CD Snaps★ots Animals in Autumn: Five CDs You Need This Fall
Dragons, Moths, and Ortolans Dominate New Rock Releases
With sprightly new indie bands coming out as fast as you can type “myspace,” it can be tiring and time consuming to navigate the Web in hot pursuit of new music. But never fear — these five discs, many of which come out next month, are tried-and-tested and sure to grace back-to-school playlists across the country as soon as they hit the CD store shelves.
Coronation Thieves by Dragons of Zynth
Release: Sept. 25, 2007 on Gigantic Records
I know close to nothing about Cleveland, other than that it hosts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and that “all the little chicks with their crimson lips go ‘Cleveland rocks.’” But the best (okay, first) evidence I’ve seen of this purported rockage comes from Ohioan twins Aku and Akwetey O.T.’s experimental funk-punk-soul group, Dragons of Zynth.
I got their debut LP, Coronation Thieves, a month or so back, and noting its co-production by David Andrew Sitek (of TV on the Radio fame) immediately heard the similarities between DOZ and said producer’s notable Brooklyn band. You could chalk up my interest to safety in familiarity, but once you get beyond the shockingly TVOTR-esque opener, “War Lover,” Coronation Thieves covers so much ground it’s hard to keep your mouth off the bait. Track 7 always seems to be my personal favorite, especially on a 10-track album like Coronation Thieves. “Anna Mae” fills that spot with a soulful and slow but deceptively upbeat tune worthy of any twisted love mix.
There Is a Moth in Your Chest by Mason Proper
Release: March 13, 2007 on Dovecote
So many rock singers today seem to thrive in their insecurities, passing off the breaks in their range as vocal cracks of emotion (see: Conor Oberst). And on the other end of the spectrum are the new bands modeled after 1970s punk acts; their music is so imitative I’d rather listen to a Sex Pistols re-issue than bother dealing with the newest copycat.
One band that seems to have struck a nice balance are Michigan indie rockers Mason Proper. I picked up their first LP at the Virgin megastore because I liked the cover art, which I later found out was designed by Grandaddy drummer Aaron Burtch. I was happily rewarded with a great disc inside.
Singer (and songwriter and guitarist and keyboardist) Jonathan Visger navigates through their debut album, There Is a Moth in Your Chest, with ease, slipping between a sexually ambiguous soprano and an in-charge tenor, aided by super-catchy and resonant guitars. Some of the album feels like a rock opera made for cinema (like title track “A Chance Encounter”) while “Blue Lips Eternal Inquiry” evokes the very spirit of Beck (do Scientologists believe in a spirit?). The catchy “Chemical Dress Eliza” is vulnerable, sensitive, until it kicks you in the teeth and invites all its friends to watch.
Shaky Hands EP by Cut Off Your Hands!
Release: Oct. 9, 2007 on I Am Sounds
Cut Off Your Hands!, a very un-sensitively monikered group of New Zealanders, are also getting by with a sometimes forceless singer who pulls off the task quite nicely. Their EP, Shaky Hands, sounds like a well choreographed street riot — a real modern day West Side Story soundtrack. Can’t you just picture this album as the background music to a coolly confrontational cinematic scene?
The Movie by Clare & the Reasons
Release: Sept. 4, 2007 on Frog Stand Records
Clare Muldaur, though at times evocative of Emily Haines and Nellie McKay, is less hip and funny than the women of whom she reminds me. Her 20-piece backing band is surely far from democratic, as Muldaur graduated Berklee with a degree in jazz composition. And though her songs are clever (opener “Pluto” is an ode to the revocation of the former planet’s title; “Cook For You” is a love song for a dead beau) she lacks the ability to give her songs resonance, instead spending far too much time singing wistfully for New York and Paris.
But somehow, Clare & the Reasons’ first album, The Movie, is a strange gem worth more than a few listens. Muldaur’s high, breathy voice would fit well with the old French chanteuses, and in fact, the last track, “Pluton,” is sung wholly in French. And a full string orchestra adds incredible depth to what would otherwise be quirky but unremarkable tracks. Despite these pros and cons, Muldaur has a secret weapon that makes the album worthwhile regardless of most of its content — and that weapon is Sufjan Stevens! He duets with her on a strange tune about running away to nowhere and taking only a comb and shoes.
The Ortolan by The Deadly Syndrome
Release: Sept. 11, 2007 on Dim Mak Records
The first thing I thought while listening to this album was “Modest Mouse!” If you’ve read reviews by me before, then you know my first thought was a good one. But this is no copycat album, and aside from the hammer-on-hammer-off riff throughout opening track “Eucalyptus,” The Deadly Syndrome stray far from my first impression over the course of their debut album, The Ortolan. The guitars and bass tracks could have come straight out of the American Northwest in the mid 90s, but are decorated with horns, bells, and keys typical of today’s Pitchfork Media darlings. There are also sweet folk numbers with stories about ghosts and wolves. And the end of the album is peppered with randomly interspersed disco beats. Mmmmm.