Album: Pressure Chief
Central to Cake’s genius is the fact that their brilliance lies in an understatement. The band had an ability to convey scenes and ideas using razor-sharp images set to a tune by lead singer John McCrea’s deadpan drawl. However, on their most recent study effort, that transparent lyrical genius is surprisingly dimmed. With the exception of the leadoff track “Wheels,” Pressure Chief takes an introspective turn that the band’s minimalist techniques find too tough to chew. While Cake maintains rhythmic urgency and some memorable guitar lines, the album’s pessimistic, walls-are-closing-in themes simply don’t resonate. Pressure Chief feels like a lot of half-formed ideas.
There’s a fundamental problem with the Eminem’s usage of the title Encore: When shock value is a defining characteristic, repetition simply won’t work. But while Eminem hasn’t lost his seamless narrative delivery or insightful culture quips, Encore is weighed down by an overall sense of boredom, absent both the blind fury and boundless introspection that created substance out of past albums. Instead, Em tosses back a watered-down version of an emotional baggage tale in “Yellow Brick Road” and fires irrelevant ammunition at newfound adversaries R. Kelly and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. His usage of vomit and belch sound effects do little to illustrate details of a story, looking more like desperate caricatures of the once outrageous rapper. The formulaic club hit “Just Lose It” contains more trademark nasal “eeh” noises than choruses or rhymes. At best, the album reinforces Eminem’s image. At worst, it confirms the fact that a shock artist can only go so far.
Artist: Mark Knopfler
Label: Mercury Records
For a Brit, Mark Knopfler sure does a good job of sounding like a weary American riverboat gambler. The former Dire Straits frontman sings like a) he just got punched in the stomach and b) it isn’t a novel feeling. On Shangri-La, Knopfler takes an aural road trip to California through the poor places (you can almost envision the diners and dirt roads), and then decides to head south in search of whatever it is he still can’t find.
Artist: The Presidents of the United States of America
Album: Love Everybody
Label: PSA-P.U.S.A. Inc.
For almost a decade, bands have been trying unsuccessfully to match the perfect power pop of Fountains of Wayne’s first album. This is worth noting only because the Presidents of the United States of America are not even original in their failure. You remember the band as the purveyor of a song about produce: 1995’s “Peaches.” Leave it that way. Their latest, Love Everybody, serves as a stunning testament to the mediocre. Inane lyrics and predictable music make for boring songs, with few exceptions (“Some Postman” actually approximates the sugary quirkiness the band was going for). The trite is mistaken for the clever, the maddeningly annoying for the maddeningly catchy. Leave this record alone, and leave your memories of fifth grade untainted.
Album: TPS Reports Volume One
Label: Red Stapler Records
A smorgasbord of local product, TPS Reports Volume One (check the record label name if you don’t get it, or just go rent “Office Space”) is inconsistent, but does contain a few songs from local artists worth checking out. Notable among the fray is Los Hermanos Rodriguez’s rollicking “Somebody Else’s Jacket” and Laura Burhenn’s smoky “Just For the Night.” GW’s own Exit Clov also makes an appearance with “Benign,” a meandering pop song with a good backbeat and haunting vocals.
Artist: Jimmy Eat World
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard Jimmy Eat World’s massive single “The Middle” from their 2001 record Bleed America, which appears in teen movie trailers more frequently than senior prom. Futures delves into the dark abyss of college with lyrics such as “I always believe in futures/I always hope for better/in November.” While the album is nowhere as immediate as Bleed America, Jimmy retains its pop-punk sensibility, delivering the awesome single “Pain.” This record delivers the requisite angst level to set the tone for a party, getting the girls bouncing and the guys nodding their heads.
Artist: Ray LaMontagne
This one-time shoemaker used to rouse himself at 4:30 a.m. with the aid of a clock radio. One morning, LaMontagne woke to Stephen Stills’ “Treetop Flyer” and made a decision to blow off work to find the record – and to change his life. Diving into classic American singer-songwriters like Dylan, Mitchell and Ray Charles, LaMontagne created one of the best albums of the year. Trouble is a masterpiece, LaMontagne’s heart dripping down his sleeve and into his weeping guitar. He has been likened to Van Morrison and Tim Buckley. I tell you this – buy this record right now.