By Chris Moore:
A Wasteland Companion (M. Ward)
Producer: M. Ward
Released: April 6, 2012
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “I Get Ideas” & “Primitive Girl”
The “Him” half of nostalgia-rock act She & Him is the more veteran act of the two, and it shows on his most recent release. A Wasteland Companion is unassuming at most times, but tends to manage that fine balance between simple and boring, leaning ever more towards “chill.” The Zooey Deschanel – the “She” in She & Him – duet “Sweetheart” doesn’t leap out as much as you might expect it to, but I suppose what can you expect from a one-off non-She & Him album track? As per usual, a little reverb goes a long way to making M. Ward’s vocals pop in all the right ways for his instrumental sound. At times, he draws outside the box, as in the distortion on his electric guitar in the standout “I Get Ideas.” Across the album, the acoustic guitar sparkles and the lyrics propel the sounds, working them into a cohesive yet artistic whole. Most tracks fly by, many at under three minutes, but this helps to keep up the pace of the album. When Ward drops the at-times-distracting ambient sounds and focuses on his songs for the words and music as directly as possible, the result is fantastic; and, thankfully, there are enough of those moments represented across this album.
What Kind of World (Brendan Benson)
Producer: Brendan Benson
Released: April 21, 2012
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “Bad for Me” & “The Light of Day”
It’s not so much that What Kind of World is bad so much as it is underwhelming. Early on, the album suffers from songwriting that can’t sustain the length of the tracks (and the songs aren’t that long). Later, as the tracks are shorter, they are not as well-constructed as it has already been established a Brendan Benson song can be. Most of the time, the songs seem more interested in being recorded versions of what must have been fun to play in the studio and would even be fun to play out live, but the overall constructions don’t stand up. To be certain, there are moments of transcendence, but these are lost in the slow drag that is the larger trend of the album. Those interested in more of the brilliance hinted at here should revisit 2009’s My Old, Familiar Friend, one of the great works of that year.
Blunderbuss (Jack White)
Producer: Jack White
Released: April 23, 2012
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “Freedom at 21” & “Love Interruption”
There is probably no album that Jack White could have released for his solo debut that would have fully made good on all the considerable expectations that have been building now for years. With his talents and various influences spread throughout longer works of collaboration over the years – most recently, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, not to mention more subtle appearances as producer/player with artists like Wanda Jackson – there has always been a diverse range of moments where White’s influence has made itself recognizable. Here, it is Jack White all the time, and the songs do – understandably, as on any album – fall into patterns and larger trends which are, at first, unusual for White’s work. This all being said, given the opportunity, Blunderbuss is the deep, dark, quirky work that we expect and desire from White; tracks like the standout “Freedom at 21” and “Love Interruption,” back to back on the album, show off two sonic extremes that White has mastered. The following song, the title track, takes it down a notch further even. All in all, for me at least, this album suffered from the evil of high expectations. It’s taken me the better part of the year to come back to the album again after the initial listening party that was the week after its release; what I’ve found is an excellent collection of well-written lyrics and overall eclectic songwriting: a strong album that is suggestive of the great work that is still to come from Jack White in the years to come.
Little Broken Hearts (Norah Jones)
Producer: Danger Mouse
Released: April 25, 2012
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “Good Morning” & “4 Broken Hearts”
In the past, I haven’t followed the music or the career of Norah Jones all that closely. When I learned that Danger Mouse would be producing the new album, I was intrigued. The resulting album Little Broken Hearts is predictably subversive: slow and elusive at times but always with a strong, quirky sense of rhythm. Of course, Norah Jones’ vocals – as they did in her appearance on the Danger Mouse-produced Rome – are a beautifully layered coat of paint applied to the dry bones of the instrumentation. Some tracks stand apart from the rest, perhaps most notably in the opener “Good Morning.” Much of the album requires patience, which is perhaps a way of admitting it lacks drive at times, or at best that it is artistically rendered in such a way as to make easy listening, quick enjoyment difficult.