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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Animal Collective, Fiction Family and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, January 18, 2009

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Animal Collective, “Merriweather Post Pavilion” (Domino) ***

Animal Collective are more than a little weird — but in a good way — which is what’s kept us coming back to the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Baltimore troupe’s avant sonic sojourns for the past six years. This time out, however, things are a bit less strange. Following in the footsteps of group member Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox’s 2007 solo album, “Person Pitch,” “Merriweather Post Pavilion” — named after the famed Maryland amphitheater — finds AC almost focusing nearly as much on tunes as tones. It’s still an idiosyncratic listen, filled with washes of shimmering synthesizers, stacked and heavily produced vocals, exotic loops and rhythms built from found sounds, what you might imagine the Beach Boys sounding like if they’d stayed intact, with Brian Wilson and with Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne joining the band. But in these 11 comparatively compact songs (none over six minutes long) the trio keeps its melodies in the forefront, which in turn makes it the group’s most listenable effort. “In the Flower’s” gentle, ringing guitars emerge from a bed of air sound effects before filling out into highoctane dissonance and then sliding into the buoyant “My Girls.” “Taste” sports a bit of a reggae lope, while “Also Frightened” boasts a slightly Indian accent and “Brother Sport” has an African flavor in the rhythmic loops. The crosscutting vocals of “Guys Eyes” are “Merriweather’s...” most arresting vocal arrangement, but “Bluish” is pretty enough to be a quirky pop hit and the gently rendered 10* provides a welcome respite from the sensory roller coaster. All that makes “Merriweather...” a fascinating listen, especially on headphones (or ear buds), but also much more than an intellectual exercise.


Fiction Family, “Fiction Family” (ATO) ***

Coming from different musical worlds, Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman and Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins seem like something of an odd couple — and certainly an improbable musical duo. But as Fiction Family the two San Diego musicians prove to be brothers in arms, finding plenty of musical common ground and coming up with a dozen richly crafted and cleverly delivered songs — from the trippy edges of “When She’s Near” and “Out of Order” to the ambient anthemry of “We Ride,” the plucky ragtime flavor of “Look For My Baby,” the plaintive romanticism of “Not Sure” and soaring, Heaven-seeking “Closer Than You Think.” Filled with vivid imagery and smart wordplay, it just goes to show that a couple of strange bedfellows can indeed make a functional Family.

New & Noteworthy:

• Antony & the Johnsons, “The Crying Light” (Strictly Canadian): The quietly soulful New York outfit’s first fulllength project since winning the prestigious Mercury Prize for 2005’s “I Am a Bird Now.”

• Beusoleil, “Alligator Purse” (Yep Roc): The Grammy-winning Cajun music collective welcomes guests Natalie Merchant, John Sebastian, Garth Hudson and the band and others on its latest excursion into Bayou sounds.

• The Beyman Brothers, “Memories of Summer as a Child” (Dharma Moon): The first fruits of a collaboration between actor/filmmaker Christopher Guest and a pair of his non-sibling musical pals.

• Andrew Bird, “Noble Beast” (Fat Possum): The usual batch of interesting and idiosyncratic noise dresses up the Chicago multiinstrumentalist’s fourth studio album.

• Black Ghosts, “Black Ghosts” (Universal Republic/IAMSOUND): Vampires rule — the U.K. duo’s first U.S. album gets a rerelease in the wake of the track “Full Moon’s” inclusion in the “Twilight” film soundtrack.

• Cash Cash, “Take It to the Floor” (Universal Republic): The debut outing by the New Jersey techno-funk creators of “Party in Your Bedroom.”

• Mariah Carey, “The Ballads” (Columbia): Half of these 18 love songs were No. 1 hits for Carey during the early portion of her career.

• Combichrist, “Today We Are All Demons” (Metropolis): The fourth studio album from the Norwegian heavy rock quartet.

• Miles Davis, “Kind of Blue: Legacy Edition” (Columbia/Legacy): A two-CD 50th anniversary celebration that adds outtakes, alternate versions and a 17-minute live take of “So What” to the original set.

• Deadlock, “Manifesto” (Lifehouse): The dark metal sextet continues the doomy path of predecessors such as “Wolves” and “Earth.Revolt.”

• Tony DeSare, “Radio Show” (Telarc): The singerpianist dips into songs by Bob Dylan, Bobby Darin, New Order and Phil Collins and Phillip Bailey on this wide-ranging collection.

• Lisa Hannigan, “Sea Sew” (ATO): The debut solo album from Damien Rice’s longtime collaborator and foil.

• Heartless Bastards, “The Mountain” (Fat Possum): The hard-rocking Americana trio expands its sound with touches of mandolin, banjo, pedal steel and strings on its third album.

• Anya Marina, “Slow & Steady Seduction: Phase II” (Atlantic): The fledgling San Diego singer-songwriter tapped principals from Spoon (Britt Daniel) and Louis XIV (Brian Karscig) to produce her sophomore outing.

• Jane Monheit, “The Lovers, The Dreamers and Me” (Concord): On her ninth album, the jazz singer celebrates contemporary songwriters such as Fiona Apple and Corrine Bailey Rae alongside legends like Cole Porter, Paul Simon, Jimmy Dorsey and others.

• Rumpetlstilstkin Grinder, “Living For Death,

Destroying the Rest” (Relapse): This headbanging Philadelphia quartet is actually pretty good, but we just like typing the band name, y’know?

• Umphrey’s McGee,

“Mantis Streets” (SCI Fidelity): The Chicago jam band spent two years recording it latest solo album, comprised — for the first time — entirely of songs it did not first play live.

• April Verch, “Steal The Blue” (self-released): The Canadian fiddler and singer plows her own path for her seventh album, picking up songs from roots specialists such as Ron Block, Larry Cordle and Sarah Siskind.

• Gin Wigmore, “Extended

Play” (Universal Motown):

The Australian singer-songwriter introduces herself with this five-track EP featuring her contest-winning “Hallelujah” and a guest appearance by countrymate John Butler.

• Matt York, “Mine” (Rock Ridge Music): The Canadian singer-songwriter brings his latest album across the border after a Great White North release in November.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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