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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Spoon, Motion City Soundtrack and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Wednesday, January 20, 2010

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Spoon, “Transference” (Merge) ***

For an idiosyncratic indie band from Austin, Texas, Spoon has traipsed dangerously close to the mainstream, including a major label flirtation in the late ’90s and a Top 10 chart debut for its last album, 2007’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.” It’s enough to give the faithful schpilkes and cause the cool kids to turn their backs, but fortunately the quartet has always had music on its side — experimental and boldly provocative flair that’s still healthily in abundant evidence on its seventh album. The bandproduced “Transference,” in fact, finds Spoon rawer, edgier and more lo-fi than ever; it seems like frontman Britt Daniel, who’s moved his base of operations to Portland, Ore., means it when he sings he’s “Got Nuffin” — to lose, that is. “Transference” begins with the tense, rhythmic ambience of “Before Destruction,” hinting at an apocalyptic explosion on the horizon. That never really happens, although the quartet gets some hard rockin’ ya-ya’s out on the Replacements-flavored “Trouble Comes Running” and the taut, descending chords of the aforementioned “Got Nuffin.” “In Love Forever?” and “The Mystery Zone” make melodic nods towards Merseybeat and Daniel adopts a bit of Bob Dylan phrasing in “Written in Reverse,” while Spoon kicks into serious funk mode, circa late ’70s David Bowie and early ’80s Queen, on tracks such as “Who Makes Your Money” and the album-closing “Nobody Gets Me But You.” “Goodnight Laura” is, as the title indicates, a gentle but subtly sinister lullaby with Daniels accompanied only by piano. “Transference” is ultimately like nothing we’ve ever heard, or expected, from Spoon — which, truth be told, is exactly what we do expect, and why we keep coming back.


Motion City Soundtrack, “My Dinosaur Life” (Columbia) ***

Justin Pierre, who co-founded and fronts this Minneapolis modern rock quintet, knows how to have fun with his angst, and that clever self-effacement, not to mention a killer melodic sensibility, has successfully separated Motion City Soundtrack from its Warped Tour peers. On the group’s fourth (and first major label) album — produced by blink-182’s Mark Hoppus — Pierre declares that he’s “done with the old school,” but in actuality these 12 tracks forge a new musical footprint within tried-and-true formats, whether it’s stomping anthems such as “History Lessons” and “This Weakends,” fierce, fullon assaults like “Disappear,” “@!#?@!” and “Skin and Bones” or the hitworthy ebb and flow of “Stand Too Close.” Pierre still does plenty of hand-wringing — “A total calamity, the choices I have made,” he sings — but with a smile on his face, sheer energy stomps out the harshest realities of “My Dinosaur Life.”

New & Noteworthy:

The David Berger Jazz Orchestra, “Sing Me a Love Song: Harry Warren’s Undiscovered Standards” (Such Sweet Thunder): Detroiter Freda Payne (“Band of Gold”) joins the Berger ensemble to the late American standards composer Warren.

Barton Carroll, “Together You and I” (Skybucket): The Seattle singer-songwriter brings a jazz flavor to his fourth album with help horn player Craig Flory and bassist Matt Weiner.

Cold War Kids, “Behave Yourself ” (Downtown): A foursong EP to tide fans over until the California quartet records its third album.

Eels, “End Times” (Vagrant): Mark Oliver “E” Everett’s second album in seven months is a lo-fi, in-your-face, self-proclaimed “divorce album” that’s dry-eyed but still emotional.

Jim Keller, “Sunshine in My Pocket” (self-released):

The former Tommy Tutone member (“867-5309 (Jenny)”) releases his first album in a decade, with help from the Holmes Brothers and members of Graham Parker’s Rumour, Son Volt and Tom Waits’ band.

Maura Kennedy, “Parade of Echoes” (Planned Effervescence): A solo album by half of the spousal folk-pop group the Kennedys.

Dawn Landes, “Sweet Heart Rodeo” (Cooking Vinyl): The third full album from the singersongwriter who’s Brooklyn by way of Louisville and Branson, Mo.

Makoto Ozone, “Jungle” (Verve): The veteran pianist wrote a half-dozen songs designed to showcase a new, 14-member Japanese big band.

Various Artists, “2010 Grammy Nominees” (EMI);

Beyonce, the Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, Kings of Leon, U2 and 15 others are spotlighted on this annual pre-Grammy compilation.

Various Artists, “Crazy Heart: Original Motion

Picture Soundtrack” (New West): Grammy Award-winner T Bone Burnett produced the music and companion album to the film that has Oscar watchers raving about star Jeff Bridges — who sings six songs as protagonist Bad Blake.

Various Artists, “Keep the Light Alive: Celebrating the Songs of Lowen & Navarro” (AIX): Jackson Browne, the Bangles, Keb’ Mo’ and Five For Fighting’s John Ondrasik are among those taking part on this benefit for Eric Lowen and his battle with ALS.

Vulture Whale, “Bamboo You” (Skybucket): The Birmingham, Ala., modern rock quartet follows its 2009 debut album with a more modest EP that delves even further into Britpop territory.

Zane Williams, “The Right Place” (self-released): The Texas troubadour headed home after nine years in Nashville to make his latest album with Radney Foster producing.

The Wishing Tree, “Ostara” (Eagle Rock): The acoustic-oriented side project of Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery celebrates its 10th anniversary with this eight-song set.

J. Wong & the Popular Butchers, “j. wong and the popular butchers” (selfreleased): This five-song EP is the first outing by the new group started by Rand-Univac founder Wong.

From the Vaults: Alice Cooper, “Special Forces,” “Zipper Catches Skin” and “Dada” (Collector’s Choice); Gretchen Wilson, “Greatest Hits” (Columbia Nashville)

New Music DVD: Cliff and the Shadows, “The Final Tour” (Eagle Rock)

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