It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Well, that may be pushing it, but it is that time when we start to see more and more new CD’s being released. Everybody’s getting their CD’s out for spring and summer.
John Davis – John Davis (Rambler Records)
I’ll start with my runaway favorite so far this year and the best album of the bunch, the amazing self-titled solo debut from John Davis. The former front man for Superdrag has a new outlook on life and has reached a new artistic peak. He really lets the Brian Wilson and Beatles influences show on this record. There’s also the incredible Jesus Gonna’ Build Me a Home which sounds a lot like an old gospel or spiritual as performed by The Lost Dogs or the Traveling Wilburys. Other tracks sound like a cross between Matthew Sweet and Jason Falkner. There are plenty of hooks, guitars, piano and great lyrics. Fans of his former group will not be disappointed. Many of the songs on this CD sound like some of the more melodic Superdrag stuff. New label Rambler Records is releasing this into the Gospel and Christian markets as well as the mainstream. I’m wondering how it will be received, as this album is more artistic than almost anything being released there.
Kaiser Chiefs – Employment (Universal)
There’s got to be something in the water over there in the U.K. Is it me or are most of the buzz bands these days are coming from England? Add the Kaiser Chiefs to that list. But they’re not just another U.K. buzz band; they’ve actually got a great record. I love this one and it will probably make my year-end top ten. The 2 songs that best describe why I like them are Oh My God and the hilarious Everyday I Love You Less and Less. It’s easy to see why so many critics are comparing them to other 80’s influenced newcomers like Dogs Die In Hot Cars and Franz Ferdinand. They have that quirky hook-filled alternative pop sensibility. The real comparison here, especially on those two tracks is Split Enz and XTC. They sound a lot like a modern Split Enz to me, which explains part of why I love them so much. The XTC influence is there as well, just not as much. Beyond that they wear their Kinks influence on their sleeves for a couple of tracks, but influences aside, this is a fun and original band that deserves to be heard.
Glen Phillips – Winter Pays for Summer (Lost Highway)
Glen Phillips has finally made the record that I knew he had in him. All he needed was a little help from his friends. His “friends” on Winter Pays for Summer include Jon Brion of The Grays, Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish, Dan Wilson of Semisonic and Ben Folds. With friends like these it’s hard to go wrong, but you still need good songs. I dare say Glen has compiled some of the best songs he’s written, but this is the tale of two Glen’s. There’s the power-pop Glen, who must love The Grays, because half of this record sounds like it could be a follow-up to Ro Sham Bo, the one and only CD by The Grays. Songs like Thankful and Duck and Cover showcase a well-produced power pop that’s been sadly missing from his previous solo discs. The other half of the disc is the Americana, acoustic side of Glen we’ve come to expect, but he does it as good or better than most, and the production is the best he’s had since his days with Toad The Wet Sprocket.
Brendan Benson – The Alternative to Love (V2)
I know a lot of music fans that read this blog are big on liking a whole album. I, on the other hand, will buy a record even if I know it only has a few great songs. But if I’m buying it for only 2 or 3 songs, they have to be REALLY good. The new Brendan Benson easily makes it for me, with 5 incredible songs. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is incredibly average. None of it’s bad; it’s just that after the first 5 tracks it doesn’t have the same energy. What I need to do though is convince the rest of you that these 5 tracks make it all worthwhile. In my opinion they’re the best 5 songs Brendan’s done. If you’re a fan of Squeeze or Crowded House, you will definitely want to get this album. The legendary Tchad Blake produced it and he brings out that well produced melodic pop sound that I really enjoy.
Aqualung – Strange & Beautiful (Red Ink)
Aqualung is one of the latest critical darlings to cross the pond from the UK. It is actually an alias for Matt Hales, a London-based and classically trained musician. Why he would choose a name that’s synonymous in the music world with Jethro Tull is beyond me. My own dumbfoundedness over his chosen artist name aside, this is an okay record with a great song. That song is Brighter Than Sunshine, an incredibly beautiful pop masterpiece that I absolutely love. It’s got a good hook, piano and some strings that sound like they’re from an ELO album like Eldorado or Out of the Blue. In fact, this song has some elements of Jeff Lynne production. Unfortunately, it’s the most upbeat and hooky song on the record. In fact, the best way I can describe the rest of the record is Keane on sedatives. It’s very mellow. It’s beautiful at times, with piano and wispy vocals, but the beauty is lost to me because of the depressingly slow and mellow song arrangements. It sounds a lot like Keane, just slower, so I end up just wanting to listen to Keane instead.
Moby – Hotel (V2)
I like Moby. He comes across as unassuming. I like him because he’s not a rock star. Most importantly, I like him because he’s got some great songs. Unfortunately, they’re spread out over a number of records. I think we’re all waiting for him to put out that one great record that’s incredible from start to finish. Some thought it was Play, and while that was a big hit, there were 4 great tracks and the rest were just okay. Then came the underachiever called 18. It had one good song. A real disappointment, it seemed like he phoned in Play part two. Now, he’s back with Hotel, a two-disc set that could be his best effort. Unfortunately, it’s not all good. Like Play, there are 4 great tracks. I will even say that two them are easily the best he’s ever done. As an album it just doesn’t hold up. There’s a guest female vocalist on a couple of tracks that sounds way out of place and much of it is just so average…maybe too unassuming. Hotel is another example of either bad, or no A&R direction. There are way too many songs. This should have been a 10 song CD. The saving grace is the song Raining Again. It’s become a favorite of mine already and it’s easily his best. A close second is the first single, Beautiful. If you take these two tracks, a couple of others here, 4 from Play and the We're All Made of Stars single from 18 you’d have an amazing record. But I, like many enjoy the album-as-a-whole concept. Some of these Moby tracks are great for compilations, but we need a whole album of brilliance from this talented artist. The second disc here is nice mellow ambient music. Good stuff if you like that sort of thing.