Strangely, but perhaps predictably, James
Mercer’s recent career moves seem indicative of diva behavior — signing
with Columbia, dismissing his longtime bandmates and making The Shins
something of a solo venture while exploring outside projects like Broken
From the moment Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and
Cedric Bixler-Zavala left At the Drive-In to form The Mars Volta more
than a decade ago, the duo and their co-conspirators have made a
conscious effort to challenge even their staunchest fans and completely
confound their easily befuddled critics.
In his films, paintings, photographs and
drawings, David Lynch is an unrepentant surrealist, a fascinating and
compelling storyteller who explores both the horrors and banalities that
exist on the fringes of culture. As a result, it shouldn’t come as any
surprise that the self-taught “non-musician” brings a similar vision to
his first album of music, Crazy Clown Time, a set of songs fashioned from jams into discernible structures which then suggested lyrics as only Lynch can imagine.
Attempting to critique Lulu, the
new Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration, is a little like taste testing a
vodka-flavored breakfast cereal; comparing it to either vodka or
breakfast cereal is unbalanced because the combination is so mismatched.
Both artists come from extreme backgrounds — Reed as an avant-garde
sonic artist, Metallica as Thrash Metal welders.
The success of Florence and the Machine’s debut, 2009’s Lungs,
left Florence Welch with little free time to work on its sophomore
album, which she planned on making darker, heavier and denser. Ceremonials
is the divine result of that proposed blueprint.
Eleanor Friedberger has accomplished
plenty with brother Matthew in their well-regarded Indie Pop collective,
The Fiery Furnaces. With Matthew occupied with his series of solo
releases, Eleanor decided to test the waters with her own contribution,
the patently wonderful and gently quirky Last Summer.
Cincinnati’s Messerly & Ewing is the
17-year-old songwriting partnership of musicians Mark Messerly and Brian
Ewing, whose catalog has been remarkably consistent from the start. But
that doesn’t mean that the duo hasn’t progressed and evolved over the
years. Every Bitter Thing finds the twosome in peak form,
featuring some of the best songwriting in their decades-crossing career.
Former Broken Social Scene vocalist
Leslie Feist was one of the highest profile beneficiaries of the
TV-is-the-new-radio paradigm when her insanely catchy single “1234,”
from her third album The Reminder, struck gold for Apple’s iPod. With the release of Metals,
Feist finally breaks her long studio silence, and it shows that she
followed the first commandment of following up a stratospheric album and
single: “Thou shalt not try to duplicate the sound to capitalize on
your last big success.”
From the beginning of his career four
decades ago, Garland Jeffreys’ work has been laced with the realities of
his New York upbringing, his African-American/Puerto Rican heritage and
his subsequent unique perspective. Jeffreys assiduously avoided
pigeonholing — and airplay — by cooking up a sonic stew that mirrored
his melting pot environment, randomly flavoring his songs of social
observation and outrage with Soul, Reggae, Pop, Rock and Blues.
Fronted by the almost schizophrenically
talented Katsuhiko Maeda, World’s End Girlfriend defies easy
categorization. On WEG’s 10th studio album, Maeda creates a soundtrack
that suggests Trans Siberian Orchestra on steroids and champagne, a
Prog/Classical/Pop mash-up that is muscular, giddy, frenetic and
Now in it 10th year, one of Cincinnati’s
most celebrated bands, Wussy (led by former Ass Pony Chuck Cleaver and
his equally skilled songwriting partner/co-frontperson Lisa Walker), has
amassed an amazing discography so far. Beginning with 2005’s Funeral Dress,
the group developed a reputation for the “ragged glory” of its
performances both live and on record. That sense of recklessness worked
impossibly well with the band’s fractured, soul-burrowing love songs and
the unbridled tense, passionate energy between its co-leaders.
When veteran Cincinnati musician Zach
Mechlem launched his latest project, Mack West, a few years ago, he
didn’t just form a new band — he created a new genre. Calling the band’s
sound “AltWestern” to describe the dusty, often cinematic quality of
its modern American Roots music, Mack West released its self-titled
debut two years ago to much acclaim and, given the evocative, visceral
nature of the songs, attention from the world of music licensing.
Despite often being referred to as “young
guns” in their genre, The Cash Box Kings have been playing together for
over a decade. The seven-piece ensemble is known for its dedication to
reviving the sound of the 1920s and ’30s Delta Blues and the post-war
Blues that came from Chicago, where CBK resides. Despite the long career, there has been
some changes in recent years. Of the original lineup, only Joe Nosek,
Oscar Wilson and Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith still remain.
Over the past seven years, Manchester Orchestra has evolved from post-high school baroque Emo Pop naifs to a viscerally muscular, Southern modern Rock force. The band’s 2009 album, Mean Everything to Nothing, drew comparisons to a pair of Southern Rock geneticists, Kings of Leon and Bobby Bare Jr., with shades of The Shins’ subtlety and Dashboard Confessional’s emotional bluster. Those elements are distilled into an even more beautifully potent brew on the Manchesters’ third full-length, Simple Math.
The New Cars project featuring Todd Rundgren in 2005 was a slight return for the surviving participants of the vaunted New Wave/Synth Pop icons, The Cars, but it was clearly dependent on the fans’ ability to accept Rundgren’s strong creative presence, a distinctive flavor that was almost more suggestive of his work than theirs.