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Random Stabbings 29

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James Blunt, “All the Lost Souls” (Atlantic Records)
In this, overnight alt-pop sensation Blunt bestows more tender mercies upon docile yuppies through his second attempt at becoming an Elton John with a Five For Fighting grasp of current radio events. His gentle, weird lilt is oddly birdlike, rusted in a patina of grunge, like Eddie Vedder crooning a lullaby for Dakota Fanning so she’ll forget about the Martian death-bots. Everyone knows Blunt from his 2005 megahit “You’re Beautiful,” the first British pop single America’s taken seriously since Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind,” and it’s precisely that sort of cartoonishly awed resonance he excretes in “One of the Brightest Stars” – the song’s lyrics seem more relevant to Blunt (or someone else experiencing their 15 minutes) than Princess Di, but either way it’s a VH1-load of hyperbolic reverence. This kid has to be admired somewhat for enduring forced-listening sessions of 70s gunk. In his last album it was painfully obvious that he handcuffed himself somewhere where he couldn’t shut off the Fleetwood Mac loop, whereas this time he prepared for the writing process by torturing himself with the Eagles Greatest Hits (“Give Me some Love”) and Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is” (“I’ll Take Everything”). “1973” may be the key to Blunt’s whole pop branding, as it reveals a Natalie Merchant side to his sound that answers a lot of questions. Order from

Deana Carter, “The Chain” (Vanguard Records)
Lots of artists turning to cover songs nowadays, although it’s rare that those releases come with contributions from genre royalty. Aside from her barefootedness, former sorority girl Carter is famous for the four Billboard hits extracted from her 1996 LP “Did I Shave My Legs for This,” a song on the Sandra Bullock film Hope Floats, and Golden Globe and Grammy awards for “Once Upon a December” from the animated Fox film Anastasia. Vocally she’s much akin to Nanci Griffith trying to mimic Cyndi Lauper in a Trisha Yearwood mood, a trademark sound that’s a little too real for Walmart overhead speakers (Faith Hill she ain’t). Carter herself produced this record, a study in tearjerker torch, glitchy alt-country and train-hobo-oldies that begins with Carter delivering Roy Orbison’s “Crying” in a detached swoon that puts her crackly non-glossiness to good use. Soon enough, countryzillas begin lumbering into the studio, the more sensible Carter showing up the more crazy Dolly Parton in their duet version of Dolly’s famous fluff-piece “Love is Like a Butterfly,” after which Carter re-does “On The Road Again” as a slow back-porch ballad with Willie Nelson. Order from

Division Day, “Beartrap Island” (Eenie Meenie Records)
At this writing, the Eenie Meenie release – as opposed to the self-released version – of Division Day’s self-produced Beartrap Island is supposed to have been out in the stores for two days, but the band’s been crying wolf about its release for nearly 2 years now (to my knowledge, anyway; that’s about how long it’s been hanging around my desk smoking smelly Turkish cigarettes while waiting for me to find evidence of its wide release and at last put it out of its misery), so I’ll believe it when I see the thing in an actual store. In line with that, small-fry zine-critics have been criticizing it for a long time, most of them tagging the record as a vision of angst-ful sadness. When you hear that, you think Low or whatever other gloom-core appeals to the 0.001% of the population that pretends to like that crap, let alone knows it exists, and that’s just dead wrong. What must have happened is one of the bigger mags ran a very esoteric, wholly uninformed review focused solely on the lyrics, and that was to their folly, because nothing could be further from the truth if going by the band’s musical angle, which is how you’re supposed to look at a record in the first place. What a goddam mess. It’s the fricking Buzzcocks, is what this is, with a lot of Spoon thrown in. This has been a public service message. Order from

The Sadies, “New Seasons”
(Yep Roc Records)
The Sadies could probably open for any alt-rock band or jam band around, but how long they’ll have to play the bridesmaid is one of life’s mysteries, I suppose – they’re awesome-opening-act the way the Tubes and bands like that have it down. In fact, there’s more talent in the bluegrass-picking fingers of the two Good brothers than in the strenuous efforts of a hundred Deadly Syndromes, but you know that by now if you’ve spun your wheels trying to figure out what kind of drugs the bloggers are on down in Brooklyn. Another thing Sadies can sound like is Kings of Leon trying to nick Randy Newman, but with some neo-psychedelica thrown in. Overall it’s something you wouldn’t expect from a band flying this moniker, a mutation of picket-fence-toothed hillbilly, Jimmy Page whiz-kid six-finger-picking and Brian Jonestown. Order from

Witchcraft, “The Alchemist”
(Candlelight Records)
Cripes, this is getting to be like the Jackie Jokeman joke about the duck trying to buy grapes at the 7-11. Swedish doom-metal crew Witchcraft beat on my door a couple of times with their two previous albums, and I may have responded once with the literary equivalent of threatening to nail their webbed feet to the floor, but hope does spring I suppose. Although the band is nowadays courting the hipster kids in the hope of pulling off a St. Vitus scam, most download-addicts will remain singularly unsold on the band’s experiments, all of which boil down to loosely pilfered Black Sabbath songs and a hacking off anything that required a second guitar lesson. An old trick we’ve discussed before, but Witchcraft refuse to leave bad enough alone, relying on a somewhat Darkness-like frontman to serve as a shield against rotten tomatoes whilst deadening their effects so that the guitars sound like Blue Cheer – actually, not even that heavy. But it’s a weird program y’all crackers are into nowadays, buying Avenged Sevenfold albums, or worse, encouraging Papa Roach with your wallets instead of, I don’t know, remixing old Iron Maiden devil-alongs. Personal bewilderment aside, Witchcraft does have something oddly Bauhaus going for them, however tenuously, which is a sight better than what a lot of the second-generation Candlemass clones are trying on for size. Things stolen from Sabbath include “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Dirty Women,” song names changed to protect the innocent and all that. Order from

Enter Shikari, “Take to the Skies” (Ambush Reality Records)
Metal album of the year in the house, guys, if that’s Enter Shikara’s goal, which indeed it may not be. At first earful this UK four-piece is a mixture of In Flames, As I Lay Dying and cut-rate electro, a summation that doesn’t hold much water by the time the record finishes up. A lot of hurried wardrobe-changing goes on here, but that’s not to say that it’s a kaleidoscopic genre montage; the pieces are logical fits for each other in the way you’d associate a brick with a baseball bat – blunt, dangerous objects with little other common ground. There’s a Sex Pistols guy yelling violent obscenities. Some math-metal. A bubbling synth that owes its life to the intro of Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie.” Goth techno-cheese. Doc Martens-stomping oi. An Eddie van Halen guitar lead. A keyboard that sounds like “Jump.” Bursts of drum-n-bass that disappear the second you realize they’re there. Screamo lines. Sevendust-esque doom chords. Adult-radio emo.
Take to the Skies is a latecomer owing to the band’s running their own label and not really concentrating on the States until a month or so ago, at which point they hired PR over here. When – not if – this explodes in America (my lowball guess is they’ll easily rope in twice the numbers In Flames regularly get), be it within the metal world or as a nu-rave crossover, the floodgates wont just be opened for metal bands to start working on some seriously cool, open-minded stuff, the dam will be blown to atoms.
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Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, “Raising Sand” (Rounder Records)
In which Robert Plant maintains his 5.0 grade average in getting old. He did the American roots thing before with Led Zeppelin – the lyrical structure of “Gallows Pole” was straight out of Abe Lincoln’s time – and he’s back into it again, hooking up with bluegrass star Alison Krauss for this guilty pleasure (the screaming 70s Plant gave way to the restrained 80s-rocker of his solo projects, hence a collab of this sort shouldn’t come as a shock at this stage). Producer T Bone Burnett makes his presence known, but it’s the duo’s fascination with the basics of sound and harmony that propels this beyond simple odd-couple one-off into starkly open-hearted crossover project with instant appeal for – hell, the whole country. “Rich Woman” is a ghostly soft-rocker that finds the pair challenging each other’s softest sides to maintain a boozy but emotionally present vibe, and that’s just for starters. Practically anything on board this one – and it gets diverse, with Krauss’ weird Kit Kat Klub torch on “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us” living alongside a couple of done-me-wrong country tearjerkers and Plant’s googly-eyed fever dream “Polly Come Home” – could peg high on the adult-contemporary charts. One wonders what would’ve happened if they’d not done this strictly for yuks. Order from

Seether, “Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces” (Wind-Up Records)
The best bang for your nu-metal buck remains Seether, who consistently make the most of the genre’s guitar-solo-less trappings. This isn’t to ignore Korn, of course, who’ve carved out a violent little banana republic of their own through their talent for atmosphere and a little help from sludge-core, but with Seether one gets the clear impression they’ve witnessed their share of boys room beatings and compensated by splitting off a personality or two. They’re further separated from the Papa Roach brigade by their insatiable jones for grunge (they’ve covered a handful of Nirvana songs over the years), and in fact half of this album’s “Eyes of the Devil” is unadulterated grunge, the remainder being better-than-average sturm-und-drang doom-emo made more than palatable by singer Shaun Morgan’s spine-chilling plea to the Lawd, one of two instantly memorable refrains on the album (the second being the boisterous S&M exhortation on “FMLYHM”). Getting back to 90s radio for a second, “Like Suicide” is a nervous quiet-to-loud rockout that recalls Live. Order from

The Thrills, “Teenager” (Virgin Records)
Habitual readers of NME and other imported European gerbil-cage-liners should be well aware of this Dublin-born indie-bubblegum fivesome. Virgin’s finally releasing Teenager in the States, not a dumb move considering the radio potential of the songs (at this writing the Killers are in heavy rotation for making like Cheap Trick’s copycat little brother, and the average Teenager song would fit nicely into the same college-radio block as “For Reasons Unknown”). Nothing on this album is end-of-the-world original aside from the provenance of the sound; it’s not every day that a bunch of Irish kids get it in their head that if they wish really hard they’ll become California surfers. My test-lab notes on this are sparse – there’s nothing notable about the record but nothing to sink your hate into either, like Kaiser Chiefs without the roughhousing. It’s beach-blanket patter for the easily impressed frosh, really, twee tunes trying to survive in a shoegaze vacuum, Belle & Sebastian vs. Black Tambourine, one could say. In the end, you couldn’t disrespect any newbie for thinking The Thrills were the best band on earth, as a lot stupider things have happened. Order from

Oscar G, “Nervous Nitelife: Space Miami” (Nervous Records)
As far as glamour-class superclubs go, Space in Miami is among the top three or four in the world. The next best thing to being there is this CD/DVD package, the expressed goal of which was reaching beyond the simple goal of capturing a mint take of a DJ set at the club to bottling the entire experience. The DVD half has the easiest time of accomplishing same, by including a lot of footage from the dance floor in addition to interviews, monkeyshines, so on. The CD is equally a huge gift to dance fans and the modern house genre itself; it’s Oscar G’s second shot at a live album at Space, and NYC label Nervous Records put up a lot of dough to get it done right. Bingo Caché’s “Dancin’” opens with ambivalent but complex percolation signaling that a lot of darkness is about to descend, Rastafarian chanting and finger-pop percussion joining in as it moves along. Oscar’s own “Chunky Buddha” gets some love, as does his Murk production partner Ralph Falcon via the inclusion of Falcon’s ”I Need Someone.” Descriptives fail here – the primal, feverishly sexy noise-rhythms catch fire on all the tracks, most of them white-hot club-hits of the future rather than re-rehashes of things you’ve heard on previous compilations. Absolutely essential. Order from

Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome. Email

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