New Music 1/19/18: Moon Taxi, They Might Be Giants, First Aid Kit, Belle Adair

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Moon Taxi – Let the Record Play – 10 songs / 35 minutes

On their fourth studio record, these lads from Nashville make a slight pivot in sound and finally reach the superstardom that always seemed inevitable.

 

Moon Taxi have been crafting dance-floor ready music that is ridiculously catchy and uplifting for a little over six years now.  I discovered them when they released their third effort, Daybreaker, in 2016.  The guitar-pop single “Year Zero” from that record caught my attention and I immediately became a fan – further proof that I don’t detest all things pop.  However, given all of the pop music hacks out there with giant fanbases, it seemed inevitable to me that a band with positive and emotive songwriting and musical skill that includes guitars, terrific beats, and occasional horn and synth work was destined for their “break”.

Turns out that the contentiousness and divisiveness of last year was the right time and place for that aforementioned big break, as their single “Two High” – complete with its unifying and positive message – soared up the charts.  Next thing I know, they have nearly four million Spotify followers and have eclipsed many of their peers such as Saint Motel, The Arcs, and Bad Suns.  Although their popularity has been derived mostly from that hit song, I believe that these guys will be around for a while.  This is not a one-hit wonder situation; not only do they have a couple of genuinely good albums already under their belt, but the hit single is not even the best song on this album.

If you are into positive and instantly accessible music (read: most humans), these guys deliver what you are after.  This is a complete work with very few weak spots, although the first half of the record is where most of the radio-ready music resides.  Songs like “Not Too Late”, “Good As Gold”, and the opening title track all bring the sing-along vocals and romping beats, but for my money the highlight of the album is the song that reminds me most of Moon Taxi’s earlier work: “Moving to the City”.  Over the best guitar work of any track on the bunch, we are told that our protagonist is “moving to the city, and never coming back”.  We never really find out why, but the song is so good that I don’t mind.

Key Tracks: “Moving to the City”, “Not Too Late”, “Two High”

 

They Might Be Giants – I Like Fun – 15 songs / 40 minutes

These veteran nerd-rock heroes still know how to craft a short, sweet, and simple song, but also include several missteps on this record.

 

More than 30 years into their career, TMBG know who they are, even if most of us don’t.  Despite earning a cult following in the 90s and embarking on several successful diversions into children’s music, these guys are still fairly obscure.  I must admit that while I was familiar with some of their work, this is the first time I have listened to one of their new records in quite some time.  I am glad that I gave it a listen (which has quickly turned into four listens, as of this writing).

Breaking an album into segments seems like a lazy cop-out and one that I will avoid (although I also sort of did it on the previous review), but sometimes it is glaringly obvious.  I feel that this record is a prime example, with its strong start, weak middle, and decent comeback at the end.  The first six tracks are three-minute earworms in the vein of The Presidents of the United States of America, Ween, or Barenaked Ladies.  These songs are all quite simple, and have goofy lyrics that border on the absurd – but still leave me with the distinct feeling that these guys are smarter than their audience.

The piano-based opener “Let’s Get This Over With” is complete with handclaps, rattling drums and cymbals, and the fun chorus “when you wake up you can feel your hair grow, crawl out of your cave and you can watch your shadow; creep across the ground until the day is done, all the while the planet circles ‘round the sun; everybody knows how this ends so let’s get over it and let’s get this over with”.  The apparent end of the world has never sounded as fun as it does on my favorite track, “By the Time You Get This”, where we are told that “by the time you get this note, we’ll no longer be alive; but our skulls are smiling still, at the thought of things to come”.

With exception of the drum-heavy “When the Lights Come On”, the middle of the album is forgettable at best.  The record closes out with two redeeming tracks, including the under two-minute synth and ramble that is “The Greatest” and “Last Wave” which hits hard lyrically but gets lightened up with a solid guitar riff and some well-timed horns.

Key Tracks: “By the Time You Get This”, “I Left My Body”, “Let’s Get This Over With”

 

 

First Aid Kit – Ruins – 10 songs / 40 minutes

Swedish sisters once again bring melodies aplenty, but I can’t help but feel like something is missing.

 

Right up front, I will admit that I have never gotten all that into First Aid Kit’s music.  Although I recognize that they are talented and appreciate their vocal harmonies, and more than one person with musical taste that I respect has recommended that I listen to them, I have never been sucked in.  That trend continues with their worthwhile and fine fourth studio album, Ruins.  This is not to say that the music isn’t good or worth the time of anyone who enjoys some rootsy and folky tunes, because it is.

In fact, I don’t have anything negative to say about this record.  There is a reason they have worked with Jack White and Conor Oberst, and draw frequent sonic comparisons to Fleet Foxes.  Opening track “Rebel Heart” is a great start to the record, and piano and steel guitar compliment some terrific singing and songwriting on “Postcard”.  Mellowed out “To Live a Life” features finger-picked acoustic guitar over some quiet pedal steel sadness, where we are told of self-inflicted loneliness: “I’m just like my mother, we both love to run; chase impossible things and unreachable dreams, lie awake in the night, thinking this can’t be right, but there is no other way to live a life alone”.

Maybe the Secret Sisters latest marvelous record You Don’t Own Me Anymore ruined me for all other sister singing groups.  Maybe I am too jaded to fully appreciate what these ladies are doing.  Maybe this thing needs another ten listens to fully sink in.  Either way, I respect what I hear here, but hope there is another level they can achieve on future releases.

Key Tracks: “To Live a Life”, “Postcard”, “Ruins”

 

Belle Adair – Tuscumbia – 11 songs / 40 minutes

Healthy servings of pretty guitar-pop abound on my first pleasant surprise of 2018.

 

This band was not on my radar until I saw their name on the new release list last week.  This marks the first out of the blue surprise of the year, and thanks to streaming music is only the first of many.  Utilizing sleek and clean production to enhance their lovely guitar riffs, complete with copious arpeggio arrangements, these gents from Alabama have similar musical stylings as Real Estate (or many other bands, but I can’t shake that specific comparison) but with an eye or two firmly on the past.

Lead single “Get Away” features a love/hate balance with a significant other, with the chorus “tell me that you love me but you’re not in a rush, all I wanna do is get away with you; tell me that you love me and you don’t know how much, all I wanna do is get away from you”.  Several tracks including “Long Fade Out” and “Status Quo” harken back to the sound of 60s folk-rock in the vein of The Buffalo Springfield or The Byrds without trying too hard to emulate either of those great bands work.  In Tuscumbia, Belle Adair give us an album that is quite a treat to listen to even if it is lacking a bit in originality.

Key Tracks: “Get Away”, “Neptune City”, “Long Fade Out”

 

Also listened to (but just once, thanks):

Tune-Yards – I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life

John Gorka – True In Time