With each successive Wake the Bear album, Cunningham audibly grows as a writer, a performer and a home-studio producer. For Player Piano — named for and based on Kurt Vonnegut’s 1952 futuristic novel about a world run by machines and one man’s attempt to fight it — Cunningham’s sound expands, with more (and more heavy) beats, more electric guitars (which jar his trademark Dream Pop sound a bit) and more adventures in vocal layering and harmonies. There are also a few more Electro elements, but Cunningham has a knack for blending technology and real instruments into a very organic sound. Many of the songs are his most “full band”-sounding since his days with local Indie Pop faves Promenade, but there are still plenty of intimate, shiver-inducing moments.
Though based on a sci-fi book, there is still a very somber and personal vibe to the album. On the crawling opener, “Future Age,” lyrics delve into past regrets and the fact that there’s “no sympathy from my future friends,” building into a thunderous, almost industrialized sound with creepy choral vocals that set the mournful mood on fire. On the galloping, more upbeat “Checker Charley,” he sings, “Man or machine, which one do you choose?/Someone always wins and someone has to lose,” before warning of the harm the machines will bring.
“In Bars” glides like the best Nada Surf song, while the glowing, U2-ish closing ballad, “Ghost Shirt,” ends on an almost fatalistic sigh of resignation.
Besides the gorgeous melodies and more concise songwriting, Piano succeeds in telling a story with moods as much as words. The last WtB album, If We Survive This Rapture, had a loose theme of fighting against the end of the world with someone. On Piano, Cunningham seems to pick up the story post-Rapture, fighting the inevitable end on his own, with the only glimmer of hope, this repeated last line: “If I could forgive all of her sins, all of her sins.” (wakethebear.com)
More Local Notes
• Cincinnati’s Artists & Authors unveil their latest CD, Beauty in Everything, with a show at The Redmoor in Mt. Lookout this Friday. Milwaukee’s Mike Mangione and his band open the 8 p.m. show. Veterans of the MidPoint Music Festival, Artists & Authors was founded by Folk singer/songwriter Andrea Summer and former Curbsquirrels guitarist/drummer Tye VonAllmen. On the album, the duo concocts an accessible AltPop sound that is magically melodic, wonderfully meshing the vibes of the duo’s previous projects with influences like Radiohead, Jimmy Eat World and Imogen Heap. It’s an exhilarating combination, every bit as catchy and memorable as the “hits” being pumped out on Pop radio, but also retaining a depth (both musically and soulfully) that most of those songs lack. (artistsandauthors.net)
• Cincinnati rockers Banderas and Oxford’s Look Afraid are getting in on the release party action this weekend and they’re doing it tag-team style. The two bands are celebrating the release of their new split EP titled Hired Guns, featuring the bands covering each other on a track apiece (Banderas does LA’s “I Love the Night Life” and LA does Banderas’ “Ground Out Heel”) as well as two of their own tunes. Fittingly, the bands are doing two area shows this weekend to promote the release. Both will rock The Balcony in Oxford Friday, along with Vanity Theft. Saturday, they’ll be in Cincinnati for a release show at Play By Play. (myspace.com/lookafraid; duneboogie.com)
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