This month in the shopping bag: the kids are alright, the return of 2008’s band-of-the-year, and the English are eating themselves again.
SMITH WESTERNS – Dye It Blonde
All Pop Rocks ‘n’ Coke and Michael Kelso throwing the devil’s horns, or, less impressionistically: woozily high-pitched vocals over pillowy classic rock, spiked with declamatory guitar lines recalling the taffy tang of T. Rex (not to mention David Bowie’s own playing on Diamond Dogs). Dye It Blonde’s emotional gravitas is somewhere below heavy-hitting, but its best songs are affecting anyway. Maybe it’s in the way these guys – the eldest is barely legal, by the way – pump up their songs with tempo changes (“All Die Young,” “Dance Away”) or where-have-I-heard-that post-chorus guitar hooks (“Weekend,” “Still New”). Maybe it’s the redemptive quality of something normally defaulting to masculine softened by the youthfully wan singing. Blonde’s time capsule qualities don’t exactly scream sound of tomorrow, but the tracks are so pleasingly layered I found lots of little treasures while trying to figure it out. The only trick these Smiths left out is glammy handclap accompaniment. You may find yourself supplying your own.
CUT COPY – Zonoscope
Dan Whitford’s preference for trad song structure over cycling hooks is one reason Cut Copy look to have the legs to run awhile. For all the things Zonoscope could have been – a two-dimensional commercial sellout; an In Ghost Colours clone; a well-intentioned bummer – the most encouraging thing about its near-excellence is the clear sense of upward development: stronger lyrics, deeper arrangements, increasing mastery of form. CC blew a lot of ammo with last summer’s pre-LP single, the amazingly assured, giddily expansive “Where I’m Going,” and still more with “Take Me Over” in November, but there’s a lotta gold in Zonoscope’s hills, including the ab fab “Alisa,” the soaring successor to Colours’ “Unforgettable Season.” One saber-rattling, sugar-rush rocker per LP shouldn’t be enough when CC does ‘em so well, but we’ll make do when they’re this good. Zonoscope’s club-friendly bookends ply Whitford’s build/breakdown/release paradigm with the same assurance as their 2008-09 live shows, which bodes well for this year’s tour: I don’t know how 15 minutes of “Sun God” will play live (what’s with everyone trotting out sitcom-length epics this winter?), but I’ll be waving my arms in the air like I just don’t care. Cut Copy’s in pretty heady space after three LPs, with the discog already sounding like one of the all-time great dance-rock mixtapes. And there’s the feeling they’re only getting warmed up.
WHITE LIES – Ritual
As an anthropological experiment of sorts, I waded into this critically derided LP as a staunch appreciator of its musical antecedents and came away from it understanding said critical majority’s misgivings. And my wallet thinks I should be disciplined for throwing away 15 bucks. That said, I hit repeat on four songs, so Ritual must be doing something right part of the time, yeah? Old rope about the sincerity of imitation aside, those four songs have exactly what I miss in recent work by the bands White Lies are hated for loving, so what’s wrong with that? I mean, don’t people have “types” they date?