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Listening Room: Flaming Lips, Dead By Sunrise and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, October 12, 2009

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Flaming Lips, “Embryonic” (Warner Bros.) **

Genius is hard to maintain, and it can be argued this Oklahoma troupe has been on a roll since “The Soft Bulletin” in 1998 and continuing through “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robotos” in 2002 and “At War With the Mystics” in 2006, all of which melded arty experimentalism with sublime songcraft. But the former takes precedence at the expense of the latter on “Embyronic,” a noise-filled twodisc, 18-song affair that’s the Lips most challenging album since “Zaireeka” in 1997. It’s a kitchen-sink hodgepodge of dissonant indulgence, starting with the fuzzed-out, tone-y opening of “Convinced of the Hex” and containing little in the way of melodic charm and almost no semblance of the anthemic majesty that’s become a Lips trademark. A trippy, big-beat aggression fuels tracks such as “The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine,” “Watching the Planets” and the industrialflavored “See the Leaves,” while “If” has a quiet, ambient prettiness, but nothing really sticks after they’re finished. The epic “Powerless” has moments, but there’s a stretch of material toward the end of the album (“Scorpio Sword,” “The Impulse,” “Silver-Trembling Hands,” “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast”) that abandons any semblance of song structure. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O brings some intriguing counterpoint on a couple of tracks and MGMT joins the charge on the metallic “Worm Mountain,” but when Lips frontman Wayne Coyne sings “I wish I could go back in time,” he may well be voicing the feelings of fans who find “Embyronic” a jarring rejection of the band’s sonic evolution during the previous 10 years.


Dead By Sunrise, “Out Of Ashes” (Warner Bros.) ***

On this debut set by his “other” band, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington gets to step out a bit and explore sonic terrain he either can’t — or can in just a limited fashion — as part of his “day job.” Bennington’s keening and emotive vocals and a similar quiet-to-loud dynamic certainly identifies Dead By Sunrise with Linkin Park, but “Out Of Ashes” is grittier and punkier, whether it’s the punchy groove of “Crawl Back In,” the blistering cadence driving “Inside of Me,” three-chord attack of “My Suffering” or the butt-kicking rawk of “End of the World.” Bennington and his Dead By Sunrise mates, who hail from the electronic rock outfit Julien-K, also display a deft touch with atmospherics and textures on tracks such as “Too Late,” “Give Me Your Name,” the gothtinged “Let Down,” “Walking in Circles” and “In the Darkness.” The lyrics are characteristically angsty, often about searching for “a way to keep my pain from burning down to the bone,” as he sings in the opening “Fire.” His pain is our gain, however, so let it burn.

New & Noteworthy:

A Rocket to the Moon, “On Your Side” (Fueled By Ramen): Ukulele and other non-traditional instruments populate the debut from this Massachusetts-meets-Arizona rock trio.

Joan Baez, “How Sweet the Sound” (Razor & Tie): The CD and DVD companion, in various permutations, to PBS’s new “American Masters” episode on Baez, features some rare and unreleased material as well as a duet with Bob Dylan on “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.”

DJ Khaled & E-Class, “Live From the 305” (E1): A compilation of some of Miami’s most potent hip-hop, including performances by Pitbull, Trick Daddy, Flo Rida and more.

Bob Dylan, “Christmas in the Heart” (Columbia): Dylan is using his first-ever holiday set to raise money for Feeding America in the U.S. along with other international charities.

Fanfarlo, “Reservoir” (Canvasback/Atlantic): The London quintet makes a broad kind of sound on its debut, employing saws, clarinets and cellos in addition to more typical rock instrumentation.

Five For Fighting, “Slice” (Aware/Columbia): The fifth studio album from “Superman” and “100 Years” singer-songwriter John Ondrasik and company.

Five Times August, “Life As a Song” (self-released):

Texas troubadour Brad Skisitmas has gathered together songs from his first two albums and re-recorded them with a bit more spit and polish.

Kristeenyoung, “Music for Strippers, Hookers and the Odd On-Looker” (selfreleased): The quirky piano duo enlisted venerable producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex, Morriseey) to work on its sixth album, which includes a duet with Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump.

Los Lonely Boys, “1969” (Playing in Traffic): The Garza brothers celebrate music from before they were born, including songs by the Beatles, the Doors, Santana, Blind Faith and more.

Heavy Trash, “Midnight Soul Serenade” (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum): The duo of Jon Spencer and Matt Verta-Ray are releasing their third album digitally this week and in stores on Oct. 27.

Erin McKeown, “Hundreds of Lions” (Righteous Babe):

The Virginia singer-songwriter releases her first set of new material since 2005’s “We Will Become Like Birds.”

James McMurtry, “Live in Europe” (Lightning Rod): The singer-songwriter son of novelist Larry McMurtry lights up the stage with help from guests Ian McLagan and John Dee Graham.

Grant-Lee Phillips, “Little Moon” (Yep Roc): The former Grant Lee Buffalo frontman is calling his sixth solo album his best yet — the first time he’s delved into that kind of hyperbole, so we may have to listen.

Sherwood, “Qu” (MySpace): The Oakland, Calif., quintet recorded its third album with producer Brad Wood (Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair).

Harper Simon, “Harper Simon” (Tulsi/Vagrant):

The debut outing by the young singer-songwriter whose father, Paul Simon, makes a guest appearance.

The Summer Set, “Love Like This” (Razor & Tie):

The Arizona rock quintet’s fulllength debut features the single “Chelsea,” which frontman Brian Dales wrote about his girlfriend, actress Chelsea Staub of Disney’s “J.O.N.A.S.”

Thrice, “Beggars” (Vagrant): The modern rock quartet returns form its ambitious four-EP “The Alchemy Index” project with a more modest 10-song single disc.

Thunder$troke, “Beaten Awake” (Fat Possum): The sophomore outing from the indie rock quartet out of Kent, Ohio.

From The Vaults: Daryl Hall and John Oates, “Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall and John Oates” (RCA/ Legacy); Righteous Brothers, “Definitive Collection” (UMe); Koko Taylor, “What It Takes: The Chess Years (Expanded Edition)” (Hip-O Select); Andy Williams, “Moon River: The Very Best of Andy Williams” (Columbia/Legacy)

Holiday Albums: David Archuleta, “Christmas From the Heart” (19/Jive); Neil Diamond, “A Cherry Cherry Christmas” (Columbia); Jackson 5, “The Jackson 5 Ultimate Christmas Collection” (Motown/UMe); Barry Manilow, “In the Swing of Christmas” (Arista); Various Artists, “The Ultimate Motown Christmas Collection” (Motown/UMe)

New Music DVDs: ABBA, “Live in Japan” (UMe, DVD and Blu-ray); John Denver, “Around the World Live” (Eagle Rock); John Denver, “Rocky Mountain High: Live in Japan” (Eagle Rock); Kansas, “There’s No Place Like Home” (StarCity); Rick Wakeman, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” (Eagle Rock DVD and Blu-Ray)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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