Thursday, April 11, 2013

Illinois Entertainer Reviews 2012: S

Anarchy, My Dear 
(Equal Vision)

Max Bemis has referred to himself an “ADD-infected, clumsy, and right-brain- centric dolt of a man,” and on Anarchy, My Dear he proves it.  Or, rather, careening within post-punk parameters of his own devising, he proves it again, having already given abundant evidence--both in and outside the nuthouse--that he contains self-contradictory multitudes.  This time he has “Randy Newman in [his] head” (“Night’s Song”), a welcome addition that sharpens his humor ( “Don’t want to hear about how the latest Rihanna single / is a post-modern masterpiece”), his misanthropy (an entire song wishing Stephen Hawking dead), and his pop sense (“So Good” and “Overbiter” could qualify for Now That’s What I Call Music).  All this beause of Randy Newman?  Heck, wait ’til Bemis discovers Angry Samoans.

Can’t Take a Hint 

The first requirement of satirical songs is not that they work as satire but that they work as songs.  If in addition they’re funny and-or insightful, all the better.  The ten acts referred to as “featured” on this album’s cover (most notably Fountains of Wayne, Dr. John, and Judith Owen) guarantee sufficient musicality.  Whether any of the cuts, however, would’ve provided, say, The Book of Mormon with serious Grammy or Tony Awards competition is dubious, mainly because of the obviousness and safety of Shearer’s targets.  Sexually predatory priests (“Deaf Boys”), Madonna (“Like a Charity”), Sarah Palin (“Bridge to Nowhere”), Joe the Plumber (“Joe the Plumber”)--will it come as a surprise to anyone that Shearer is against them all?  What is surprising: the lameness of his Ian Dury impersonation.

(Big Beat/Atlantic)

Bangarang is not only this EP’s title but also what this EP’s music sounds like.  In fact, “bangarang” would make a better name for the entire hyper-electronic genre of which Skrillex is currently the best-selling example than “dubstep.”  Listeners needing more explanation might imagine minimalism, hip-hop, Keith Emerson’s synthesizers, machine guns, and jackhammers force fed into a garbage disposal then trash compacted until even such lyrics as poke out--“Bass makes that bitch come” (“Kyoto”), “Come on, baby, light my fire” (the Doors-featuring “Breakn' a Sweat”)--function more as aural shards than sentient expression.  The pummeling can get dull, like a wind-up toy ramming repeatedly into a wall.  It can also get impressive, as if Skrillex just might break on through to the other side.

Hundred Dollar Valentine 

It must be nice to have Chris Smither’s chief aesthetic problem, which is that he’s so consistent and consistently good at what he does his albums have begun to sound nearly identical.  What he does, for those who don’t yet know, is set existential conundrums to brisk, acoustic folk-blues and sing them in a warm, husky baritone soaked in stoicism with his tapping foot for a heartbeat.  What’s new this time is that he has finally eschewed covers, thus quashing doubts about whether a verse like “They say the good die young, but it ain’t for certain. / I’ve been good all day, I ain’t hurtin’. / And anyway I’m too old to die young” is his own.  And if you like that one, there are plenty more where it came from.

Radio Music Society 
(Heads Up International)

After her “Best New Artist” Grammy in the wake of Chamber Music Society, Spalding could’ve played things safe and merely reprised that album’s jazzy, non-verbal charms.  Instead, she has created an elastic jazz-pop tour de force, assembling a cast of dozens (four drummers alone, Jack DeJohnette included) and replacing the vocalise with lyrics.  Some of them, such as those in “Black Gold” advising African-Americans to boost their self-esteem by pondering ancient Egypt, are embarrassingly naive.  And “Vague Suspicions” and “Endangered Species” barely make sense.  But “How can we call our home, the land of the free / Until we've unbound the praying hands / Of each innocent woman and man” (“Land of the Free”)?, especially as Spalding sings it, ain’t bad for an Afrocentric “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Illinois Entertainer 2013: U-W

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