This week’s column is a return to my old indie music critism schtick. Because I still listen to music — lots of it — and have more than 20 years’ experience writing about it, which I think gives my critical analysis a modicum of relevance.
Or maybe not.
The role of the music critic has become somewhat (mostly) marginalized. Anyone interested in modern music with the available income to purchase it also has access to Spotify or one of the other music streaming services that makes (most) new music available with the flick of a finger from their iPhone/Android/computer-powered listening device.
In other words, if you want to know if the latest buzz band is worth listening to you no longer have to risk your hard-earned ducats and make a blind purchase like in the old days. Now all you have to do is listen to it online. That means critics’ role has been relegated to: 1) saving you time by pointing you toward an interesting path, or 2) validating your already made-up mind.
Reviews don’t even mean that much from a marketing perspective since artists don’t (and can’t) rely on income from album sales anymore. The ones who want to make a living making music depend on income generated at live performances. Still, if they’re going to get butts in seats, they have to get their music heard in the first place, and maybe that’s where the critics come in. My how the world has changed in just 10 years.
With all that in mind here are my impressions of some recent music, for what it’s worth…
Purity Ring, Shrines (4AD/Last Gang) — Chime-bot sounds from outer-space tone rockers is at its best when melody outdoes beat, but man it can get tiresome.
Thee Oh Sees, Putrifiers II (In the Red) — A crowing cock-a-doodle-doo of a garage punk band, no one does it better or with more style. Stands for Orange County if you’re wondering. So why can’t we get them to come to Omaha?
Digital Leather, Yes, Please, Thank You (Southpaw) — Another in a series of recordings (something like four LP/EP releases in the last couple years?) that sounds like Gary Numan post-wave synth rock bolted to a doped-up garage-punk band. One of Omaha’s finest. BTW, this is a cassette-only release. Yes, you read that right.
Peace of Shit, Business as Usual (Rainy Road) — Local perusers of thee garage aesthetic write songs as clever (or crass) as their name. Also on cassette (I see a luddite trend here).
Two Gallants, The Bloom and the Blight (ATO) — This original snarling guitar-and-drum purveyors of the punk sea shanty waited until they left Saddle Creek to make the best record of their careers. They’ve never been more focused, or ferocious.
Cat Power, Sun (Matador) — Chan Marshall puts aside afternoon-light fragment pop for something more upbeat, trippy, tuneful and almost happy, until you listen to the words.
Azure Ray, As Above So Below (Saddle Creek) — By combining the best of their respective solo projects, the Fink/Taylor duo have (finally) struck the perfect balance between strutting and soulful, sounding (finally) comfortable in their own skins.
TEEN, In Limbo (Carpark) — Maybe the best all-girl indie rock band going. Less self-assured than Best Coast, but better.
Ember Schrag, The Sewing Room (Single Girl Married Girl / Edible Onion) — Local singer/songwriter’s clear-as-a-bell coffee-shop folk ruminations, worth it if only for the perfect jewel of “Your Words.”
Dinosaur Jr., I Bet on Sky (Jagjaguwar) — Everything ‘80s is new again, at least to the young ears that weren’t around the first time. As good as anything they did back then, at times even better.
Bob Mould, Silver Age (Merge) — Everything ‘80s is new again, again. Bob put away his dancing shoes and rediscovered his electric guitar and hasn’t sounded this good since his Sugar days.
The xx, Coexist (Young Turks) — Among the hottest (or most heralded) of the droll vibe bands, no matter how much I try it bores the shit out of me.
McCarthy Trenching, Plays the Piano (Slumberparty) — Half ragtime instrumentals and half ragtime-influenced piano ballads, they say he’s Omaha’s Randy Newman but he’s really just nice guy lost in better days. And I like his “Solace” better than Marvin’s.
The Intelligence, Everybodys Got It Easy But Me (In the Red) — The best under-the-radar indie rock collection that you’ll probably never find. By the numbers, but it still gets me every time.
PUJOL, United States of Being (Saddle Creek) — Proof that Saddle Creek still has a nose for finding new talent (even though Jack White found it first). All his earlier recordings have been leading up to this. Not anthemic, but epic nonetheless.
David Byrne and St. Vincent, Love This Giant (4AD) — Waters down the best parts of both, it’s not weird enough to be interesting and not straight-forward enough to be interesting.
Violens, True — Everything ‘80s is new again, the dream-pop edition. Lush.
Wild Nothing, Nocturne (Captured Tracks) — Everything ‘90s is new again, the (upbeat) shoe-gaze edition.
Twin Shadow, Confess (4AD) — A dizzying trip back to ’80s electro-pop with a sound that recalls everything from General Public to Fine Young Cannibals to New Order to Peter Gabriel. If you’re gonna steal a style, this is how to do it.
Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge) — Better than the last couple Spoon albums (or anything by Wolf Parade).
Various Artists, Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac (Hear Music) — Unnecessary tribute album’s only highlights are Billy Gibbons’ “Oh Well,” and Antony’s fey “Landslide,” though it’ll make you want to seek out the source material.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.