Friday, July 23, 2010

The Best Album of 2010 (So Far) and More Reasons to Still Believe in Rock 'n' Roll

Album Reviews

The Len Price 3
(Listen in Full | Buy on Amazon)

Although the third album by this British trio--cheekily comprised of nobody named Len Price--has quickly become my favorite album of the new decade, I was completely oblivious to the band and their January 2010 release until I saw this interview with Steve Van Zandt, posted on the Bruce Springsteen fansite

Strange how you have to learn about new music these days. But Little Steven really championed the Len Price 3 both in the interview and through airplay on his Underground Garage Sirius-XM radio channel; not incidentally the band is signed to his Wicked Cool Records label. I was able to find a few songs of theirs on YouTube and really liked what I heard, so I ordered the album from Amazon and have been playing it non-stop for the last month.

Clearly reminiscent of mid-'60s Who and Kinks, but good enough not to come across as blatantly derivative, Pictures features 13 wonderfully ebullient power-pop gems. None are quite as singular as I Can See For Miles or Sunny Afternoon, but hold up quite well against the output of acclaimed, lesser-known '60s Anglo acts like The Creation, Small Faces and Pretty Things. I know that's saying a lot for a largely unknown band, but if I'd been given this album under the guise of being something from the '60s, I would be apt to consider it a lost classic from the era. 

That's not to say the songs have the depth or verve of the best of the Who, Kinks, Beatles, Zombies, etc., and even today, there are many bands doing much more progressive things. But if you're looking for an enjoyable collection of new tunes with a classically-infectious sound, you won't find anything much better than Pictures by The Len Price 3. (After enjoying it so much, I ordered their previous album--the second of three--called Rent A Crowd. It is also filled with great songs, but isn't quite as accomplished as Pictures. I'd give it @@@@).

Although you can listen to the album in full through the link above, and this may not quite be the best song on the album, here's a video for their single, Mr. Grey, that should give you a good indication of their sound.


Alejandro Escovedo
Street Songs of Love
(Listen in Full | Buy on Amazon)

I've enjoyed nearly everything I've heard from this Texas rocker since coming across his With These Hands album around the time of its 1996 release. This includes some preceding solo work and music with one of his earlier bands, The True Believers.

Almost all of Escovedo's solo records have been very positively reviewed by and elsewhere, but while I've enjoyed most of his output, there have been some albums I've liked a good bit more than others. His new release, Street Songs of Love, is clearly one of his best. Filled with straightforward rock songs and a few ballads, though not quite as diverse in texture as some of his early solo albums, Street Songs of Love is a high quality collection from a seasoned & skilled songwriter who's paid his dues (and also overcome a brush with death from Hepetitis C).

Although his collaboration with famous fan Bruce Springsteen on "Faith," is an obvious album highlight for me, the four tracks that open the album are equally good, with several other fine cuts among the 13 songs. You can see/hear a live rendition of the powerful album opener, Anchor, by clicking here.


The Gaslight Anthem
American Slang
(Listen in Full |  Buy on Amazon)

I guess it says something in itself that although I enjoyed The Gaslight Anthem's last album, The 59 Sound, not only couldn't I name a song besides the title cut, I didn't feel particularly compelled to explore American Slang until research into acclaimed albums of late revealed that it had a pretty lofty composite score on MetaCritic.

Correspondingly, while the new album from these Jersey rockers who combine punk influences with Springsteenesqe themes is worthwhile listening, even after several spins I can't say it's particularly earth shattering. Nice straight ahead rockers from a band that would make for an enjoyable opening act, but certainly not the stuff of superstardom or even major cult acclaim. A few free listens through MySpace Music (link above) may well suffice.

Click here to hear/see the video for lead track, American Slang, probably the album's best.


Paul Weller
Wake Up the Nation
(Listen in Full | Buy on Amazon)

As the principal singer, songwriter & guitarist of The Jam--my pick for the all-time best band many people have never heard of--Paul Weller has been making brilliant music since he was a teenager. Still quite productive in his early 50s, he is nonetheless a member of my allegorical Trinity of Paul.

Like Mssrs. McCartney and Westerberg, Weller has enjoyed a solid, and at times quite stellar, solo career (I'll include his stint in the post-Jam combo, Style Council, in this), but has never reached the level of brilliance that he regularly achieved as a prime force in the band that made him famous (to whatever degree, in the case of the Jam and Replacements).

Pretending the iPod didn't render the concept of "Desert Island Discs" obsolete, I would take any of 10 studio, live or compilation Jam albums before casting away with any of Weller's solo stuff. That said, much of his individual output is quite good, with the last 5 years being especially fertile. Although not as immediately accessible as the best of the Jam, or even Weller's great As Is Now album from 2005, Wake Up the Nation is an excellent record (talk about obsolete!), with reviews on MetaCritic and loving it even more than I do.

Written in a more collaborative and immediate fashion than Weller's previous works--well explained in this recent OnMilwaukee interview--Wake Up the Nation features 16 songs yet clocks in under 40 minutes. There is no wasted space as Weller bristles with creative energy. On the title cut he implores, "Get your face off the Facebook and turn off your phone," while his first collaboration with Jam bassist Bruce Foxton in 28 years, "Fast Car / Slow Traffic" surges forward as it harkens back to their glory days. 

I'm sure there are a few other folks like me still hoping for a Jam reunion, but other than making peace with Foxton and pulling out a few classics in his live shows--sadly, he's seemingly only playing New York & LA on his "American" tour--Weller doesn't appear to have any interest in revisiting the past. But he deserves your attention in the present tense and though he will never be as famous as Sting despite being equally deserving, the music he's putting out these days is inordinately better.

This link takes you to YouTube for a video for "Wake Up the Nation."


LCD Soundsystem
This Is Happening
(Listen in FullBuy on Amazon)

As though to prove--mainly to myself--that I'm not completely turned off by music with a more modern feel, I decided to check out the newest album by LCD Soundsystem, particularly after hearing good things about their performance at Chicago's Pitchfork Music Festival.

Actually, I have and like--but don't often revisit--LCD's 2007 album Sound of Silver, and I've enjoyed the fusion of rock and dance beats by The Killers and Franz Ferdinand, among others. Although I have yet to actually purchase This Is Happening, I've listened a dozen times to the entire album through MySpace and think it's really good.

Though its sound is not as much in my ballpark as any of the albums above, and feels more like music to play in the background rather than something to listen to while driving, This Is Happening is sonically adventurous while firmly rooted in melodic songcraft. Although the lead single, "Drunk Girls," seems to be getting more attention, along with another more accessible number, "I Can Change," I find the more obtuse opening tune, "Dance Yrself Clean" to be the album's best.

I didn't pick up on it, but a customer review on Amazon suggests that This Is Happening is largely influenced by Bowie's Berlin triptych (Low, Heroes and Lodger). Though I don't hear anything quite that brilliant, LCD wunderkind James Murphy certainly could do worse for sources of inspiration. Click here for the video for Drunk Girls, and then look up Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging." Not close enough for a lawsuit, but I can certainly hear some similarities. So I guess even things that sound quite new aren't necessarily all that novel. But This Is Happening is certainly worth checking out.


That'll do it for the album reviews for now, but the big upcoming release is Arcade Fire's The Suburbs on August 3rd. I haven't been blown away as some by their first two albums, but have read good things about the new one and enjoy the two songs I've heard, especially "The Month of May." For Arcade Fire fans--and the Canadian band is poised to become exponentially bigger than they already are--be aware that they will be streaming their August 5th Madison Square Garden gig live on YouTube at 9:00pm Central.

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