Quick Picks: Our take on recent releases

Todd Snider
“Peace, Love And Anarchy (Rarities, B-Sides And Demos Vol. 1)”
Oh Boy Records

Todd Snider writes songs. That’s it. He does it damn well, though. Nothing extravagant here – they’re funny and sweet and a little heartbreaking sometimes, but mostly they’re just pretty little packages, sparse and unadorned. Tracks such as “East Nashville Skyline” pack pathos into those moments that use laughter to disguise, if not tears (because it’s too late to cry), then at least sighs. If only more musicians wrote like Todd Snider. Strike that – if only more novelists wrote like Todd Snider. Like John Prine and Daniel Johnston before him, Snider has a gift for the simple, and on this collection of country rock detritus, all you need is the voice and the hopeful weariness to get you through.

The Arcade Fire
“Neon Bible”
Merge Records

How do you follow up a record as mythologized as 2004’s “Funeral”? You bring in an orchestra, a choir, and a big pipe organ (the latter on the jaw-dropping “Intervention”) and build something too big to be ignored. At least that’s what you do if you’re The Arcade Fire, and it works pretty well. There’s nothing on here as immediately arresting as “Crown of Love” or “Rebellion (Lies),” but good God, the record builds and builds and forces itself inside you, setting up camp in your psyche and pounding away with pathos and grandeur.

Bright Eyes
“Cassadaga”
Saddle Creek Records

In which our young hero continues to have his heart broken and further continues to write folk-pop gems about said broken heart. Conor Oberst follows down the road he started on 2002’s “Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil Keep Your Ear To The Ground” and continued down on 2005’s “I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning,” a dirt path populated by dead lovers, sickly mirror images and lonesome cowboys in Converse. There are some shortcomings – the record begins with another sound collage, an indulgence Oberst really needs to just cut out – but the songs, oh the songs are there. “Four Winds” is even more righteously indignant than usual (and it’s pretty, to boot), and “If the Brakeman Turns My Way” treats loss and life with a beautifully epic sweep it may or may not deserve.

Architecture in Helsinki
“We Died (They Remixed)”
Bar/None Records

Let’s get one thing straight first: Architecture’s 2005 “In Case We Die” (which this album remixes) is phenomenal, a testament to musical heterogeneity as well as one hell of a dance party. Cameron Bird’s vocals twist this way and that around horns and guitar and keyboards and who knows what else (my guess is magical Australian fairies, but I could be mistaken). All right, that out of the way, let’s get another thing straight: “We Died, They Remixed” is mostly just unnecessary. Some of the remixes are interesting (notably Hot Chip’s reimagining of “Do The Whirlwind” as a sped-up robot symphony and 33hz’s take on “It’s 5!” that somehow isolates the vocals inside the tracks, like bubbles amid the rubble), but when the source material is already so manically fantastic, chopping it up and swirling it around doesn’t add a whole lot.

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