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Rhett Miller

The Dreamer

Maximum Sunshine

File next to: Old 97's, Ben Kweller

When Rhett Miller takes a holiday from his day job as charismatic frontman of Old 97's, he doesn't mess around, gathering top-notch writing collaborators that include Ben Kweller and Rosanne Cash. But what makes The Dreamer such a contrast from his Old 97's output is its emphasis on counterpoint vocals; almost every song has female harmonies. Cash and Rachael Yamagata handle three tracks each; Heather Robb's on several others. They help Miller stretch beyond the inspired looseness of his regular band to deliver one charmer after another, including a wonderful duet with Cash on her co-write, "As Close As I Came to Being Right." Yamagata plays a perfect foil for his tale of breakup woe on "Sleepwalkin'." "This Summer Lie" contains Rickenbacker-chime echoes of British pop duos Peter & Gordon and Chad & Jeremy. But there's twang-rock, too; Miller wouldn't dream of giving that up. And who would want him to? — Lynne Margolis

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Twin Shadow

Confess

4AD

File next to: Destroyer, Chairlift

Twin Shadow's George Lewis Jr. doesn't filter his brand of retro through the usual irony, faux-vintage production, or jaded contemporary post-cool. In fact, his '80s-referencing anthems practically dare you to uncover any ulterior aesthetic motives behind his straightforward production and straight-faced sincerity. That Lewis happens to be a brilliant songwriter, lyricist and guitarist makes things more genuinely anachronistic. Standouts on Confess, like "Five Seconds," not only ape the style of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," but also the yearning passion that made that song such a hit. Same goes for the swagger and groove of Prince ("Patient"), the mystique and spaciousness of Simple Minds ("When the Movie's Over"), even the neurosis and sweat of Phil Collins ("Be Mine Tonight"). Confess makes a convincing case that in another time — and unlike many of his retro-chic peers — Twin Shadow might actually have been a pop superstar. — Wyatt Miller

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Guided by Voices

Class Clown Spots a UFO

Self-released

File next to: Flaming Lips, the Replacements

Any fan of the long-running Guided by Voices knows Robert Pollard and company are prolific. But this being their second album of 2012 (21 tracks this time, as well), it's natural to wonder if quality will suffer for quantity's sake. It does — but fortunately, only to a point. Like January's Let's Go Eat the Factory, there's fat here begging to be trimmed off the bone. Class Clown Spots a UFO also could have used a little more songwriting work or a willingness to leave behind lesser songs, including shorter ones that feel like partial thoughts. But there are also numerous worthy additions to the GBV catalogue, including the quick-and-to-the-point garage rock blasts of "Hang Up and Try Again" and "Jon the Croc," the grungy psychedelia of "Tyson's High School," the acoustic chamber pop of "Starfire," and the Byrds-inspired high point, "All of This Will Go." Class Clown is something of a treasure hunt, but there are gems to be found. — Alan Sculley

  • Rhett Miller, Twin Shadow, Guided by Voices

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