The Weekend Review: December 2011

By Chris Moore:

Here they are: the final two reviews of the year!  It’s taken me a week, but I’ve prepared all my “end of the year” lists, and they’ll be going live a day at a time, starting tomorrow…

 

El Camino (The Black Keys)

Producer: Danger Mouse & The Black Keys

Released: December 6, 2011

Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Little Black Submarines” & “Lonely Boy”

Instantly accessible, this new Black Keys album picks up more or less where its predecessor, Brothers, left off, though this time around some of the nuances have been dumped in favor of a streamlined, more formulaic sound.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it does create a sort of unity on the album, but it also tends to make the tracks run together a bit too seamlessly.  “Little Black Submarines” is the standout here, if only for its use of acoustic guitar to establish the track before picking up, though “Lonely Boy” was the perfect choice for a lead-off single (you’ll get no argument from me there).  Others, like “Run Right Back” and “Nova Baby,” are notable for their hooks, but the remainder of the songs generally feed into one album-length grunge/blues-rock fest that is, again, instantly accessible for the tracks’ consistent tightness, brevity, and catchiness.

 

Cloud Maintenance (Kevin Hearn)

Producer: Kevin Hearn & Michael Phillip Wojewoda

Released: December 20, 2011

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Always Changing” & “Northland Train”

Cloud Maintenance is about what you would expect from a Thin Buckle or a Kevin Hearn solo album, with an added sense of sonic and thematic unity that hasn’t always been present on previous releases.  Perhaps due to his soothing vocals or to the overwhelming sense of utter calm his instrumentation often projects, Hearn’s releases have the potential to be overlooked, or simply admired for their quirkiness yet denied the honor of future listens.  Here, however, there is a thread that weaves each track together, and the lyrics, though quite simple in most cases, tell a story for those willing to listen.  From the opening refrain of “Northland  Train,” there is a theme of departure and loss — of presence, of position — that pervades the first several tracks.  “She Waved” adds a bus to the transportational imagery (not to mention a gorgeous barrage of lush vocal harmonies), just as “Don’t Shuffle Me Back” brings in playing card imagery to express, again, the loss of a position once held dear.  “Grey Garden” delves deeper into the sense of loss, and “Tell Me Tell Me” ponders, albeit from afar, on what Hearn has disclosed as the cover painting by artist Don Porcella.  In “The House of Invention,” the tone begins to shift to a brighter, fairy tale-esque perspective.  The touching, beautiful “Always Changing” settles the contemplation explored earlier in a sturdier, life-encompassing paradigm that suggests wisdom and ease arriving at last.  “The City of Love” opens up a brief window that hints at fresh possibilities in a world that was previously possessed by the “could have been” and the “once was.”  Finally, “Monsters Anonymous” takes a twist, adding the humorous MA meeting introductions of seven classic scary fellows, each suggestive of a deeper layering of underlying thoughts, concerns, and regrets.  In this sense, there is the same positive, if pensive, energy here on Cloud Maintenance: you just need to experience the indecision and sad feelings of loss to reach it.  (And, with only eleven days to share, Hearn offers up my favorite stanza of lyrics of 2011: “I’m Frankenstein’s creation / and here’s my explanation, / why I’m bad at pro-creation: / my nuts are in my neck.”  So, there’s that.)

This is one in a series of acoustic cover songs, original music, and free mp3 downloads here on the Laptop Sessions Music Video Blog.

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