It’s been a busy week for music. Canadian progressive rock group The Tea Party released their long-awaited reunion album. Tiny Engines labelmates Cayetana and Mannequin Pussy dropped their debut full-lengths. U2 and Weed Hounds both released free albums. (Yes, I’m aware that the former is much more famous than the latter.) Heck, even post-punk revival trio Interpol got in on the fun. Now, if you’ll allow me, I’m going to write a brief review of each of them.
The Tea Party – The Ocean at the End
Bands usually play it safe on reunion albums. Fans don’t want to hear something bold and new; they want to hear what made them fall in love with their favourite bands in the first place. So you can’t blame The Tea Party for playing it relatively safe and recording a sort of “greatest hits” of their career. The Ocean at the End includes the Zeppelin-esque rock ‘n roll that brought them fame on Splendor Solis (“The L.o.C.”, “Black Roses”, “The Cass Corridor”), the world music influences of The Edges of Twilight and The Interzone Mantras (“Cypher”, “Brazil”), the dark, industrial-tinged hard rock of Transmission and Triptych (“The 11th Hour”, “Submission”), and the pop rock of Seven Circles (“Water’s on Fire”, their cover of Daniel Lanois’ “The Maker”). There’s something for every fan of The Tea Party on this record, no matter what era of the band is their most preferred.
That does mean, unfortunately, that as solid as The Ocean at the End is, it’s not a particularly adventurous album. There’s nothing quite as musically exciting as the pounding beat of “Temptation” or the zippy electronics of “Stargazer” here. The album also stumbles lyrically, as singer/guitarist Jeff Martin spouts clichés and platitudes like “The further you travel the closer you are.” (That one’s from “The Black Sea.”) There’s barely a word longer than two syllables on the entire album. Most embarrassingly, in “The Cass Corridor,” Martin sings the line “Skinny little white boy” over and over again, which might be stupidest lyric ever sung by a white person.
But things finally get interesting on the album’s penultimate and title track, where the band lets itself get proggy. After a build-up of dark, minor-key rock, Martin launches into an extended guitar solo that begins as a spastic, shredding freakout and slowly becomes more lyrical before becoming jagged and angular again. It showcases a compelling new direction for the band that I would love to hear more of in the future. Things get even more interesting in “Into the Unknown,” an atmospheric interlude piece that sounds like it’s about to launch the album into uncharted territory.
Too bad it’s the final track on the album. It’s as if Ocean ends just when it’s getting really good. Maybe “Into the Unknown” is a harbinger of things to come from The Tea Party – I mean, if they’re going to go full-on Deafheaven sans screaming, I could get behind that. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking based on the track’s title. In any case, for the moment, The Ocean at the End is a solid release that should please longtime fans, and it may be an interesting bridge to whatever comes next in the band’s career.
Cayetana – Nervous Like Me
I was fully expecting to hate Nervous Like Me, but I came out feeling surprisingly positive about it. It’s not a great record by any means, but there’s not much better out there these days if you’re looking for no-frills punk rock. Cayetana are on the softer side of things, though, with songs like “Dirty Laundry” and “Favorite Things” veering into ’90s indie rock/power pop territory.
Cayetana’s songs sound a bit too thin, unfortunately, and I think the main reason is that the band is a trio, so they don’t have any lead guitar lines. In fact, the bass often drives the melody, playing lines that would normally be handled by a higher-pitched instrument. Layering a lead guitar line on top might help, but I don’t think the band would want to indulge in that kind of polyphony. Indeed, with most tracks clocking in at under 3 minutes, simplicity is one of Cayetana’s strengths; I’d just like to hear something a little more textured out of them.
Mannequin Pussy – Gypsy Pervert
Mannequin Pussy seems to be two bands spliced together – one, a lo-fi hardcore punk group; the other, a gauzy shoegaze outfit. The band might have something interesting here if it knew how to be both within the same song. But it doesn’t, instead choosing to alternate between the two, and the result is an album that lacks coherence.
I’ll be frank, the lo-fi hardcore punk portion of the record is often just irritating. “Sneaky Nips” and “Clue Juice” are straight-up terrible tracks that are mixed so poorly that they barely sound like music. When lead singer Marisa Dabice goes for a softer vocal approach, though, like on “My Baby (Axe Nice),” the results are much more agreeable.
The shoegazey side of things fares far better. “Someone Like You” is a fantastic track that uses the band’s lo-fi sound to create an ethereal effect, and “Meat Slave 2” and “Piss Drinker” – God, these song titles are fucking terrible – are solid tracks as well, the latter having a grungy influence.
Overall, though, Gypsy Pervert is not a very good record. It’s far too inconsistent to recommend, and I think the band could do a lot better by ditching the screeches and squeals and going for something a little more delicate instead.
U2 – Songs of Innocence
Um, why the hell is Bono singing about the IRS?
If the entirety of Songs of Innocence had been as good as the last two-thirds of the record, then we might have another classic U2 album on our hands. Instead, U2 chose to spend the first third of the album rehashing the past decade of their career with tracks like “Every Breaking Wave,” “California (There Is No End to Love),” and “Song for Someone.” At least “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” is somewhat appealing with its crunchy guitars, but its shuffle beat is heavily reminiscent of “Love and Peace or Else.”
Things pick up with “Iris (Hold Me Close)” (where Bono amusingly pronounces “Iris” like “eye-ahrr-ess” over and over again). The band begins channelling their old, pre-The Unforgettable Fire material in a lot of their tracks, and even when they don’t, they bring the rock and energy, displaying a kind of verve I haven’t heard from them since Achtung Baby. Drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. has one of his best showcases ever on “Cedarwood Road,” and the band injects a fun, danceable vibe into “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now.” “Raised By Wolves” and “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” are also standouts.
The album closes with “The Troubles,” a haunting mixture of the band’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind and Original Soundtracks 1 sounds, with backing vocals by Lykke Li. It puts a capper on a welcome trend of experimentation that you don’t often see from a band this late in their career. One gets the nagging sense that the band wanted to experiment even further, but they didn’t want to alienate fans, so they played it safe on the album’s early tracks before hitting them with the good stuff.
Unfortunately, it also seems like the producers wanted to play it safe. Most of the album was produced by Danger Mouse, but he had some assistance from Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder here and there. It seems like they were intent on sanding off the band’s rougher edges, when these songs – many of which are deeply personal in nature – would sound much better with a little grit.
Overall, Songs of Innocence is a much better effort than I expected from U2, especially after the disappointment that was No Line on the Horizon. Give it a listen, kiddies; you might be pleasantly surprised.
Weed Hounds – Weed Hounds
I once saw Weed Hounds in concert with a drum machine instead of a drummer. They were fucking terrible. Weed Hounds has actual drums. It sounds much better.
That sounds like a bit of a frivolous point, but it’s an important one. Part of what anchors a good shoegaze album is solid drumming, and Weed Hounds has it in spades. The rest of the instrumentation is pretty solid too. For the most part, most of the album is just a fairly standard mixture of indie rock and shoegaze.
However, “standard” doesn’t have to mean “bad.” Although the lyrics are unintelligible, which makes it hard to hear to what the band is singing about, Weed Hounds is really good at playing standard shoegaze, and they perfectly straddle the line between aggressive and ethereal. The pop-inflected “Heather W” is a highlight, as is the instrumental “Private Life.”
Overall, Weed Hounds is a solid debut LP. There’s not much to say about it. It’s a shoegaze album. If you like that kind of stuff, you’ll like this record.
Interpol – El Pintor
Almost everything that Interpol has done since their debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights, has been an attempt to live up to their early greatness. And each and every time, they’ve failed to match the dark intensity of their debut. On El Pintor, the band finally stops trying to recapture past greatness and instead tries to forge a new sound. It sort of works. It’s nowhere near as good as Turn on the Bright Lights, but it’s the first Interpol album in a while that I’ve thought was genuinely interesting.
It’s true that “My Desire” and “My Blue Supreme” are duds, but tracks like “All the Rage Back Home” and “Anywhere” have the kind of energy that I haven’t heard from a post-punk revival band since The Boxer Rebellion’s Exits. Overall, El Pintor is a solid effort from a band that I had more or less written off, and I hope that Interpol continues forging new paths on their next release.
Okay, that’s enough reviewing. Now go do something productive instead of reading my blog.