Here's a secret Red Rocker will kill me for leaking: We all have day jobs. It may look cool that we're all resident music critics, as if that actually means something, but the truth is, we're just big fans of music, like you, who are lucky enough to write about it and get it printed on a Website with hot chicks.
But from time to time, your actual real job calls, and doing the stuff that you like to do, like writing about music for a site loaded with hot chicks, gets pushed aside. I'm probably the most prone to feast-or-famine in the work I turn in for them. Between running two fantasy baseball leagues (and playing in two others, including one with that smug bastard Chuck Papenfus), writing for three publications and playing sports every other day of the week, never mind spending time with my lovely wife, finding time to hammer out a review can be sparse. So I do what all writers do: I cheat.
Behold, the first installment of Medsker Music Quickies, where I get to the pile of CDs I've been meaning to write about for months and actually write about them. Enjoy.
Pop record of the year, so far. Scheduled for release two years ago on Fred Durst's label (the irony of this will hit you in a couple sentences), the album has been doing the Big Five Shuffle until Sony rescued it, and thank God they did. The Ethiopian-born Kenna teams up with Chad Hugo of the Neptunes and produces a record that sounds like 1980s UK pop with beats by the Bomb Squad of Public Enemy fame. The songs aren't deep -- Kenna is a well-read guy, but his lyrics are pretty straight forward -- but he means it, dammit, and that helps sell even the simplest of couplets. The songs recall Seal, Tears For Fears, Oingo Boingo (on the bouncy single "Freetime," which also has the best video I've seen since Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice") and even Faith-era George Michael, but with considerably more punch from the rhythm section. A couple tracks miss the mark, but overall this is the most refreshing pop record I've heard this year. Finally, someone takes the supposed "retro" sound and turns it into something decidedly modern.
Superb. This indie pop supergroup, which consists of five Canadians and Chicago's luscious alt-country chanteuse Neko Case, lets rip on their second platter with power pop gem after power pop gem. Case sounds like she's channeling Kirsty MacColl, which is never a bad thing. The songs are tight, catchy, bouncy and brief, like all good pop should be. And, with song titles like "Miss Teen Wordpower" and "The New Face of Zero and One," you know they're smarter than the average bear. A band in a class all its own.
Sounds like Flaming Lips, the Cars and Radiohead, the glowing press said. Hmmm. I found the band's last album, 2000's The Sophtware Slump, pretty engaging (and a bit tedious), so I thought I'd take a gamble on this one. Ugh. Lead Grandaddy Jason Lytle's weak tenor hinders even their best songs, and the songs here, despite the glowing comparisons, aren't a tenth as good as the best work of any of the three bands listed above. The moral of the story: When a new artist is compared to your favorite band, be prepared for them to sound like the worst album by your favorite band.
Mope-pop genius Joe Pernice checks the trademark orchestral bits at the door in favor of a Smiths-like guitar pop approach for the Brothers' third release. The band sounds perfectly comfortable with the new style, but for a guy who reportedly saves his best stuff for Pernice Brothers albums (he also releases material under his own name and the moniker Chappaquiddick Skyline), the songs are easily their weakest to date. That doesn't make the album bad, per se, just not as good as we've come to expect. Fans of the band should temper their expectations a little; newcomers should check out 2001's divine The World Won't End first.
Somewhere between Ryan Adams and Semisonic's Dan Wilson sits Loneliness Knows My Name, the heartfelt and hook-laden sophomore effort by Patrick Park. The music is pure Americana, roots rock tinged with the occasional harmonica or harpsichord, but his voice is uncommonly sweet (hence the Wilson comparison). While Ryan Adams fiddles about with box sets, reuniting Whiskeytown and fighting with his record label, he should take the occasional glance in his rearview mirror, if he ever wants to see Park coming.
Sense Field. The name just screams emo, doesn't it? If you said yes, you would be right, and very wrong. Living Outside, the band's fourth album and second for Nettwerk since a major label debacle that put them out of commission for years, is a more streamlined affair, and a deliberate, if slightly vain, attempt to rid themselves of that pesky emo tag once and for all. The songs are tight and noisy in a Jimmy Eat World kind of way, but even the moments where lead singer Jon Bunch is being his most assertive have a trace of sadness to them as well. But every generation needs its misunderstood romantic, and if their cover of "A Letter to Elise" doesn't tell you, everything else on Living Outside points towards Sense Field becoming this generation's version of the Cure, and that ain't bad.