Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Cage the Elephant – Social Cues – 13 tracks / 45 minutes
The fifth LP from this group of Kentucky misfits finds them continuing to evolve and refine their sound in very satisfying ways.
Between the lead single released on Spotify earlier this year (“Night Running”, a hooky pop-rock collaboration with Beck) and a negative review I read in the days before Social Cues release, I had low expectations for this record. In fact, I assumed that one of my dear bands had gone pop and decided to settle into the same mainstream malaise that has marked the recent works of contemporaries like The Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys. I am ecstatic to report that this is not the case at all – yes, there are hooks abound and even a little drum machine present here, but this is still music that sucks you in and then bites with sharp fangs, and keeps you guessing throughout. In other words, this is another great Cage the Elephant effort.
“Broken Boy” starts things off with ferocious guitars, plenty of distortion and reverb, pounding drums (and a little of that drum machine effect I mentioned earlier) and finds Matt Shultz asking “broken boy, how does it feel, how does it feel” in a wail that doesn’t sound very sympathetic. On the title track, complete with the sing-along lyric “people always say ‘man at least you’re on the radio’” there is a heavy feeling of alienation and discontent – a tale of hiding in the back room waiting and wondering just how much longer he can continue to play the part.
Rather than go over this thing track by track (while tempting, considering that I am currently obsessed with this album), I’ll simply say this: this is possibly the finest batch of songs this terrific band has ever recorded (Melaphobia may still hold that distinction) and is an absolute must listen. Even the aforementioned Beck tagteam shines in its “song of the summer” pop glory. The fact that I will see Beck and CTE share the stage at The Gorge later this summer is near the top of my long list of 2019 concert plans – that will be a Hell of a show.
“Skin and Bones” and “Ready to Let Go” both have that trademark CTE sound, complete with verses that guide the way towards choruses that are all-time earworms. Fans of their Pixies-inspired Thank You Happy Birthday will love the raw shouts and scattered fragments of “House of Glass”, the lone track here that isn’t polished and easily swallowed. Those more attracted to an introspective and mellow sound a la “Rubber Ball” (also from Thank You…) will enjoy the album’s show-stopping closer “Goodbye”. They even get subtly politico-topical on the pro-love anthem “The War Is Over”, which features the chorus “you can build your walls, build it to the sky; one day you will find, love was on both sides; the war is over, love’s already won”.
After a decade spent creating consistently interesting and unique music, these guys have outdone themselves and show no signs of letting up here. What began with that eponymous debut that seemed to come out of nowhere in 2009 has proven to be anything but a flash in the pan, and these dudes have earned their place near the top of modern rock’s pecking order. Enough talk – go listen to this album!
Key Tracks: “Skin and Bones”, “House of Glass”, “Goodbye”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/2VuZJsJBPLwg9BeQFQle8G?si=NQTIXrQvSpa8t_ergrI40g
NOT HEARD: Ryan Adams – Big Colors
A quick aside…
The first of three scheduled LPs from Ryan Adams in 2019, Big Colors was slated for its birth into the world April 19th. To put it mildly, I am disappointed that this album is being held in purgatory indefinitely in the aftermath of the recent New York Times story regarding Mr. Adams’ behavior and I hope that it will be released soon. If leadoff single “Fuck the Rain” (which is ironically still garnering thousands of streams on Spotify as I type this) is any indication, Ryan was in prime music-making mode and there are gems just waiting to be heard.
Ryan has smartly stayed quiet and out of the spotlight while waiting for the FBI to finish its investigation into his online communications with an underage girl (important to note that I am not aware of any allegations that he had physical contact with anyone underage). For an artist who regularly submits thoughts and content on various social media platforms, I am sure this silence in the face of incessant negativity has been difficult, but ultimately is a wise course of action.
Regardless of your thoughts on the revelations of his alleged use of power to garner the attention and company of young women aspiring to “make it” in the music business, it strikes me as overly punitive and blatantly hypocritical for his album to be held. What happened to free speech, or the power of the market and the consumer’s ability to decide what they want to listen to? There are plenty of people streaming Michael Jackson, Jerry Lee Lewis, R. Kelly, and so on, as I type this. If Mandy Moore’s assertions that being married to him was horrible and that he is a manipulative guy makes you want to boycott him, great. If enough people feel that way, or if the music isn’t good, it will flop and life will go on. What doesn’t work for me is not being able to hear what I suspect is a great record from one of my generation’s finest songwriters.
End of rant.
Rolling Stones – Honk
Yet another best-of collection to showcase the works of the most successful rock band in history – but this one comes with some live treasures including duets with Dave Grohl (“Bitch”), Brad Paisley (“Dead Flowers”), and Florence Welch (“Wild Horses”). Unless you have been living under dozens of rocks, you have heard most of this before, but I do recommend that hard-core fans take the time to give the live recordings a listen, and even casual fans are likely to enjoy the three renditions I mentioned above.
Sad Planets – Akron, Ohio
Collaboration between fellow Akron natives Pat Carney (better known as the drummer for The Black Keys) and John Petkovic (lead singer of the underrated Sweet Apple) that has its highs and lows. The raw energy of leadoff track “Just Landed” and the simple but deliciously fuzzy guitar riff of “Yesterday Girls” are my highlights.
Wand – Laughing Matter
Mellower than previous efforts, “Rio Grande” is a highlight. Fans of this record, take note: they are playing Grainey’s in downtown Boise on May 10th.
The Resonars – No Exit
This is a short and sweet collection of hooky Brit-pop songs that certainly didn’t offend, but also didn’t really connect with me either.
Drugdealer – Raw Honey
After 2016’s debut The End of Comedy, I had hopes for this record, which were not realized.