Music News

Odds 'n' Sods: Helmet, Michael Franti & Spearhead, The Charlatans, Small Black, and more

It's amazing how much music is released in a year. I've listened to nearly 270 records in their entirety this year, yet I still have a huge stack of unlistened CDs on my desk, several unlistened digital downloads in my iTunes, and a lengthy list of high-profile stuff I never got a chance to hear.

In an effort to get through some of the stuff I don't have time to devote to their own Nothing Not New posts, let's have a look at some more Odds 'n' Sods.

Animal Prufrock: Congratulations; Thank You & I'm Sorry -- Prufrock is one-half of the queercore act Bitch and Animal, and her new record is produced by Ani DiFranco. I'm pretty sure that's all you really need to know. I bailed midway through track four, "Emotional Boner."

Indian Jewelry: Totaled -- Druggy, droning, bummerific electro psych-pop from Houston. Distorted, unintelligible vocals create a sense of confusion as guitars and synths come in and out of the mix, usually over a simple, thumping drum beat. The record becomes more experimental with each passing track, and it's not much fun. I liked Salem's new record a lot better.

Plants and Animals: La La Land -- These Canadian longhairs are looking for that middle ground shared by fellow '70s prairie-rock acolytes Blitzen Trapper and Band of Horses and The Moondoggies. Though P&A's material may not be as uniformly strong as those other acts, they have a more forward-looking approach, thanks to their tapping into the sounds of their indie-rock peers. Not a bad record at all.

The SteelDrivers: Reckless -- The SteelDrivers are a top-notch neo-bluegrass group from Nashville with great songs, good singing (including some nice boy-girl harmonies), and exciting musicianship. When Reckless veers away from the more traditional bluegrass sound into new country (as on "Where Rainbows Never Die"), it stumbles. Fortunately, those moments are intermittent.

Small Black: New Chain -- Small Black's dreamy, languid New Wave sounds as if it were lifted from the soundtrack of a John Hughes film, circa 1985. Because of the production on the vocals makes them sound distant and disorienting, I found New Chain to be impenetrable, but I see can see the appeal of this record -- especially if you're the sort who never likes to leave his bedroom.

Suuns: Zeroes QC -- This is '80s-informed New Wave for dudes with long hair. Suuns follows the same general cues as Small Black but turns up the prog a few notches, which makes it a little wierder but considerably more interesting than Small Black. Despite all the dance beats, Suuns isn't afraid to crank it up for a guitar freak-out now and then.

Michael Franti & Spearhead: The Sound of Sunshine -- Here's some good-time music that, if it hasn't already appeared in one, should be used in a TV ad for Corona or Carnival cruises or something sunny. If you're a hippie or a child, this is the sort of don't-worry-be-happy music (lots of Jack Johnson and faux-reggae vibes) made just for you.

The Charlatans: Who We Touch -- The longtime Britpop band's 11th album (Did you know this band was still around?) may not reel back in the fans who fell in love with the band during their hitmaking days but will surely slake the thirst of those who've been along for the ride during the past decade. The first song is a rocker, and the rest of the record never quite reaches that level of energy again.

Helmet: Seeing Eye Dog -- Another those-guys-are-still-playing? record. At least The Charlatans don't seem too old to be doing what they doing. On Seeing Eye Dog, Helmet are no less heavy than they were in their pre-nu-metal heyday, but the songs here have almost no personality. I suspect that has more to do with leader Page Hamilton's vocals than it does the music. Points subtracted for a cover of The Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing."

Ronnie Wood: I Feel Like Playing -- The least valuable Rolling Stone of all time enlists a boatload of special old-pro guests (Slash, Flea, Ian McLagan, Waddy Wachtel, Jim Keltner, Billy Gibbons, Bob Rock, Bobby Womack, Ivan Neville) to make a record that exists for only one reason: Money was no object.

Phil Selway: Familial -- One of the guys from Radiohead (the drummer, I think) enlists a couple of guys from Wilco to produce a hushed, intimate, mostly acoustic foray in Radiohead-informed art-folk-rock. I like Selway's fragile, high-tenor voice. And I like a lot of these songs -- more than I do Radiohead's songs, anyway.

Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment hereThe "Nothing Not New" Archives:

December 9 -- Mini Mansions: Mini Mansions (B+) December 8 -- Sun City Mariachi: Funeral Mariachi (B+) December 7 -- Daft Punk: Tron Legacy (C) December 6 -- The Parting Gifts: Strychnine Dandelions (B)

December 3 -- Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (D+) December 2 -- Sharon Van Etten: Epic (B) December 1 -- OFF!: First Four EPs (A-) November 30 -- Robyn: Body Talk (B+) November 29 -- Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3: Northern Aggression (A-)

November 16 -- Stereolab: Not Music (B-)
November 15 -- The Fresh & Onlys: Play It Strange (C+)

November 12 -- Podcast #10

November 4 -- Salem: King Night (B+)
November 3 -- Matt & Kim: Sidewalks (C-)

October 27 -- The 88: The 88 (B)

October 26 -- Warpaint: The Fool (B+)

September 28 -- No Age: Everything in Between (A-)