You Want Platters?
We’ll give you platters: The Long Winters, Pernice Brothers, Mr. Lif, M. Ward and Trey Anastasio
The Long Winters
Putting the Days to Bed has all the aesthetics down. From the guitars to keyboards and horns, the arrangements punch and pull, echoing the emotional flow of the recording. Though the lyrics are cleverly catchy, they tend to hint at a deeper story unavailable to the listener; Roderick chooses to focus more closely on the hook than the message.
As with the lyrics, the record as a whole hints at a wealth of skill and rock’n’roll knowledge. The hooks are more than cheap tricks for the sake of being memorable. The Long Winters crafts each moment in a way that speaks from its previous successes and failures. Putting the Days to Bed offers more hope for future recordings than its own accomplishments. While the sounds are expertly executed, The Long Winters lacks a distinctive quality, making the band both easily accessible and quickly forgotten. The upside is that given time to marinate, the recording pays off with well-written songs that earn merit despite their similarity to other bands cut from the same cloth.
While all four of the band’s previous efforts were released just in time for summer, Live a Little hit the shelves in October—a surprisingly noticeable change-up. Leaf color aside, however, these new songs are just as warm as their predecessors, harkening back to the lush string and horn arrangements of the group’s 1998 debut, Overcome By Happiness . Guitarists Peyton Pinkerton and Bob Pernice have traded some of their jangle for a bit more crunch, but Joe Pernice’s feathery vocals haven’t changed a bit, nor have his astute observations on mankind’s emotional baggage.
“She believes what doesn’t kill her only takes more time to kill her,” he sings on “Cruelty to Animals,” a standout, up-tempo number with an oddly appropriate sadness to it. That is the Joe Pernice trademark, after all, and he’s rarely done it better than on the heartbreaking “PCH One” and the epic album closer “Grudge F***,” a remake of a song Pernice originally performed with his old alt-country outfit, The Scud Mountain Boys.
Mo’ Mega is a more serious counterpart to the sometimes humorous musings of Mr. Lif’s “supergroup” side project, The Perceptionists. The true strength of the album lies in the moments—and there are many—when Lif shows how his dissent is based on real-life experience. Mr. Lif waxes poetic, pondering the true-to-life quandaries that dog any concerned, urban parent facing the harsh realities of adult responsibility. The rapper isn’t exactly brimming with hope, but his cynicism reveals a grown-up weariness as opposed to a young man’s anger. Ultimately, there’s an overall optimism in Mr. Lif’s resignation. Things aren’t getting better, so deal with it.
Interestingly, Mr. Lif’s personalized take on the black power polemic reaches a primarily white indie hip-hop audience. Demographics be damned, Mo’ Mega represents an artist at the top of his form, blending street-smart poetics with El-P’s arresting beats to serve up an album that sates the brain and body.
The album’s highlight, in this humble listener’s opinion, is the title track, on which Ward achieves a hint of Tom Waits-ian slow-singed heat, his voice trailing off into soft drowsy piano plunks. Then on “Chinese Translation,” Ward asks timidly, “What do you do with the pieces of a broken heart?” The irreverently quizzical lyrics are harmless, but sort of thin and meaningless all the same. The vocally-acrobatic My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James does backup on that song, but he disappointingly gets drowned in the song’s melancholic drone.
Maybe musicians gain some of that much sought-after “cred” by way of the company they keep; in addition to James, Neko Case contributes to the album, backing Ward on “To Go Home,” the instrumentally-adventurous Daniel Johnston cover. She too is a little overshadowed in the production, however.
Despite Anastasio’s soft spot for counting acts like the Arcade Fire, the Decemberists and Neutral Milk Hotel as influences, the crux of Bar 17 remains adult-contemporary and classic-rock fare. A horn section, orchestral arrangements and backup singers flesh out most tracks, adding intensity to the Rolling Stones-aped tracks “Mud City” and “Dragonfly,” and “Goodbye Head” nods to early Phish in its strict composition and movements. The disc’s more radio-friendly tracks, “Shadow” and “Let Me Lie,” showcase Anastasio’s knack for nostalgic lyrics and simple songwriting without the flash of unnecessary instrumentation.
It’s a mishmash of genres, but Bar 17 finds Anastasio more focused and back on track after last year’s so-so Shine . Now on his own label, Rubber Jungle Records, Anastasio is poised to take full control of his creative future. Here’s hoping he continues to show restraint.