Rock/Pop

 

This week's rock and pop CDs reviewed

BLACK LIPS

200 Million Thousand Vice ****

This Atlanta, Georgia band have probably gained as much attention for their whole-hearted pursuit of rock’n’roll notoriety as for their sleazy, greasy raw garage-rock. Their fifth album may mark the point where high-jinks on tour in India take a backseat. 200 Million Thousandis a marvellous beast altogether, an album that howls at the moon, rocks its socks off and collapses in an untidy (but pretty) heap on top of the drumkit. Continuing where Good Bad Not Evilleft off, the Lips throw out even more ramshackle odes to the glorious cow-punk days of old and hug their Nuggets box-set even closer. What results from this loose-limbed lurch towards the front row is a flow of cool, dumb and delightfully stupid songs such as Starting Overand Drugs. This is what classic rock’n’roll would sound like if the desperados were in charge. www.myspace.com/the blacklips JIM CARROLL

Download tracks: Drugs, Starting Over

BOB DYLAN

Together Through Life Columbia***

This wasn't supposed to be the great man's 33rd studio album. Dylan was asked to write a song ( Life Is Hard) for a film, and just kept writing. Made up of a wounded blues sound, alongside some Tex-Mex flourishes courtesy of a persistent accordion, Together Through Lifehas a retrospective feel. Keenly felt ballads of regret ( If Ever You Go to Houston, Forgetful Heart) mingle nonchalantly with the rockier material ( Beyond Here Lies Nothin) and the mockingly (or perhaps not) cheerful closer, It's All Good. The lyrics are gnomic and vaguely "state of the nation" in content, as well as mildly disturbing in their own Dylanesque way. Most of the songs could have been covered by either Tom Waits or Edith Piaf. Whether that's a good or bad thing is - like most of the songs here - slightly conflicted . Not as good as its predecessor, Modern Times, but certainly not an off-day either. www.bobdylan.com BRIAN BOYD

Download tracks: This Dream of You, If Ever You Go to Houston

CAMERA OBSCURA

My Maudlin Career 4AD****

Thanks to the constant spin of the “next-big-thing” wheel, there’s never been more pressure on bands to make it big with a knockout first album. But there’s much to be said for a slow-burning act that takes time to shape their sound. Their fourth album in 13 years finds Camera Obscura at home on a major label and trumping their own back catalogue. The opener, French Navy, sets out the album’s stall of bittersweet pop with a Wall of Sound echo. The production feels rich and retro, all 1960s filters and epic strings, with Tracyanne Campbell’s sweet vocals sprinkled over them. For all the winsome melodies and feelgood guitar jangles, the album’s title hints at darker elements in the lyrics. Camera Obscura haven’t strayed far from the country-soaked confessions they do so well, but there’s nothing wrong with consistency. www.camera-obscura.net SINÉAD GLEESON

Download Tracks: French Navy, Forests and Sands

VARIOUS

Score! 20 Years of Merge – The Covers! Merge ***

Since 1989, Merge Records has built a roster that includes Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel, Trail of Dead, M Ward, American Music Club, Destroyer and many more. To mark its 20th birthday, a bunch of non-Merge indie acts were invited to try their hand at Merge tunes. While some leave feathers unruffled (Bright Eyes should have raised a lot more hell with The Magnetic Fields), others turn tracks on their heads. Tracy Thorn and Jens Lenkman find the soul in the The Magnetic Fields’ Yeah! Oh Yeah!; Okkervil River twist East River Pipe’s All You Little Suckersinto alluring shapes; St Vincent and The National combine for a lovely reading of Crooked Fingers’ Sleep All Summer; and, best of all, Times New Viking kick Arcade Fire’s Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)in the shins to bring it down to (irreverent, lo-fi, dirgy) earth. Score, indeed. www.merge records.com JIM CARROLL

Download tracks: Times New Viking, Neighborhood #1; The National and St Vincent, Sleep All Summer

SHE KEEPS BEES

Nests Names ****

She Keeps Bees has the blues and let’s be very happy about that. Nestsis Brooklynite Jessica Larrabee’s second album (check out Minisink Hotelfor earlier thrills), and she now has drummer/engineer Andy LaPlant riding shotgun for her new adventures in retro-fit indie soul and blues. There have been plenty of similar shimmies and shakes from colour-coded duos before now, but She Keeps Bees take flight from a different runway. Larrabee’s voice and songwriting style bring some truly stellar vintages to mind (Nina Simone, Cat Power, Patti Smith, even Janis Joplin), yet she and LaPlant succeed in keeping all these wonderfully bad-ass sounds, down-at-heel woozy blues, gritty explosions and sexy, yearning hooks from simply aping what’s gone before. Tracks such as the gnarly Gimmieand the super-charged Release keep you riveted to the stereo. Nests really is just like honey. www.myspace.com/shekeeps bees JIM CARROLL

Download tracks: Gimmie, Release

THE JUAN MACLEAN

The Future Will Come DFA ****

Hard to believe that John MacLean spent the 1990s playing guitar in Rhode Island indie band Six Finger Satellite. For the past seven years he’s been working under an espanified version of his name and, in cahoots with DFA mates such as LCD Soundsystem’s Peter Murphy and Nancy Whang, has make ever more compelling dance music. MacLean’s take on 1980s synth-pop ( The Simple Life) and early 1990s piano house ( Happy House) is respectful without being idolatrous, his feel for the tricks and textures of intelligent dance music protecting him from nostalgia. That said, the he-says-she-says badinage between MacLean and Whang on the likes of One Dayis so reminiscent of The Human League that older listeners will be forgiven for thinking they’ve been time-machined back to an era when recession and lengthening dole queues were the order of the day. www.thejuanmaclean.com DARAGH DOWNES

Download tracks: The Future Will Come, Happy House

ALPHASTATES

Human Nature Magi Records ***

The Irish music scene is as dynamic as it’s ever been in 2009, but spare a thought for the bands who’ve been waiting a decade for that big break. Alphastates (known as Babelfish in a previous life) are among them, but their second album is unlikely to propel them skywards. Alphastates are proponents of dark electropop mixed with guitar-based indie, but one of Human Nature’s weaknesses is its uneven tone. Some of these songs sound like they’ve been lying around for years, while others sound box-fresh and subsequently misplaced. That said, the dark, cinematic ambience of at least half of the album is completely listenable, if not inspirational, while Catherine Dowling’s austere murmur is entrancing when she lets it off the leash. Still, it’s just a little too generic to cause a fuss. www.myspace.com/alphastates LAUREN MURPHY

Download tracks: Champagne Glass, Mercury

THE VON BONDIES

Love Hate and Then There’s YouModel Citizen ***

Detroit’s The Von Bondies might be better known over the past few years as the band whose singer- guitarist, Jason Stollsteimer, got into a fisticuffs-at-dawn scenario with Jack White of White Stripes. Such unseemly rock’n’roll behaviour always gets in the way of the music, however, so it’s good to state that The Von Bondies have returned with a full-steam-ahead record, itself a belated follow-up to 2004’s Pawn Shoppe Heart. Better late than never, we say, for Love Hateresonates with much more pop nous than might be expected. Tracks such as 21st Birthdayand the lead-off radio single, Pale Bride, beam with chart-beckoning pride; others, such as She’s Dead to Meand Shut Your Mouth, employ the kind of freak-outs that Frank Zappa would envy. The VBs start a six-date nationwide tour on May 6th in Dublin’s Academy; catch ’em while they’re hot and raring to go. www.myspace.com/vonbondies TONY CLAYTON-LEA

Download tracks: Pale Bride, 21st Birthday