Another January’s consigned to the scrap heap of history, and here are a few impressions about records we bought (and got ’round to playing). Included: two mild disappointments and one that looks good for the year-end top ten.
TENNIS –Cape Dory
With such proliferation of young marrieds in indie pop groups, Tennis’ quirky back story of rendering coastal sailboating adventure into song oughtta beguile for precisely one album’s worth of P.R. Cape Dory’s rudimentary guitar pop is attractive and sprightly, the proceedings lightly kissed with reverb and tingling ride cymbals. Throwback tempos and time signatures (‘50s doo wop on “Pigeon,” fairground waltz on “Bimini Bay”) abound: with a little more high end this would have been a Sarah Records band 15 years ago. But the twee summertime vibe is undermined by Wife’s furry, adenoidal vocals – I do like some of the girl groupisms, and the melodies are fine, but her limitations – or the poor vocal miking, or a combination of both – really keep Cape Dory anchored. Husband does what he can to enliven an uptempo pair near album’s end – “Seafarer” and “Baltimore” – but as soon as his betrothed starts breathing her sweet nothings, the spell sours. Seasick, yet still docked.
BRITISH SEA POWER – Valhalla Dancehall
Hopefully this is BSP’s fallow period and not a sign of terminal decline. Their blandest “proper” album, Valhalla Dancehall is, qualitatively, everything in wrong amounts: too much dynamic compression, too many songs, too little breathing room. Most damningly, there ain’t a winning single in the package. Pre-LP single “Living Is So Easy” was okay, but ultimately proved a red herring, its synth ‘n’ shuffle rhythm unrepeated during the album’s other 57 minutes, which more-or-less tread familiar ground. BSP’s itchy, loose-limbed verve is still evident in the playing (and I love the powerful “Mongk II”), but whereas BSP’s best work smacks of fresh air and open skies, Dancehall‘s numbingly dense, and it buries the vocals. It’s nice to have preferred lead singer Scott “Yan” Wilkinson restored to prominence after a scaled-back contribution to ’08’s Do You Like Rock Music?, but his yelp is missing some of the emphatic oomph that powered “Childhood Memories,” “Waving Flags” and other stalwarts of yore. With its clumsily crude chorus destined to draw daytime radio bans (“over here, over there, everyfuckingwhere”), second single “Who’s In Control?” asks a tough question. Who indeed, lads?
DESTROYER – Kaputt
One long Sunday morning comedown record, and I don’t mean that as a criticism. Kaputt’s shivery, end-of-the-‘70s production sheen overcomes the record’s only potential cul-de-sac: samey song tempos (mid) and static basslines (no scales, all heartbeats). Then I realized I’d been hypnotized. Drizzling sax and flute over the glassy grooves like the second coming of Wild Bill Moore’s exploratory What’s Going On riffing, Kaputt conjures a twilit sky from atop the Love Boat with the house band playing disco jazz below deck. Superficially, sure, it’s a yacht rockish paean to pre-MTV American AM radio, but Dan Bejar’s masterstroke is in identifying the sucker punch hallmark of great disco records from the preceding half-decade: regret and longing trussed up in a Cinderella-like desperation to make it to the ball on time. Nostalgia infuses the fat, held, synth notes and gingerly enunciated lyrics, Bejar’s disenchanted kitten voice pawing at the silk curtains obscuring his protagonist’s voyage from hedonistic young gun to sage mage. (Really. That’s what I got.) The final song might be the umpteenth example of how hard it is to write a great 11-minute song (ask British Sea Power, they tried it earlier this month). But eventually Bejar rouses himself and sends the last revellers home. Too mellow to be a dance record, too shifty to soundtrack romance, Kaputt is a terrific, sturdy, headphones album of intelligence and craft. Recommended songs? Nearly all of ’em.