Monday, August 1, 2011

Critical Beatdown: Round 13

Blitzen Trapper, "American Goldwing"
AM: Eric Earley doesn't have the hard living in his voice to sell a song like this. But as Cosmic American Muzak goes, this is pretty good. 3.5/5

NS: There's something about "American Goldwing" that makes me actively recall the sound of the first few Grateful Dead records--the overall sound, not any song in particular. Maybe it's just that homey West Coast atmosphere wedded to pedal steel guitars. With Blitzen Trapper, even their most obvious classic rock pastiches are irresistible. 4.5/5

St. Vincent, "Surgeon"
AM: A buzzing, pulsing piece of art-pop. The opening synth-brew is wonderful on its own, but as the song gradually starts to race forward it becomes something truly special. I wasn't a convert before "Surgeon," but Annie Clark has my attention now. 5/5

NS: What makes Annie Clark's music so immediately striking? It's all about the instrumental development of songs like "Surgeon," which begins with a wash of a synth choirs and builds itself into a micro bass-funk symphony. Confounding songwriting and guitar playing throughout--this is progressive music in the best sense. 5/5

Jay-Z & Kanye West, "Otis"
AM: Yes, Jay, it does sound soulful. But juxtaposing yourself with an extended Otis Redding excerpt--that's setting yourself up to fail, though you both do well enough. Tag-teaming needs some work though. 3/5

NS: Not that there's much to complain about with "Try a Little Tenderness," but normally, I expect more subtle classic soul samplings from Mr. West. Meanwhile, Jay and Ye fire off the most rote capitalist cliches of the hip-hop leisure class, as is their wont these days. I prefer the Game's version. 2/5

Yes, "We Can Fly"
AM: I'm having trouble reviewing this one--every time I turn it on, my attention immediately turns to something else. There's actually quite a bit going on in "Fly," but it all drifts by in the airy flow. 2.5/5

NS: In the annals of Yes, this song is actually pretty exciting. Like the St. Vincent track, it builds around a panoply of noodly guitar and synth parts, which wouldn't go anywhere save for the galloping bass and new singer Benoit David's earnest delivery. Go ahead and hate, but there's not a lot of music like this anymore. 4/5

Mastodon, "Black Tongue"
AM: Mastodon hammer away at several ferocious grooves here--on this alone I can recommend "Black Tongue"--but none quite approaches world-immolating intensity. Maybe the next single? 4/5

NS: Tricky time signatures, double-tracked guitar lines, an embedded sense of dread--everything about this song is classic Mastodon. At the same time, there's also a lot of humor in this music, and the band deserves more credit than it gets for avoiding the histrionics of so much defanged mook-metal. 4/5

SuperHeavy, "Miracle Worker"
AM: Lot of cooks in the kitchen with this group, as this absurd photograph demonstrates. I have no idea how SuperHeavy came together, or what their raison d'etre is. "Miracle Worker" doesn't give any indication about either, though it is serviceable reggae. 2/5

NS: Surprising no one, this limp noodle of a mid-tempo shuffle is significantly less than the sum of its parts. If you really like generic, repetitive reggae with no bounce, with British vocals on top, grab a UB40 album instead. 1/5

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