CD reviews: The Decemberists, Siskiyou, California X
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
Four years have passed since The Decemberists’ previous album – the commercially streamlined Americana of The King is Dead – surprisingly went straight to the top of the US charts.
But on this new album, the Oregon indie band’s seventh, chief songwriter Colin Meloy is quick to set the record straight. “We know we belong to ya/ We know you threw your arms around us/ In the hopes we wouldn’t change/ But we had to change some,” he laments over the lush acoustic guitar on the opening track The Singer Addresses his Audience.
The song then soars upon a lofty chorus into a cacophony of horns and strings, and reminds us how much we missed The Decemberists.
Meloy has always possessed a healthy vocabulary and the lyrics here are still blessed with intelligent wit, but the theatrical imagery is less pantomime and more confessional.
Tales of teenage love (Lake Song) and tragic loss (12-17-12) sit perfectly happily next to the gripping hooks of power pop anthems (Make You Better, and Cavalry Captain). A damn sight more beautiful than terrible.
It's no wonder that on the third album by the Vancouver-based art-rock band Siskiyou, the vocals of lead singer Colin Huebert flitter back and forth between hushed vulnerability and raw paranoia. Since the release of their last album Keep Away the Dead in 2011, the former Great Lake Swimmers drummer has suffered from a debilitating sensory condition that makes him unable to tolerate everyday sounds and cripples him with panic attacks.
Huebert's battling his conditions with meditation. Nervous is charged with the visceral conflicts once trapped inside his head, one moment frantic and disorienting (Bank Accounts and Dollar Bills), the next tranquil and dreamlike ( Violent Motion Pictures).
There are plenty of manic mood swings among the 10 tracks; album highlight Jesus in the 70s simply seethes with an underlying darkness. This was obviously not one of Huebert's happy days, but it's quickly followed by the upbeat Oval Window, a song that will leave Arcade Fire wondering if they should call the copyright police. Painfully soothing stuff.
Nights in the Dark
Don Giovanni Records
This power-punk four-piece, who hail from Amherst, Massachusetts, emerged in 2013 with a fuzzed-out, riff-laden debut album that paid more than a little distorted homage to the scuzz rock kings from their home town, Dinosaur Jr.
As good as it was, judging by the nine tracks on their follow-up, the quartet are now looking to forge their own identity and edge away from the comparisons with Dinosaur Jr frontman J. Mascis. Produced by Dinosaur Jr/Thurston Moore knob twiddler Justin Pizzoferrato, Nights in the Dark certainly embraces a more tripped-out sound - the riffs are still ridiculously heavy, but now with less fuzz and more crunch to their pop.
Red Planet is a shot of lethal moonshine, scruffy shout-along punk rock made purely to annoy the neighbours, while Hadley, MA wallows with slacker enthusiasm as frontman Lemmy Gurtowsky cuts through the distorted sludge with his euphoric guitar chops.
California X are approaching their music with a more expansive and moodier vision but their trademark no-nonsense grunge rock always wins the day.