When a longtime, stalwart group reaches for stardom, it is easy to feel left behind. Dogged by the loss of super drummer Janet Weiss, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein soldier on with the help of producer Annie Clark (a/k/a St. Vincent). "The Center Won't Hold" is more synth-heavy and strangely danceable than previous S/K. However, the grit of their squalling voices remains intact. What once were (wo)manifestos and fierce statements of independence are now pessimistic cries of survival.
"Can I Go On" fools you with its shuffling beat and girl-group harmonies, spitting out some surface-level critiques of a society leaning toward self-involvement and apathy ("Everyone I know is happy/But everyone I know is napping"). Elsewhere, "Hurry On Home" is a fashionable relationship song and the title cut (ow'd to Joan Didion) desperately wants to be another (wo)manifesto only to emerge as industrial-strength industriousness. Then again, as they shriek, maybe we just "need something pretty to ease our pain."
The HOLD STEADY
Thrashing Through The Passion
Back after five years, Craig Finn leads the Hold Steady back into the battle for a memorable Saturday night. Always a keen observer of culture and life, Finn has grown beyond this slurry storytelling (check out his excellent solo album from earlier this year "I Need a New War.") Fortunately, when he has the Springsteen-ish band beneath his wings, they still take-off ("Denver Haircut" features the brilliant line "I've kissed and I've cackled with half of these jackals.") "Thrashing" remains a welcome return and reaffirms that there are truly some nights that Sal Paradise was right.
Sitting on Top of the Blues
(LP/CD)(Deep Rush/Thirty Tigers)R-KIN
At 85, Rush shows no signs of slowing down as he takes his soulful twist on traditional Blues full steam ahead. Working with a slate of producers including Vasti Jackson, the Grammy-winner continues to hone his art of precise storytelling. The gritty funk of "Get Out of Here (Dog Named Bo)" is clever but sidesteps novelty. While the organ-grinder "Bow Legged Girl" and the country blues of "Good Stuff" throwback to the Blues of the past. "Sitting On Top of the Blues" is just as consistent as Rush's 55 year-long recording career.
England has an ongoing love affair with sleek dance music. Shura is the latest to strive for its crown. "Forevher" carries all the hallmarks of a great dance album (slinky bass, upfront beats, funky guitar) but Shura subverts the classic Motown writing myth ("My Girl/My Guy") to make these tracks universally acceptable. Once you hear the serpentine groove of "Religion (U Can Lay Your Hands On Me") - your likely be dancing with everyone around you.
Brooklyn band Field Mouse works hard to explode the ongoing myth of "emotional" rock bands. After a three-year break, Rachel Browne and her group return with a shimmering pop record that carryies both hooks and riffs. "Heart of Gold" boasts a magical chorus, while "In Blue" revisits 90's rock with its ethereal-to-anthemic switch.
The Neon Machine
Since Bedroom R&B is now officially everywhere, Austin's Abram Shook shakes it up by mixing Eighties comfort and adding a psychedelic haze. "The Neon Machine" feels like a synth album (he dubs it "low-speed dance music") but shines like modern pop. These are the songs of heartbreak ("Visionary Fiction") glimpsed through a prism that makes it radiant.
Americana finally remembers its "recent roots" - the boisterous sunburned punk rock of bands like Green on Red, Rain Parade and The Gun Club. London's Sleep Eaters coat their music in a haunting glaze as they wail like Jeffrey Lee Pierce ("Valley of Dogs") and kick up a lot of dust on the stunner "Don't Sell Your Soul."