan Benson. Benson is a traditionalist in the best sense of the term. He's a singer-songwriter has a gift for ferreting out pop melodies and throwing just enough curveballs to keep things from becoming overly familiar. Lapalco, his second album and first for NYC indie StarTime, is rife with plain but never dull who pleasures. Ben Folds is perhaps his most obvious contemporary, but Benson isn't nearly as goofy or flatfooted with his arrangements. Even otherwise conventional songs like "Metarte" are enlivened by Benson's firm grasp of direction and tunefulness.
Benson does, unfortunately, have trouble sustaining the energy and focus for the duration of the album. But as a young singer-songwriter, he's already miles ahead of the competition. In Lapalco, he's cobbled together an LP so earnest and likeable that only the most stonehearted of critics could be immune to its simple charms.
Static Delusions and Stone-Still Days
The Catheters, a young (just a few years out of high school) Seattle punk set, are a little short on tunefulness but more than a little long on wienie-waving punk rock. After an afternoon listening to Belle & Sebastian on my walkman (I feel no shame in this) I slipped the Catheters' new LP in and promptly found myself thrashing and grabbing my earholes in a rock-induced agonie, à la a 1955 George McFly listening to Van Halen.
The difference between my experience and George McFly's is that the Catheters did not tell me to take Lorraine to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance that weekend. They told me to turn the volume down before my ears started bleeding. The Catheters are a little bit Stooges (minus the rolling around in broken glass), a little bit Murder City Devils (minus the gayness) and a little bit At the Drive-In (also minus the gayness, and the Afros for that matter). What that all adds up is debatable, but if you're into any of the three bands I mentioned, you will find the Catheters to your liking.
Neon Golden, the latest album from German experimental rock outfit the Notwist, is a dizzyingly beautiful work that stitches together several different genres (read: indie rock, glitch, chamber pop) to form a seamless hybrid. Where other bands have failed, often sinking into abstraction, the Notwist succeed; they paint vibrant soundscapes with their rich palette that are never too cerebral to be called pop. Even the tension which sometimes arises between the programming of Martin Gretschmann (Console) and the more straightforward rock sound works in the Notwist's favor, making for a dynamic, engaging listen. The very first seconds affirm so: plucks on guitar strings are interspersed with bits of silence, throwing the listener off balance until violins now guitar now clarinet enter the song, with a mounting fullness that dissipates, by the end, into hissing static. From there on, the album visits many sonic terrains, including the infectious guitar riff of "Pilot" and the block rockin' beats and vibraphones of "This Room." It is not in spite of, but rather because of its eclecticism, that Neon Golden shines.