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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Death Cab For Cutie, Flogging Molly and more...

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, May 29, 2011

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Death Cab For Cutie

“Codes and Keys”


★★ 1/2

If you want to know how big a life change is reflected on Death Cab For Cutie’s seventh album, consider that in 2003, frontman Ben Gibbard sang that “old age is just around the bend, and I can’t wait to go gray,” and on “Codes and Keys” he’s urging listeners to “Stay Young, Go Dancing.” The attitude adjustment has been a long-time coming, but even Death Cab’s last album, 2008’s “Narrow Stairs” was a dark treatise on “Pity and Fear.” On these 11 songs, however, we’re more likely to find Gibbard (who’s married to actress Zooey Deschanel) and company essaying on love, domestic contentment and a general sense that “life is sweet in the belly of the beast.” And if that doesn’t make you wonder what they’ve done to your Death Cab, take a listen; produced by the group’s Chris Walla with a gauzy mix by Alan Moulder (Depeche Mode, My Bloody Valentine, Lush), “Codes and Keys” puts the guitars in the background in favor of an ambient spareness that gives “Codes and Keys” a moody, ethereal quality that’s more bucolic than buoyant. That’s not to say it’s all down-tempo; the title track has a bouncy Jeff Lynne/Electric Light Orchestra feel, while “Doors Unlocked and Open” dips into New Wave conventions and “Underneath the Sycamore” is a smooth and tuneful celebration of redemption. “Home is a Fire,” however, is arty and pensive — though with a bit of a nod to the Beatles in its mid-section — and Nick Harmer’s steady bass lines mingle with piano to create pensive textures for “Some Boys” and the six-minute-plus “Unobstructed Views.” “St. Peter’s Cathedral” builds and fills out without ever reaching a crescendo, while “Stay Young, Go Dancing,” is folky and light, propelled by acoustic guitar and strings (although it does incorporate an actual guitar solo). It might take a minute for partisans of more assertive predecessors such as “Transatlanticism” and “Plans” to get their heads around “Codes and Keys,” but there’s no lack of charm or intrigue in its understated optimism.


Flogging Molly, “Speed of Darkness” (Borstal Beat) ★★★1/2

Flogging Molly may have formed in Los Angeles, but the Celtic rock band’s heart beats in Detroit, where frontman Dave King and his wife, fiddler and Motor City native Bridget Regan, keep one of their residences. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the septet’s latest album, written in King and Regan’s home, catalogs the despair and decline of the area in 12 resonant, empathetic songs infused with righteous anger and indefatigable spirit. “From the town of Detroit, where we fight ‘til we drop/We don’t want your pity, we just want a job,” King sings in “The Power’s Out.” The group’s usual aggressiveness has an even fiercer edge in songs such as the title track “Revolution,” “Don’t Shut ‘em Down,” “Oliver Boy (All of Our Boys)” and “Saints & Sinners,” while “So Sail On,” “The Present State of Grace,” “The Cradle of Humankinds” and “A Prayer For Me in Silence” are quieter but just as powerful. At a time when the world’s working class is taking a beating, “Speed of Darkness” is a welcome, and potent, reminder that it still has friends.

New & Noteworthy

Black Stone Cherry, “Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea” (Roardrunner): The spirit of the Kentucky hard rockers’ third studio album is embodied by the single “White Trash Millionaire” — although they’re not handing out loans yet.

Boris Garcia, “Today We Sail” Porch Werk): The Americana troupe’s latest album was produced by Railroad Earth fiddle player Tim Carbone.

BT, “These Re-Imagined Machines” (Nettwerk): The electronic artist and producer chops down songs from 2010’s “These Hopeful Machines,” including radio edits of tracks such as “Suddenly” and “Always,” in order to give them more mass appeal.

Egypt Central, “White Rabbit” (Fat Lady Music/ILG): The second studio album from the Memphis heavy rock outfit follows its self-titled debut by three years.

Elaine Elias, “Light My Fire” (Concord Picante): Gilberto Gil and Randy Brecker guest on the latest album from Brazilian jazz artist Elias.

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, “Dirty Road” (Partisan): The debut album from the Portland, Ore., Americana group originally formed in North Carolina.

Stewart Francke, “Heartless World” (Blue Boundary): A guest appearance by Bruce Springsteen on the track “Summer Soldier (Holler If Ya Hear Me),” as well as a couple opening dates for Bob Seger, has been getting the veteran Detroit singer-songwriter some attention for his latest album.

Journey, “Eclipse” (Frontiers): Thirty years after releasing “Don’t Stop Believin’ “ the classic rock troupe is still making new music, this time a Wal-Mart exclusive and its second batch of new material with Filipino singer Arnel Pineda.

Jordan Knight, “Unfinished” (JK Music/Mass Appeal/eOne): The New Kid on the Block’s fifth solo album, and first in five years, comes just in time for the group’s joint tour with the Backstreet Boys.

Dave Matthews Band, “Live at Wrigley Field” (RCA): A two-disc set culled from the group’s September 2010 performance in the historic home of the Cubs.

The Melvins, “Sugar Daddy Live” (Ipecac): A new concert set by the always-pulverizing grunge trio includes lengthy takes on “Eye Flys” and “Boris.”

My Morning Jacket, “Circuital” (ATO): The sixth studio album from the ambitious Louisville rockers hews close to the funky path hinted at on some of the group’s previous releases.

Playing For Change, “PFC: Songs Around the World Part 2” (Hear Music/Concord): The global music project drops a second CD/DVD set chronicling collaborations between known artists such as Keb’ Mo’, Stephen Marley and Baaba Mal — and new discoveries.

Sebastian, “Total” (Ed Banger/Because/Big Beat/Atlantic): Mayer Hawthorne and Justice’s Gaspard Augé guest on the first solo artist album by the French electro house artists.

J.D. Souther, “Natural History” (eOne): The singer-songwriter revisits some of the hits he’s written for the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and others.

David Sylvian, “Died in the Wool” (Samadhi Sound): The former Japan principal delivers a follow-up to the 2009 debut by his new band, Manafon.

The Vaccines, “What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?” (Columbia): The British rock quartet brings its debut album to the U.S. after causing more than a stir in its homeland earlier this year.

Eddie Vedder, “Ukulele Songs” (Monkeywrench): As the title suggests, the Pearl Jam frontman wrote and recorded the songs for his first non-soundtrack solo album, both originals and covers, on ukulele.

From The Vaults: Ozzy Osbourne, “Blizzard of Ozz: 30th Anniversary Expanded Edition,” “Diary of a Madman (Legacy Edition),” “Blizzard of Ozz/Diary of a Madman 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” box set (all Epic/Legacy); Twisted Sister, “Under the blade” (Armoury)

New Music DVDs: David Byrne, “Ride Rise Roar” (Eagle Rock); Primal Scream, “Screamadelica Live” (Eagle Rock)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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