Eh, These Are Good Enough

Liars run deeper, Isbell goes solo, and Wiley soldiers on


Liars Liars (Mute)

Liarsâ’ 2006 album Drumâ’s Not Dead sounded like a definitive statement of all the ideas the band had flirted with on two previous full-length records and a handful of EPs, split releases and singles. Drum was bigâ"smart, ambitious and accomplished, a focused effort spread on a large canvasâ"and it seemed to tie together everything Liars had merely suggested up to that point.

Itâ’s no great surprise, then, that the self-titled follow-up feels like a hangover. Liars is a scattershot collection that rambles from twisted art-punk (â“Plaster Casts of Everything,â” â“Cycle Timeâ”) and droning noise rock (â“Leather Prowlerâ”) to off-kilter psychedelic pop (â“Houseclouds,â”). The jumbled and often intricate rhythms that propelled Drum and the groupâ’s early dance-punk are reduced on much of Liars to insistent 4/4 drum beats and throbbing organ chords. The songs are shorter and sometimes even catchy. Melodies are far more pronounced than theyâ’ve ever been, with a handful of tracks that recall the naked intimacy of Drumâ’s â“The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack.â”

Itâ’s hardly a disappointmentâ"the disc has some of the prettiest pieces Liars have recorded, and the ominous shadings of â“What Would They Knowâ” and â“Sailing to Byzantiumâ” reveal a more subtle sense of dynamics than the band has revealed beforeâ"but Liars operates on a smaller scale than its predecessors. Itâ’s the first Liars album to refine their sound rather than radically rework it. But even though its rewards are simpler, they may also run deeper. â" Matthew Everett

Jason Isbell Sirens of the Ditch (New West)

â“I liked Jason [Isbell] better when he was fat,â” said my pal, Joey, cracking a third beer. Sadly, Joeâ’s blunt assessment has a ring of truth.

In five scant years Jason has transformed from a wide-eyed, pudgy kid (and white-hot guitarist) who just got a dream gig with his favorite band, the Drive-By Truckers, to a confident, svelte and stylishly coifed journeyman rocker who feels better manning the helm of his own damn band, thank you.

His new release Sirens of the Ditch (New West) delivers a slicker, more radio-friendly version of what he was doing with his last bandâ"and that ainâ’t half bad. While Sirens does have a handful of filler tracks, smashes like â“Brand New Kind of Actressâ” and â“Dress Bluesâ” carry enough emotional heft to draw up the slack. This is one of those cases, however, where high-flying antecedents make the new musical direction seem a bit lacking in comparison. That said, Isbellâ’s album sounds much stronger than what the Truckersâ’ current incarnation had to offer last time I saw them.

So by departing, Isbell dealt the Truckers a crushing blow (not that I blame him) and moved on to something thatâ’s, well, good or even greatâ"but not as great as what came before. Life goes on. â" John Sewell


Playtime is Over (Big Dada)

Remember a couple of years ago when the first Run The Road compilation delivered a roundhouse kick upside commercial hip hopâ’s bloated, gangsta-ass head? The album introduced a new genre, grime, which was basically an angry, stripped-down hybrid of dancehall raga and hip hop pared with lo-fi beats and voiced by residents of East London ghettos. Critics (including yours truly) slavered, predicting that grime would do for rap music what punk had done for rock â’nâ’ roll in the â‘70s. And what has happened since? Not much.

At present, grime has become a forgotten niche, the rap sub-genre that never was. But lucky for us, grime progenitor Wiley soldiers on with Playtime is Over, a collection that maintains the fiery aggression and promise of the class of 2004. The G-word is still uttered in reference to Wiley, who actually predated the grime explosion. Unfortunately, he claims that Playtime will be his swan-song.

Like his only competitor, Dizzee Rascal, Wileyâ’s London patois sounds exotic to American ears. But whatâ’s most startling is the albumâ’s minimal beats, which provide stark punctuation for Wileyâ’s verbal gymnastics.

Unlike the glut of commercialized gangsta dreck, Playtime seems to have rescued hip hop, returning it to a proper reference point as revolutionary music. Exuding a threatening feel that is tempered with wit and humor, Wiley makes it clear that the kids on this playground are pretty tough. And for a moment, the street beat sounds modern and liberating once again. â"J.S.


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